Chapters: To Name or Not to Name

Chapters, some books have them, some don’t, and everyone has an opinion on them, so I asked my fellow writers over on Twitter for their thoughts. Below are some of the responses.

As you can see, the responses varied. Some people like short ones, others long, others don’t care as long as they work with the story being told. Another contentious issue is the naming of chapters. So what are my thoughts?

When it comes to reading, I enjoy a short chapter. It appears to make the book easier to read. I say this because I’m one of those people who likes to put a book down when it reaches the end of a chapter. When I stop in the middle of a chapter, I don’t particularly appreciate going back into a book. It simply makes it more challenging to read. So, because the chapters are short, I can say, “I’ll just read one more,” and it won’t take me long. I’ll probably save it for another time if it’s a long chapter. I’ve seen really long chapters and ones that are only a paragraph or two long in my reading life, but the responses I received from my fellow authors/readers are correct; if it works for the storey, it doesn’t matter how long the chapter is. Of course, some books, such as Terry Pratchett’s novels, do not even have chapters. When I’m reading these, it’s all about finding that logical stopping point in the narrative, like switching to the voice of another character. Some people may find this off-putting, and I understand how they feel; it took me a while to adjust, but it works well in his novels.

When I’m writing, my chapters are pretty short. This isn’t a conscious decision, mind you; it just seems to be the way things turn out. I have, however, written a few long chapters when a scene calls for more detail or fleshing out. However, there are some advantages to this writing style, particularly when it comes to editing. It means I can keep using my “just one more” method and not stop in the middle.

The naming of chapters is also a topic of debate among authors and readers. Some people may interpret chapter titles as a spoiler for what will happen within the chapter, which could ruin their reading experience. I understand this, but I’m not sure how I feel about it. I’ve read many books, and there’s a lot of naming, not naming, and even adding timestamps and other things. It’s never ruined my enjoyment of a book for me, and sometimes I don’t even notice what a chapter is called. I don’t read “Chapter 4” and pay attention to it, so chapter names/titles don’t bother me.

I’ve used a variety of styles in my writing. My first book, Creatures, had numbered chapters, but it was divided into three distinct parts, each of which had a name, but would anyone have read these title pages? I’m not sure. I used numbered chapters again in The Next Stage, but this time I added time and date stamps to show when the action in the scene occurred. This, I believe, not only aids the reader in determining what is happening and when, but also aids me in editing by allowing me to get the timing correct within the storey. Incredibly useful! The only thing that Blindsighted had were chapter numbers. I started naming them, but I gave up halfway through because I saw the names as minor spoilers that, in a way, ruined the mood I was trying to set in the book. However, in my most recent WIP, the second book in the Creatures series, I’m still using “Part 1, Part 2, etc.,” but I’m also naming my chapters. I’m finding it helpful to name them in this case because it helps me remember what happened in each; whether I’ll keep them in the finished manuscript is another question; I haven’t decided yet.

I believe that the debate over chapters will continue as long as books are written, and that the way they are organised may change over time. So whatever method you prefer, stick with it and enjoy writing/reading the way you want.

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