When trying to decide on chapter titles, writers face two major questions: 1) Should you come up with witty, clever titles ala Rick Riordan such as “I become Supreme Lord of the Bathroom” (one of my student’s favorites)? 2) Or, should you use something…simpler to label a chapter?
This is one of those questions that students, well, any writers (myself included) can get stuck on. But don’t get stuck. There are a variety of chapter title choices. You just need to pick one that works for you and for the piece you’re writing, and then continue writing. You can always come back and change when you’re done with the piece.
Following are some suggestions for coming up with chapter titles:
1) Plain old numbers – this is the most common method of labeling or titling chapters. It’s simple and easy and doesn’t require a massive drain on the witty part of your brain.
2) Dates or times – if you want to emphasize the pacing in your novel, whether it takes place over twenty four hours with a tight pace, or its more of an epic that takes place over twenty four years, dates or times can help keep your reader clear on exactly when events are transpiring.
3) The POV character’s name – if you are writing a book with multiple POV characters, starting each chapter with that character’s name is a huge help to your reader (and we want to be as nice as we can possibly be to our readers). Novels like Divergent and The Help use this strategy to help orient the reader.
4) A word or two that alludes to the theme or plot elements of the chapter – often when writers do this the meaning of the word or phrase isn’t clear until the end of the chapter, or it might be completely obvious.
For example, in Cinda Williams Chima’s novel The Demon King, chapter one is titled “The Hunt,” which is an obvious reference to the plot in that chapter, but chapter two is titled “Unintended Consequences” which creates questions the reader wants answered such as what is the consequence? What did the character do to have a consequence?
These chapter titles also work as hooks to pique the reader’s interest. J.K. Rowling uses this strategy throughout the Harry Potter series. Chapter one in book one is titled “The Boy who Lived.”
5) Witty, funny phrases – Rick Riordan is the master at this type of title. For some of us (who might not be as witty) they can be difficult to write, but if that’s your strength, go for it. Peruse the table of contents in any of the Percy Jackson series for a look at fantastically funny chapter titles.
Remember that you chapter titles won’t make or break your story. Focus on writing a strong story first and then choose your chapter titling strategy.