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names vs numbers

  1. names?

    63.6%
  2. numbers?

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  1. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    Chapters: Naming vs Numbering

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by izzybot, Jun 30, 2015.

    man I had to type 'names' and 'numbers' a lot of times to set up this poll

    So, title self-explanatory: when it comes to chapters do you prefer names or simple numbers? Before tonight my current novel was separated into unruly massive chunks of story but I've gotten it mostly cut into more manageable bits now (except for that one bit ...), and I guess it's just now dawned on me that I could name these things.

    I always love a clever title, whether it's for a book or a chapter or an episode, but I'll admit I'm not so confident I can pull them off, and in doing some reading I discovered that some people find chapter names 'childish'. And there is definitely something nice and elegant about just numbers, I think.

    Figured I'd see what you guys think. If you do name your chapters, how do you go about doing it? Simple description? Subtle foreshadowing? Something profound, something funny, it all depends? If you don't name your chapters, is it a matter of disliking the practice (if so, why?) or simply being apathetic towards it? So many questions! Or just vote in the poll so I can stroke my beard and nod sagely and go "ah yes, statistics".
     
  2. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Good question. I've got numbers at the moment.
    I have been considering naming them because it would be fun to do. Trying to come up with chapter titles that capture the essence of a chapter without being spoilery sounds fun. That's very much an author indulgence reason though, so I'll be interested to see what responses you get.
    As a reader I don't mind them, mostly they wash over me, but occasionally I see one which intrigues me as to what the chapter could be about.
     
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  3. Aaron Smith
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    Aaron Smith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Depends on my mood I suppose. Sometimes I care enough to write a title, but some times "Chapter 1, 2, 3" will suffice.
     
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  4. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I have no idea about statistics, but initially, for many years, I simply worked with chapter numbers.

    However, I actually began to think of my WIP in terms of chapter names. The chapter where 'this happens,' or 'the chapter where the shit hits the fan.' So I thought ...why not name the chapters as well as numbering them? I was surprised at how easily the names came to me. (And no, The Shit Hits The Fan is not one of them!) Most of the names are simple, either only one word, or a short phrase. But now they're there, I like them.

    The advantage to naming chapters (as well as numbering; I definitely do both) is what the names do to your table of contents. They create interest in your story. Obviously, you don't want to give away your plot ahead of time, but it's much more interesting for a potential reader to skim the chapter names and become intrigued by what the names hint at, rather than just seeing a list of numbers.
     
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  5. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    @jannert but "The One Where The Shit Hits The Fan" would be such a great title :D That's a very good point about the table of contents - I do remember skimming over them and going "oooh" at certain names. Definitely a point in the pros column.
     
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  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'll pass your suggestion on to Christopher Brookmyre. The Scottish author who creates such funny names for his books: One Day in the Middle of the Night, The Big Boy Did It and Ran Away, Quite Ugly One Morning, etc. Maybe The One Where the Shit Hits the Fan could be a contender? :)
     
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  7. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I remember something better if I have a way to identify it, and I remember something better if it is composed of parts that I remember individually.

    For that reason, the works of fiction most memorable to me are usually the ones divided into relatively self-contained chapters/episodes/volumes, each with a name that relates to it in a very significant way. Even long after reading/viewing/listening, I might still look back fondly on that one chapter that stood out because it told an interesting or especially emotional sub-story. That is much likelier if the chapter has a name than if all I have to remember it by is "Chapter _____ of _____".

    Actually, making the story memorable is just one of the many advantages of named, self-contained chapters. Another advantage is that they help me mentally navigate the book as I am reading it. Looking at a table of contents that reads "Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, ..." does nothing for me. But looking at a table of contents with significant titles instantly evokes the general timeline and direction of the story in my mind. Each title is an anchor that reminds me where I am at in plot and character development. That way, the table of contents is a transparent rather than opaque look into the story.

    Named chapters make the book accessible in a less strictly linear way than numbered chapters.
     
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  8. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    From what I've seen, that sounds like an episode from Friends.

    I'd got the impression that chapter titles was old-fashioned, and that simple numbers were in. However, reading the above, I'm beginning to think that chapter titles may be the way to go.

