Title Trouble

This may not be a problem for those whose works are getting published by a regular publisher, but for those who are not, it may be the cause for some massive headaches: coming up with the perfect title. After all, titles are what draw in readers, together with the cover and the blurb – the latter is not going to be read, though, if the cover and title do not stimulate the reader’s imagination. Earlier, I talked about the importance of a fitting cover. Now it is time to talk about the importance of the right title. How do you come up of that?

The kind of story and it’s genre usually determine what style of title would be fitting. I am only a writer of children’s fiction, so that is what I’ll stick to – plus maybe some YA novels.

Firstly, are you writing a series? If so, what is that series really about? If it is about a character, implementing the character’s name could work. Examples of this are the Harry Potter and the Junie B Jones series. In the case of the former, all titles in the series start with “Harry Potter and the [fill in phrase]”. In the case of the latter, Junie B.’s name is usually used somewhere in the title, although those are not as formulaic. Using a character’s name in a title is a good way to let young readers know to what series a book belongs. However, this does not only work for series; character names in titles often bring the fictional world a little closer to the reader, even when they haven’t read the actual story yet. You could also use a place name instead of a character name; as long as it is important to the story, it can be used.

Secondly, you could use an actual sentence from the story as a title – or at least part of it. Is there any sentence in your work that really stands out? Does it capture the theme of your story? You could tweak it a little if it’s too long. An example of this is To Kill a Mockingbird, which has been derived from the quote: “Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” In other words, don’t kill innocent beings that are only around to sing. The title is not clear by itself, but it still captures the heart of the book in only a few words. Poetic sentences make for nice titles; so do witty ones.

Thirdly, and this is the case for many YA books nowadays, you could use only one word. This is probably the most difficult to do, but it could be really rewarding. Ally Condie’s Matched does this, for example, by using the one word that sums up the main dilemma of the story. Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight is another case of a one word title, and while I am not going to judge the story’s value, the series’ titles are great – they all refer to phases of the night and darkness, as befitted for vampires. This might work the same as an entire phrase or sentence, though; is there one word that really captures the essense of your story? Use it.

This may or may not have been useful, but it is something I personally struggle with. Coming up with the right title is important, yet it can also be a lot of fun. In the end, it is also important to enjoy the entire writing process.

12 thoughts on “Title Trouble

  1. Cool post. I’m a YA author, and the novel I’m currently working on is called Through Babel. Hope it sticks haha.

  2. Argh, coming up with a title is gruesome, for me. A lot of pressure to pick something that will wrap up your book in a few words. Great post.

  3. Struggle with titles as well, except for the book that STARTED with the title. Could always ask for suggestions; you will probably wind up with one of your own, but it could give you ideas or show up things you don’t like!
    A friend asked for suggestions for her psychological horror with a mason as the protagonist, and I came up with “Game of Stones” which she didn’t realise was a joke….!

    • Never read/seen/heard of Game of Thrones…? Wow, that almost seems impossible… Still, it’s a funny title in context, although it sadly wouldn’t work anymore. Titles sometimes seem so hard to come up with, but other people always have a fresh outlook on the story 🙂

  4. She knew about Thrones, but I think she seriously considered the title as an attention grabber, maybe even something that might appear next to Thrones in a computer search… but it would not necessarily appeal to the same readers, and might look like shameless cheating. In the end it became Checkmate, and will be published by Snowbooks. I’m green.

    • Well, it could be an attention grabber… but sadly, I doubt that would go over well. Still, that’s amazing! To be honest, I looked them up and that sounds really cool — I’m a little ashamed of saying that, but whatever; I’m only 18 years old. Congratulations to her!

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