October 18, 2016

Chapter Headings: Choosing Right for Your Novel


If you look through books, you'll notice there a several types of chapter headings. Choosing the right one to go with your novel can be tricky. I don't pretend to be an expert, but here are my thoughts on choosing what type of heading goes best with your novel.

Type 1: Names

This is one of the most common types of chapter headings. It will say Chapter 1: The Beginning, or One: The Beginning, or something like that. They're fun to come up with and can give the reader an idea of what happens in the next chapter. But it can also be tricky to name chapters without giving away everything or sounding dumb.

Books with named chapter titles include The Lightning Thief, Artemis Fowl, and Eragon. I notice that a lot of fantasy and humor books have this type of chapter heading. They should be used to both help you, as a writer, and when you have chapters that need more explanation.

Type 2: Numbers

Numbering is the second popular type of heading. They're either titled Chapter 1 (or One) or simply the number. Plain and unobtrusive, these don't distract the reader at all, just alerting her that this is a new section.

Books with number titles include The Giver, Cinder, and Divergent. After looking at that list, I realize most dystopian books have number headings. But other genres that have that a lot are realistic fiction, historical fiction, and sci-fi. It should be used when you want to keep attention on the story.

Other Types

Some books, if told from multiple POVs, will use the character who's talking for the chapter heading, sometimes along with the chapter number. This is helpful so the reader remembers who's telling this section.

There are also books that include something after the chapter number, like a quote, a word definition, or things like that. This is often used for humorous effect, or to fit who the character is. I've personally never used this type, but to me it works best for funny books.

Which Type to Use

A general rule of thumb for chapter headings is if it's more serious, use numbers, if less so, use titles. This is something I have noticed, and doesn't work for all novels. But it is a good place to start. Always try to match the feel of your book to the type of chapter headings you use. And remember that rules are more guidelines anyway.

How do you decide which type of chapter heading to use? Do you have a favorite type? Let me know in the comments.

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