chapter subtitles

Should Chapter Titles Be Banished?


Dear Editor…

I recently heard that some editors don’t like chapter titles, saying they give things away. Should I not use chapter titles?


Dear Anonymous…

There’s no anti-chapter title movement simmering within the editorial ranks. It’s very much a book-specific call. Chapter titles can convey vital context, set moods, tease forthcoming content, and enhance stylized narratives. If your WIP doesn’t need those things, skip the titles. I recently advised an author to remove chapter titles from her fantasy because it was a high-action story and the titles did give away plot twists without adding benefit. By contrast, I’m reading The Ballad of Lucy Whipple to my sons at bedtime, and I can’t imagine that book without luxurious chapter titles and subtitles suited to the Gold Rush-era setting: “Chapter 1, Summer 1849: In which I come to California, fall down a hill, and vow to be miserable here.” While that telegraphs events, the compelling voice makes us yearn for the spitfire narrator to entertain us with the details. Each night before turning off the light, I read the next chapter’s title out loud then close the book and leave. My boys shriek at the delicious tease.

Happy writing!
The Editor