Writing Tip Tuesdays Chapter 8: Titles
Titles for stories are hard. I admit that. I think most authors will admit that. Sometimes they come to you, and sometimes you have to agonize over it for months before you come up with the perfect catchy title to draw readers in. Unfortunately, there’s no magic trick that’ll make title-brainstorming easier. But there are a few tips on how to come up with a good one.
The important thing about a title is that it’s the first thing your reader sees. They look at a title and say, “‘Revenge of the Ducks’? Doesn’t sound like my kind of story.” It’s got to be interesting, catchy, and appeal to your target audience. (If you want to write a book aimed at young children, “Zombie Slaughter and Blood” might not be a good idea.) A title should tell us a little bit about the book, enough to gain our interest. So, what are some ways to gain interest and tell us something about your book? Well, there are a couple different kinds of titles that have worked over the years.
The Main Character’s Name
Books like “Jane Eyre” or “The Great Gatsby” did this. Well, who is this Great Gatsby? readers might say. I want to know more about him! And so it begins.
One Word Titles
Example, “Divergent.” You can use deep words like “Hope” or “Loss” to convey one emotion to make your readers curious. Of course, this can also make them think that the book is too broad; that title doesn’t give them enough to decide. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes it’s very bad.
“The Old Man and the Sea” or “Hunger Games.” What’s the main conflict? Can you fit it into a short title?
There are so many more, and a quick internet search will give you hundreds of ideas.
Now, short titles can be a problem, as I said, since they’re incredibly broad. However, I’d avoid long titles even more so. These days, the long titles are associated with nonfictional books on everything from computer programming to motherhood. And while long titles may have been popular in the 1800s (the full title of Charles Darwin’s famous book is “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life”), they’re not so cool now. I’d say that titles with more than six words are probably coming close; over ten is definitely too many. You wouldn’t read a book called “The Girl Who Went out Into the Woods to Pick Berries and Never Returned Home,” would you? Okay, maybe you would, but how on earth do you recommend that book in a conversation with a friend? You’d lose them before you got to “woods.”
I could go on about this forever. Long story short, titles aren’t easy. A lot of authors will change them while writing the story, or even after it’s published. If you can’t think of a good one write now, pick a “working title” that you can at least use to refer to the manuscript. Hey, who knows? Maybe you’ll go with the working title in the end because it grew on you. If not, I’m sure you’ll find something. Ask friends for advice. (“So I’m writing a book about little kids with secret superpowers, and I’ve been calling it ‘Infant-Man,’ but I don’t think that will work. Do you have a better idea?”) Look around the internet for inspiration. There are plenty of places to come up with good book ideas. And of course, ask yourself, “Would I want to read a book with this title?”
Remember, the title is important. The readers see that even before the summary. The title can make your story or break it. Choose carefully, and don’t be lazy. (See the title of this post for an example of what not to do.) Pick an aspect of your story that sounds mysterious and fun, and get the readers interested. Don’t be boring!