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Whether or not to use chapter titles or numbers is a subjective choice that varies with each novel. This decision typically rests with the writer (if you are self-publishing), and the writer, agent, and publisher collectively (if you are traditionally publishing), who must determine the most effective approach for the story. 

Several factors need to be considered when making this choice, including the tone of the story and the intended audience. 

Tone: What best reflects your story – titles or numbers? Which one would reinforce the goal you have in writing it? Titles can add depth and context to each chapter, ramping up tension or providing information that adds to the reading experience. However, they should be carefully thought out to avoid making the story feel childish or simplistic. 

Is there anything important you need to tell the reader? Titles can signal shifts, such as a change in location or switching perspective-characters.

Audience: Preference for titled or numbers chapters is significantly different across genres and audience demographics. Titled chapters are popular in children’s books, young adult, and fantasy, where they can enhance the story through imagery or contextual details. However, any genre can feature chapter names. 

Reaching out to beta readers or hosting polls online can help determine your specific audience’s preferences. Some readers enjoy clever lines and added information in titles, while others prefer how straightforward numbered chapters are.

Let’s take a look at both options to see how they compare.

Numbering – 1, 2, 3

Chapter numbers have replaced the standard of titles that existed a hundred years ago. This is a stylistic choice, as more often writers want to establish a character-focused narrative. They want the reader to feel immersed, not be reminded that someone is telling the story. Numbers can create a seamless story where a reader can move quickly between chapters.

Pros

Cons

Styles

How you number a chapter can vary according to your purposes. In the end, it is a stylistic choice that has some effect on the atmosphere of your story. 

Here are some common options:

Titling – What’s in a name?

When you create a book title, there are certain ways to use it to a story’s advantage. You can read more about creating book titles here

Creating chapter titles – and using them to build on your story – is similar to the process of creating a book title, but on a smaller scale.

Pros

Cons

Purpose

A chapter title has many uses, some of which are:

Structure and style

Whichever angle you use to name your chapters, it’s important to be consistent. If you use timestamps, make sure they appear in a specific pattern. That can be before every chapter, on journal entries, or only on chapters that are told from a specific character’s perspective.

Other structure examples include:

Likewise, the style of each title should be the same to avoid confusion and create the feeling of an organized whole. Some things to keep in mind are:

Name and number, please

Some writers choose to use both numbers and titles for their chapters. This can help a reader know how far along in the book they are (ex: chapter 3 out of 20) while also creating memorable sections they can use to sort information (ex: Chapter 3 – I find out zombies don’t like blueberries). 

Some writers prefer to title chapters before writing them, using the title as a focus to guide the chapter’s content. Others choose to add titles after writing the chapter, ensuring the title fits the content. This way, they can also draw from specific lines of prose or dialogue for inspiration.

Ultimately, the choice between chapter titles and numbers should be determined by the unique needs of your story and its audience Whether you opt for numbers to remain neutral and present seamless narration or add layers of information with titles, the goal is to enhance the reader’s experience and complement your narrative.