1. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,684
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    Location:
    Queens, NY

    Titles for Chapters

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by EdFromNY, Sep 7, 2013.

    In a thread nearby, the question has come up, as it does from time to time, about titling chapters of novels. A number of folks have opined either that one should not give titles to chapters or at least that it isn't the done thing. In a brief survey of 15 novels from my collection that were easily at hand (not a statistical sampling, but certainly random in its own way), I found 5 books published between 1977 and 2007 that had titled chapters, and three more that were divided into a few parts, in which the parts were labeled (though the chapters were not).

    I don't mean to suggest that the 1:2 ratio applies to the full population of novels published over a 30 year period, but it is enough to make me question of the whole issue is really only a matter of personal taste. In the other thread, I asked if anyone had reason to believe that chapter titles in an adult novel that was not in the sci fi or fantasy genre were enough to endanger one's chances of getting an otherwise publishable novel published. No one responded, so I thought start a new thread and ask anew.

    Before seeing the question raised here, I never gave chapter titles a thought. If I thought that giving titles to chapters helped the feel of the novel or added a dimension "for nice" (as the Pennsylvania Dutch say), I did it. Otherwise, I didn't.

    As it happens, when I look back over the five projects that have reached at least the finished first draft stage, plus my current project, 2 have chapter titles and 4 do not. One of the projects that does not have titled chapters has four major divisions that are titled.

    If there is something about titling chapters that, by its nature, puts off prospective agents or publishers, that is something that novice writers should know. I just can't understand why it would matter.

    Viewpoints?
     
  2. Thomas Kitchen
    Offline

    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2012
    Messages:
    1,258
    Likes Received:
    422
    Location:
    I'm Welsh - and proud!
    Firstly, I wanted to say that I'm currently reading a book published in 2010 with titled chapters, and an adult one at that - The Quantum Thief.

    Secondly, I honestly can't see why that would put agents and publishers off. Surely if they didn't like it, it's just a matter of cutting it out? I would have thought that the writing matters, the plot, the characters.

    As you can see, I clearly don't have a clue why this is an issue, but I just thought I'd voice my opinions. :)
     
  3. minstrel
    Online

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2010
    Messages:
    8,724
    Likes Received:
    4,821
    Location:
    Near Los Angeles
    My first novel (which is still in first draft stage, while I write some short stories and novelettes) has chapter and part titles. It never occurred to me while I was writing it that this would in any way be a problem.

    I honestly can't see an agent or a publisher rejecting a novel simply because the author titled the chapters. You'd think they'd just tell the author, "You know, our market research says that books with chapter titles don't sell as well as books that only have numbered chapters, so we're just going to take the titles off your chapters, okay?" The author would very likely say that's fine, and the book would be published.

    No agent would say, "I would have loved your book, but those chapter titles just ruined it for me and turned the experience of reading it into a torturous slog through the pits of hell. I was forced to burn your manuscript. Then I printed it out a second time and burned it again, just to be sure."

    I mean, why are chapter titles even an issue at all?
     
    Trish likes this.
  4. erebh
    Offline

    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 12, 2013
    Messages:
    2,620
    Likes Received:
    467
    Location:
    Los Angeles
    My first (only finished novel) was about a group of guys who toured Europe following Ireland's soccer team. It was all based on real life experiences and much described an International pub crawl with idiot dudes in Green lycra drinking cities dry - or at least trying there utmost! Anyway, I titled my chapters by country - nothing complicated - just Spain, Italy etc or if I wanted to get really elaborate I might've put the month and year so it read as a sort of diary. In my current work I have working titles - I'm not sure if that's just for me to keep up or if they'll stay - not sure I care really about chapter titles or not - like Minstrel says, I wouldn't stand in a bookshop and say no thanks just because the author blackmailed his editor into including titles.
     
  5. shunoshi
    Offline

    shunoshi Member

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2013
    Messages:
    29
    Likes Received:
    6
    Location:
    Crystal, MN
    I'm with everyone here; I can't imagine chapter titles being a determining factor in whether a book is published or not. I've written with both title chapters and without. I've read plenty of books with and without titled chapters as well. Blood Meridian takes it to an extreme and actually has an outlined synopsis covering 10-12 happenings in each chapter.
     
