As you write your novel, you will definitely break them into chapters.
On top of the usual dilemma of where to break your chapters, there are also times when I face this problem of not knowing how to name the chapter title.
But before I share some chapter title tips, let’s discuss the purposes of a chapter title.
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Purposes Of Chapter Titles
A book is broken into easy-to-digest chapters so readers are
- given a short break to pause and digest what happened in the story
- made aware of transitions in the story (eg. change in setting or story arc)
Therefore, your chapter titles will then
- summarize what happened in that specific chapter
- intrigue readers and build anticipation of what will happen in this chapter
And of course, the ultimate goal is to compel your readers to continue reading your story. Each chapter title then becomes encouraging words to push your readers to keep flipping the pages.
Now that we know the purposes of chapter titles, let’s move on to some tips on how to name your chapter titles.
1. Chapters Don’t Need To Have A Title, They Can Be A Number
You can always keep things simple by just naming your chapters as “Chapter 1”. Just a simple number is enough to signal to your readers that this is a new chapter.
However, do remember to keep them consistent. If you use Hindu-Arabic numerals (eg. 1, 2, 3), stick to them throughout your story.
You can also choose to switch this to Roman numerals (eg. III, V, X) or any other languages, especially if your novel is set in a certain country.
In addition, you can remove the word “Chapter” and simply name the chapters as “3” or “V”.
2. Not Just Any Number But A Significant One
Besides naming your chapters chronologically, you can also name them after significant numbers.
For instance, you might name a chapter “1978” because the events that occurred in that chapter took place in the year 1978. You could also have “27” as your chapter title, depicting an important event in your protagonist’s life when he or she is 27 years old.
3. Feel Free To Begin With Something Else, Other Than “Chapter”
There’s no hard rule that we need to start chapter titles with “Chapter”.
You can always change this to “Letter 1” or “Lesson 1”. Whatever seems more relevant to your story.
Hence, do take a step back and think out of the box. You might come up with another word or phrase that’s more interesting and appropriate.
4. Include Your Characters In The Chapter Titles
If your book is written from multiple points of view (POV) where you alternate chapters with different character’s perspective, do consider including your characters in the chapter titles.
This way, head-hopping will be less confusing for your readers because they know right at the start of the chapter which character’s POV they are reading from.
You can also choose to combine this with the above techniques so that your chapter titles become “Letter From Jane” or “Jane, 1953”.
5. Include Your Setting In The Chapter Titles
Similar to the technique of adding specific years, you can also choose to include setting in the chapter titles.
This can include
- time of the day
- historical period
Examples include “Spring in Paris” and “Late Brunch in the Woods”.
6. Add A Spark Of Magic To Your Chapter Titles
If you’ve done exhaustive worldbuilding for your fiction novel, you probably created new names for the places, creatures or items in your story. Or better yet, you might have created a whole new language.
So why not tap into this? Include all these special words and phrases in your chapter titles.
By adding these unfamiliar names from your fictional world, you’ll spark readers’ curiosity and build anticipation.
But of course, you should only add them in the titles if these objects, creatures and locations are playing an important role in this specific chapter.
7. Go Back To The Basics: What Exactly Is Happening In This Chapter?
The most common way to name your chapters is based on the event that occurs in that specific chapter.
If your protagonists meet for the first time, you might name your chapter as “Encounter”. If your protagonist confesses his love, you can name your chapter as “Confession” or “Escaping The Friend Zone” (if they’re moving from friends to lovers).
8. Resonate With Your Readers By Including Something Familiar
What this means is actually pretty simple.
You could name your chapter titles after something your character said. This could be an important dialogue or monologue. For instance, your protagonist might think or even say “I really regret getting married!” which leads to a major crisis in her relationship with her husband.
By using the exact words spoken by your characters in the chapter titles, you close the distance between your characters and readers. They can then connect and perhaps even identify themselves with them.
There are also other options like including idioms, wise sayings or famous quotations. Such phrases might be suitable if they aptly describe the situation in your chapter or they’re lessons that will be learned in this chapter.
I tried this while writing my fanfiction. But instead of using famous quotations for chapter titles, I use them as subtitles.
I wouldn’t recommend adding song lyrics because you might encounter copyright issues.
Also, let your creativity run free! You could try adding mathematical formulas such as “E=mc²” or criminology jargon such as “modus operandi” if you’re writing crime fiction.
9. Punctuate Your Chapter Titles For Impact
Just like how you end your chapter with a cliffhanger, consider doing it to your chapter titles too.
You could punctuate your chapter titles with
- Exclamation mark (!): signals strong feelings, high volume (such as someone shouting) or to emphasize something
- Question mark (?): makes your readers think about the answer for a question
- Ellipsis (…): intrigues your readers with an unfinished sentence or phrase
Of course, you can also choose to not include any punctuation. For instance, you might not punctuate your one- or two-word chapter titles.
Another tip: try not to punctuate your chapter title with a period. Why? Because a period (.) signals the end of a sentence and evokes a sense of finality. By including a period in your chapter title, you direct your readers’ attention to stop there too. And I’m sure this is something you don’t want. You’d rather them go past the chapter title and begin reading the story itself, right?
10. Reinforce Your Novel’s Theme By Relating Back To Your Book Title
To be honest, you can’t really do this for every book. It depends on your book title and whether your chapter titles make sense.
Take for example, I included a time-related number, phrase or word in all the chapter titles of my Countdowner trilogy. Luckily, these chapter titles make sense and also aptly describe what happens in those specific chapters.
On the other hand, I can’t do this for my Asphodelus trilogy. I try to include some words or phrases that have a special meaning in this ghostly world. But I can’t do it for all chapter titles. Only some of them.
Thus, it really depends if you can come up with appropriate chapter titles that tie back to your book title and whether you can do this consistently throughout your book and entire series.
You can try but don’t force yourself. Ultimately, your chapter titles should compel readers to continue reading your story.
Bonus Tip: Consistency Is Key. Be Consistent When Naming Your Chapter Titles.
Whichever technique you use to name your chapters, do remember to keep it consistent. There should be a pattern behind your chapter titles.
For instance, if you decide to use Roman numerals, do use them throughout your entire book. The same applies to formatting as well. Whether you decide on title or sentence case, stick to it throughout your novel.
Now It’s Your Turn
How do you name your chapters? Do you have any chapter title tips to share with fellow writers?
Also, do check out the Beginner’s Guide To Formatting & Breaking Chapters In Your Fiction Novel!
Do consider getting novel planning worksheets. Etsy has many such printables, including word count trackers, novel outlines, character profiles, worldbuilding basics and more.
For more book publishing and marketing tips, consider joining classes like How To Write And Publish An eBook and Sell Your First 1000 Books. Or watch streaming broadcasts of free online classes at CreativeLive! You can also join online courses at Fiverr Learn and Udemy~