I name chapters when I write. I know authors have different opinions on this and different styles, and I confess I’m rather curious what makes people choose one way or the other. For me, while it’s my preferred style it’s nothing I’m locked into. However, when I have stylistic reasons not to do it, I have other compelling reasons to keep naming chapters anyway.
From my earliest novel experiment to my first actual published novel, I named chapters right along. (In my earliest work, I also numbered them.) I like the challenge of coming up with an interesting chapter name. But when I wrote The Affix, I had no such intention; in fact it was broken up with scene breaks, and had no chapters at all until I got into the editing process.
What I discovered while editing The Affix was that breaking the story up into chapter-sized chunks and giving those chapters names made it a million times easier to keep my place and know where I was in the story at any given moment. Simply landmarking the story gave me an enormous sense of the flow of events. The names I came up with were half tongue-in-cheek, and originally I’d planned to keep them for my own use but strip them out on publication. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked the names, and so they stayed.
Next up in the can I have Below, the first book in the Merchantman Halflight series, and Gray Area. With the first two, naming chapters was a no-brainer, but when I wrote Gray Area I deliberately tried to break away from chapter names. Each chapter was numbered: 1 through 45. (They’re mostly short.) I liked the old-school simplicity of that. Many sci-fi books I’ve read have numbered chapters that way, never giving them names. But the more I worked on editing, the more I realized that a lack of signposts was a hindrance. And even worse, the table of contents—a must in an e-book—looked dreadful.
As a result of this realization, I’ve had to make some changes to Gray Area. I gave the chapters titles, and took away their numbers. I’m going to change the TOC to a two-column format with “Now” and “Then”, since the story alternates between present and past timelines. I think it will work better.
But it saddens me that the numbered format didn’t work out. Oh, I could have made it work, and in spite of editing difficulties it wasn’t all that bad. What put it over was the TOC. I just couldn’t stand that it was nothing more than a table of numbers. I’d prefer to omit it entirely, but with an e-book you really can’t do that.
Quite some time ago I noticed that one of my favorite authors, William Gibson, switched to a format where his short chapters all had names based on a word or phrase in the chapter. (I was reminded of this recently when I read The Peripheral over vacation.) I mostly went with that here, because it seemed like a good compromise. For the most part, there was no call for evocative or clever chapter titles.
So now, once I get the TOC squared away and get the story to some readers, I think it’s good to go. And then I’ll have three books fully in the can. I really, really need to find me a cover artist for Below. But finding a cover artist for the Halflight series will be a much bigger job.