  6. Trilby
    Offline

    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,098
    Likes Received:
    69
    Location:
    NE England
    This Q. pops up from time to time and to date, I have never came across a decisive answer - no-one seems to know.

    I think it depends on the novel and whether chapter titles fit or add to the story.

    My WiP is a non-fiction MS and I have an apt title for each chapter, but each chapter could be an individual stand alone short story/vignette in its own right - yet together they all fit together and form a whole. If each chapter was not a stand alone piece, then I would not have named the chapters.

    I know! I still haven't answered the Q. but I don't know if agents' and publishers' have an aversion to this or not.
     
  7. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,351
    Likes Received:
    2,891
    Location:
    Boston
    I searched on Google to see if there was a consensus among writers, editors, and agents on this issue. As expected, there wasn't. It really does seem to be an individual preference. I think a lot of people don't use chapter titles simply because it's hard to come up with good titles. Heck, it's hard enough coming up with a good book title.
     
  8. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    i know from personal perusing that next to no adult market novels in the suspense/thriller/crime genres are chapter-titled... i can't say with any certainty what actual overall percentage is chapter title-less in other genres, but would love to know, if anyone has a much larger and more author-varied sampling than ed's to go by...

    as to what effect titling will have on agents/publishers re acceptance, i suspect it would have little to none, if the query hooks its quarry and the writing is professional quality... if the publisher finds titles to be inappropriate, they'd most likely be done away with...
     
  9. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,684
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    Thanks, Maia. I was hoping you would chime in on this.

    And I can understand why that would be. They are genres where one does not want to risk giving anything away too soon. I can also see titles in such cases being a possible distraction to the reader.

    My sample was simply the result of my own curiosity. As I said earlier, I don't pretend that it applies to an entire population of works, but I did find it thought-provoking.

    My thought, exactly. If it serves a purpose for the novel, it shouldn't be a problem.
     
  10. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    what effect it might have on agents/editors, however, is make the writer appear to be a clueless amateur, if the chapter titles aren't warranted... and obvious amateurs' submissions are generally not given the serious attention that would be paid to those from apparently seasoned/professional writers...
     
  11. minstrel
    Online

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2010
    Messages:
    8,724
    Likes Received:
    4,821
    Location:
    Near Los Angeles
    Why? What is it about chapter titles that make a writer appear to be a clueless amateur? It seems to me that the reason most adult novels don't have chapter titles is simply that it never occurred to the writers to use them. I doubt they left out chapter titles because there's some unwritten rule that says they make novels worse.
     
    GingerCoffee likes this.
  12. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,684
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    Well, a couple of things. First of all, I still haven't seen anything posted anywhere as to why chapter titles might be considered cluelessly amateurish. So, if I am missing something, I'd really like to know. Secondly, given that the normal process is query letter first, chapters after, the writer will usually have made a favorable impression once chapters are requested.

    In my current project, I know exactly why I'm using title chapters - to distinguish between historical chapters and present-day chapters (although I do it without using time periods in the titles).
     
  13. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,095
    Likes Received:
    5,306
    Location:
    California, US
    Ian Fleming used chapter titles in at least some of his James Bond novels. I've seen them elsewhere outside of fantasy and science fiction, albeit not frequently in more recent works.
     
  14. jpeter03
    Offline

    jpeter03 Member

    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2011
    Messages:
    40
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Massachusetts
    Chapter titles are like semicolons. Using them correctly and with purpose (no small feat) is perfectly acceptable, but misuse is an easy benchmark to an editor looking for the subtle difference between a polished author and an amateur. In the right hands, they can be quite effective.
     
  15. peachalulu
    Offline

    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    May 20, 2012
    Messages:
    3,829
    Likes Received:
    2,382
    Location:
    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    In my first novel, a rather phantasmagorical thing inspired by Twin Peaks, I titled my chapters - here's a sampling - Haden, Mr. Harris Becomes a Bachelor, Blue Bibi, What the Blind Man Saw. ( I was inspired by 40's-bad-mystery-titles lol) I mainly named them to keep track of events as the story became huge - clocking out at over 3,000 pages. To remove them would actually take away some of the old-school kook-factor vibe. If or when a publisher becomes interested in this opus ( when I finally go back and polish polish polish ) I will fight to keep the chapter titles.
     
