From Anne R. Allen’s Blog with Ruth Harris:
“Chapter titles!?” sez you. What is this, the 18th century? What am I supposed to write? Something like this?
Chapter the first, in which our hero is born, discovers that fire is hot, learns to pull up his own breeches, and slays a smallish dragon.
Hey, those 18th century writers knew their marketing. A reader flipping through a book in the shop could get an idea what kind of things were going to happen in the novel if it had descriptive chapter headers.
But yes, I know chapter titles went out of style in the age of modern minimalism.
Hemingway didn’t need no stinkin’ chapter titles. Neither did Fitzgerald or Faulkner.
However, some of the postmoderns later ventured into chapter title waters. David Foster Wallace used them in Infinite Jest, and John Barth titled his chapters in The End of the Road.
And in the 1990s, Annie Proulx used chapter titles to great effect in her Pulitzer Prize winner The Shipping News. Most of the chapter titles are the names of sailors’ knots, or other naval terms. Each chapter embodies a certain kind of knot, like “Love Knot”, “Strangle Knot” and “A Rolling Hitch.”
These literary authors used the chapter titles to enhance and comment on the content of the chapter. Even though they wrote before the era of e-books, they used the chapter titles in a reader-enticing way.
Chapter Titles are Essential for the “Look Inside” Feature on Your Buy Page
But chapter titles are making a big comeback in the age of the e-book.
Because of the “Look Inside” function on a book’s buy page at most online retailers. This is where you make or break your sale, as Ruth showed us in her great post on How To Lose a Book Sale. Most retailers insist on a Table of Contents in your opening pages. And the average Table of Contents of a novel looks like this:
Is that really what you want taking up the valuable real estate in your “Look Inside”?
Compare that with Rick Riordan’s current #1 Bestseller, The Red Pyramid
- A Death at the Needle
- An Explosion for Christmas
- Imprisoned with my Cat
- Kidnapped by a Not-So-Stranger…
Which table of contents is more likely to intrigue a reader?
Chapter Titles Aren’t Just for Children’s Books Anymore.
“Yeah, well,” sez you. “Rick Riordan writes for kids. I write for adults!”
It’s true that chapter titles are much more common in children’s literature, but savvy adult authors are using them too.
Delia Owens used chapter titles as well as titled sections in her runaway bestseller Where the Crawdads Sing. The titles intrigue readers as well as orient them in time and space.
The Crawdads Table of Contents looks like this:
Part 1—THE MARSH
Prologue (Yes, there’s a dreaded prologue. Owens breaks pretty much every rule, and sells millions.)
- A Boat and a Boy
- The Fishing Season
- Negative Data
- Just Grass in the Wind…
The chapter titles tell us who the chapter is about, and then show how the story will develop — without offering any spoilers. Owens’ chapter titles also give the reader a sense of place.
It sure is more interesting than a list of numbers isn’t it?
Delia Owens not only hit the NYT bestseller list with a debut novel — an amazing feat in itself — but she stayed there through 2019 and part of 2020. I wonder if her chapter titles had anything to do with her initial sales?
Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog with Ruth Harris