to Choose a Title
When you’re looking for a title for
your story or article, consider those already published. Of course, you don’t want someone else’s title, but you
can learn a lot from the kinds of titles others chose for their books, movies and songs.
What follows is not a definitive list, just
my own observations about titles.
Many contain character names, or
names about the character:
- Illywhacker, I am Jack, The Beaufort Sisters, Mon Oncle Henri, Dog Boy, Charlotte’s Web, Harry Potter and ___, Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, Auntie Mame.
- Others include something about the setting: The Herb of Grace, O’Reilly’s Hotel, Star Wars, Stone Beach,
Where the Wild Things Are.
- Some refer to important object(s) within the story, with or without the article: The Sunbird, The Flat-Footed Flies
of Europe, The Poky Little Puppy, The Outsiders, Green Eggs and Ham, Lottery, An Unusual Life, Fried Green Tomatoes at the
Whistle Stop Café.
- Some titles are how to do something: How to Stop a Train with One Finger, How to Make Love While Conscious.
- The main event, or element, or theme of the story inspires some titles: The Empire Strikes Back, A Wrinkle in Time,
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Firestarter , The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.
- Some titles use a phrase, something of, or to, or in something else: Night of Darkness, An Affair to Remember, The
Count of Monte Cristo, Visions of Excess, Alice in Wonderland.
- Some titles employ alliteration: Be Bold with Bananas, Lust for Life, Marjorie Morningstar.
- Certain genres lean towards certain types of titles. In romance, you often find titles like these: Her Loving Arms,
His Faithful Heart, Passion’s Plaything, My Gallant Hero, Delicious Torment.
- You can recognize quotes from other work in some titles: For Whom the Bell Tolls, Stranger
in Paradise, All That Glitters, Something Wicked This Way Comes.
When I’m choosing
a title for a story, I spend time thinking about my theme, my characters and plot. I re-read passages or the whole thing.
I jot down any key words or phrases. I look for a significant phrase or a line of dialogue, one that encapsulates the story’s
essence or main idea.
After that, I let
my muse out to play. I play with rhyme or word association. I might use my thesaurus to find synonyms, or brainstorm words
myself. Double meanings are a jackpot! I love changing one word to come up with a new idea, too. If I’m writing about
a murder in a grain silo, I’ll morph grain>gray>grapes. I’ll remember Steinbeck and create The Grains of
I use my Dictionary of Quotations index to look up key words. Sometimes,
the quotes will spark new ideas. Recently, I looked up “dark”. I found a Coleridge quote: “The sun’s rim dips; the stars rush out: At one stride comes the dark.” This led
to: When the Dark Comes Striding, When Striding Comes the Dark, No Stars Rush Out, Star Rush, Comes the Dark, Striding.
I give myself permission
to woolly gather. I let my mind and eyes and ears roam. Once, when I needed a title for an article about a very spiritual
experience in a Butterfly House, I noticed the book, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” I changed one
word so my article became: “Zen and the Art of Butterfly Maintenance”.
I discuss titles
with friends. We brainstorm ideas. Often, I’ll piggyback onto someone’s idea and come up with a slightly different
one that suits my story well. Sometimes my friends will simply give me feedback, and vote for their favourite title.
I think about my
title just before I go to sleep, to allow my subconscious mind to work on it. When I wake up, a perfect title will often be
there. Of course, you must believe in The Title Fairy before this one will work for you.
Writers need to remember
the main purpose of a title is to grab a reader’s attention and have them want to read a story or buy a book. To do
that, a title should give a signal as to the content. You wouldn’t choose “This Lonesome Heart” as a title
for your book about keep fit exercises and foods for a healthy heart, but it might make a catchy title for your love story.
So what makes a good
title, anyway? I think Dan Poynter sums it up best when he says: “It is one that sells the book.” Read as much
as you can about ways of choosing titles, about titles that hook the reader and those that don’t, play and be creative
with it. Come up with a selection and ask some friends to choose the one they would want to buy if they saw it in a bookshop
And if none of that works
for you, ask a nine-year-old.
Quote of the Month
“The longer the title,
the less important the job.” George McGovern
Have you been to these sites?
Read the Winners, 2008
Travel Writing Contest
Verb contest, deadline July
Digest has updated the site
Call for submissions, Lace and Blade 2