  16. minstrel
    Online

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2010
    Messages:
    8,724
    Likes Received:
    4,821
    Location:
    Near Los Angeles
    This applies to everything, though. Misusing anything - semicolons, em dashes, commas, dialogue tags, paragraphs, sentence fragments, flashbacks, exposition, whatever - flags an author as an amateur. Chapter titles are no different. It seemed mammamaia was saying the very presence of chapter titles - whether they're good titles or not - flags the author as an amateur. I was wondering why that would be the case. She used the phrase "if the chapter titles aren't warranted," which means they have to be justified or necessitated (according to the OED). This implies that chapter titles should not be used unless there is some kind of extraordinary reason to use them. Why should the default position of publishers be "Don't use chapter titles"?
     
  17. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,897
    Likes Received:
    10,088
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    I won't pretend to know if publishers do or don't care about chapter titles, but as a reader, a chapter title is a tiny bit of a spoiler. It gives me a an expectation (even if it be only be a very vague one) of what is coming. I speak only for myself.
     
  18. jpeter03
    Offline

    jpeter03 Member

    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2011
    Messages:
    40
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Massachusetts
    That was not my understanding of mammamaia's post, but I don't mean to interpret anyone else's words here. I think part of the confusion comes from the fact that we are lumping all chapter titles into the same boat. The reasoning behind the title does not have to be extraordinary. Some chapter titles may be a necessary way of subdividing discrete plot points (i.e. dates or epistolary titles). Nevertheless, chapter titles are quite powerful and conspicuous. They pull the reader's attention away from the last chapter and focus attention on the title. The reader then has the expectation that the title will in some way relate to or inform the main point of the new chapter. Throwing out chapter titles with no reasoning behind them smacks of lazy writing.
     
  19. minstrel
    Online

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2010
    Messages:
    8,724
    Likes Received:
    4,821
    Location:
    Near Los Angeles
    Agreed, @jpeter03, but, as I mentioned, doing anything in writing with no reasoning (or inadequate reasoning) smacks of lazy writing. It's not just something specific to chapter titles. I'm assuming that if a writer includes chapter titles, he's using them with the same degree of thought and consideration he brings to every other aspect of writing. If that's the case, I don't see a problem with their use.
     
  20. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,605
    Likes Received:
    5,879
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    You said it more politely than my reaction which was, "Oh for pity's sake." First it's a claim that italics for inner dialogue is sloppy and lazy and now there's supposed to be some indication that titling chapters is clueless and amateurish?

    How is this even an issue? By what bizarre stretch of logic do chapter titles indicate anything? Is this some secret writer's clique and chapter titles mean you aren't in it?

    Sorry, I'm done ranting now.
     
  21. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,605
    Likes Received:
    5,879
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    While personal preference has legitimate weight in this discussion, it would seem to me your objection would only apply to certain chapter titles.
     
  22. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,605
    Likes Received:
    5,879
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    You cite a reason to put purpose into chapter title choices, which like Minstrel, I believe applies to everything in a piece. I don't see this is in any way an argument against titling chapters.
     
  23. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,897
    Likes Received:
    10,088
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    It's not so much an objection as just an observation. Even esoteric or cryptic chapter titles leave me always with that little committee of neurons trying to figure why the writer named the chapter as s/he did. This may well be the writer's intent.
     
  24. jpeter03
    Offline

    jpeter03 Member

    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2011
    Messages:
    40
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Massachusetts
    It wasn't an argument against titling chapters.
     
  25. peachalulu
    Offline

    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    May 20, 2012
    Messages:
    3,829
    Likes Received:
    2,382
    Location:
    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    Fiction has so many unique styles and changes in format - Seeing Emily's poetic layout, The Road's chapterless epic,
    Francesca Lia Block's rock-fairy-prose, I'm not sure why Chapter titles should be a no-no, unnecessary sure, but a no-no?
    The only way I'd see titles as being absurd is if it gives too much away - ie. imagine the final chapter in Jaws titled Ka-boom - or
    it has no purpose for being. First you have to have a reason for chaptering the titles - you're clearly making a statement
    and your drawing attention to the way the book is sorted out and presented and unless your story/style/theme is
    as unusual as the layout why bother?
    Charlie and the chocolate Factory ( I know, I know it's ya but it's still a good example ) is kooky enough to pull off the change
    in format. A more streamlined book though and the technique might look goofy.
     
    GingerCoffee likes this.

Share This Page