    Certainly, my WIP could be split up into "The First load of things that indicate that my MC has got a problem/That problem comes to a head/Things go swimmingly for a while/More shit hits the fan (except as it's historical there'll be more shit and fewer fans)/The bloody end".

    These are just working titles.
     
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  9. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    You should definitely keep those titles.

    I mean, one of my placeholder titles is ROADTRIP!, full caps and exclamation mark and all. Why change, right?
     
  10. mad_hatter
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    mad_hatter Active Member

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    I like the simplicity of numbers. It makes a book easier to follow, as in, I can easily remember that chapter 6 came after chapter 5. But did "The Shit Hits The Fan" come before "ROADTRIP!" or after? I can't remember now...

    However, I do like a book that's split up into individual 'acts'. Each act is separate and has it's own title. The chapters within each act would simply be numbered, with each act starting from one.
     
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  11. Aaron Smith
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    Aaron Smith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Bookmarks are saints. ;)
     
  12. Void
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    Void Contributing Member

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    Currently I have both, divided up as -

    Chapter x
    TITLE OF CHAPTER

    - because the names help me remember the chapters easier while writing. Not to mention, I have completely removed chapters and merged others while editing, causing all the numbers to shift around, so names remain static regardless of order, but numbers do not, causing them to be even more difficult to remember. I don't know if I'll keep the names though; I may simply go with numbers when the manuscript is finished.
     
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  13. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    So, if I take @Void 's position of changing the position of chapters around (because it reads better that way), and then get rid of the chapter titles, I can screw @mad_hatter up by having Chapter 5 coming after Chapter 6...
     
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  14. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I don't know of any authors who only name chapters, but don't number them as well. Are there any?
     
  15. mad_hatter
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    mad_hatter Active Member

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    Don't do it @Shadowfax! I might get too confused and start reading it upside down!

    But just to clarify, I'm not really referring to losing ones place if the chapters aren't numbered. I'm more referring to this idea of an individual chapter being memorable after you've read it. If a chapter is named, as well as being numbered, I expect that most readers would disregard the number from their memory, referring to the chapter by name only. It'd then become difficult to recall that chapters place within a story, without referring back to the book each time.

    Having said that, I guess you'd suffer the same issue trying to recall numbered chapters, so it probably doesn't matter either way!
     
  16. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    That's a point. If I was to add names, I'd keep the numbers as well.

    If I remember rightly, Game of Thrones chapters are just titled by the name of the POV character, with no numbers.
     
  17. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    In The Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline neither names nor numbers chapters; she simply gives them place and year headings, such as "Spruce Harbor, Maine - 2011" (there are several with this heading) and "Hemingford, Minnesota - 1929".
     
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  18. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, technically those are chapter names. But interesting that there are no numbers. I wondered if anybody did that.
     
  19. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sure there are numbers - 1929 comes before 2011 - she's just missed a few out!
     
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  20. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    I read that many e-book readers prefer named chapters because it makes it easier to find chapters. They can just go to the Table of Contents, skim the chapter names, and select.
     
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  21. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Either / or. Or both!
     
  22. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    The Beach by Alex Garland. No chapter numbers at all. Just section and chapter titles like: Self-Help, Exploring, Epitaph, Zombie Fish-eaters etc.

    I don't know about any of his other work. (Is there any? he mainly does film now)

    Also William Burroughs with Naked Lunch
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2015
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  23. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Most novels written for adults (so pretty much anything other than YA or children's books) use numbers for chapters. Just something to keep in mind if you ever decide to publish.
     
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  24. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Well, then there are about a dozen chapters with the same name - Spruce Harbor, Maine - 2011.
     
  25. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    I don't think it matters what you use. However, I notice numbers are quite preferred these days because chapters have become a lot smaller, so readers can pick up the book at leisure and read a few pages without feeling cut off. If your chapters are lengthy, you can actually combine named chapters with numbers, but that's more complicated, I guess.

    Just use what works best with your story, or what adds emphasis to your story; for example, a good chapter name can fire up the reader's excitement and enthusiasm.
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2015
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