How To Title Your Story

You’ve come up with a beautiful idea. Characters, worlds, and dramatic scenes have started to blossom in your imagination. Yet, you’re missing one important thing: the title.

An eye-catching, intriguing title is a vital part of your story. After all, it’s one of the first things the reader is going to see (and if you’re trying to get a book published, that reader could be a literary agent or editor).

Picking the perfect title is a huge challenge for me. Often, I won’t start a story until I give it a title (even if it’s a temporary one). Somehow, working on an untitled story feels wrong to me. But of course, that’s just my own weird quirk! Many writers don’t title their books until midway through the process, or even not until they’ve finished writing the whole story.

What makes a good title?

There are no set rules for titling a story, but I think the key element is intrigue. It makes the reader want to know more. Whether it’s a lengthy title (i.e. The Knife of Never Letting Go, All The Light We Cannot See, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn), a single word (i.e. HolesUgliesUnwind), or somewhere in between, it should make the potential reader scratch their head. Why that title? How does it relate to the story? The only way to find out is to read it!

How do you come up with the right title?

As I said, there is no one way to pick a title––but personally, I have several key tactics to find a title if I’m stuck.

1. The name of a character, place, or other important name/term in the story

It may seem obvious, but you can always name your story after your main character, the name of the setting, or another term/phrase that is significant in the story.

Examples:

  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
  • David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (Bonus points for using a name AND a place!)

2. A significant quote/phrase from your story

This is the approach I took with titling I Chose The Monster (there’s a long-ish explanation about it here, if you’re curious)––although it was kind of an unusual circumstance for me, since I actually had the idea for the title (and the line it comes from) before I had a full story idea.

But anyway: If you’ve already started (or finished!) writing the story, and you’re still struggling to find a title, take a look at what you’ve written. Are there any lines or interesting/original phrases you’re particularly proud of? Does that line/phrase capture something important about the story? If so, it may be a great title!

Examples:

  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  • A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

3. A famous and/or literary quote from another source

This is how I got my title for The Waters and the Wild (it comes from the W.B. Yeats poem “The Stolen Child“). Years ago, I wrote a book called Walking Shadow (which came from a line in Macbeth).

If you can’t find to seem to find a fitting title within your story, you can always look for interesting lines/phrases elsewhere! Famous poems, plays, and other literature can provide great inspiration for titles.

Examples:

  • The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

 

These are just a few of the ways I’ve come up with titles in the past––and hopefully, if you struggle to pick titles (I know I do!), the above tips will help.

How about you guys?

  • When in the process do you choose a title? Before you start writing? After?
  • Do you find it challenging to title your stories? Why or why not?
  • How do you usually come up with titles?
  • What are some of your favorite book titles?
Advertisements

14 thoughts on “How To Title Your Story

  1. Most of my stories name themselves, so more often than not, the one that pops up before I’ve even started is the right one. It isn’t always that easy. Sometimes I really have to wrestle with a story to find the right title, but I don’t have any method for it. Different ideas will come to mind, and I’ll play around with them until they’re either just right, or never gonna be right.

    One bit of advice that keeps cropping up lately, and is probably the reason for so many “titles” that include “romance” or some other keyword is that you should always make sure your title has keywords that will come up in a search. Best way in the world to come up with crap. Best way to guarantee that I won’t even look at your book.

    Not a single one of those well-known ones you mentioned have searchable key words. Who the heck is going to look for mockingbird when they’re looking for a good novel?

    1. Weird––I hadn’t heard of people intentionally using keywords in their titles like that, but I believe it haha. I agree, that doesn’t sound like a good method for coming up with a memorable title!

  2. Jay Argall

    I tend to have a hard time naming stories. Usually, what I end up doing is giving my novel a temporary name and then choosing one much later on when I’ve got most of the plot worked out.

    1. I have trouble with it, too. And yes that’s one way to do it! Sometimes I just have a “working title”, but a lot of the time it just ends up sticking (maybe because I get so used to it, haha).

  3. I’m really bad at coming up with titles. Sparkers wasn’t my idea. For Book 2, the working title was Changelings, which I liked and was parallel to Sparkers, but there are too many books with “changeling” in the title, and my editor thought it had the wrong connotation (i.e. fairies). So what I ended up doing was coming up with another, slangier word for changelings, and that took a lot of brainstorming. I was literally looking up animals that practice brood parasitism (e.g. laying eggs in the nests of another species), but none of those was going to make a good title.

    In the end, Wildings sort of came from the title of a short story by Anatole Le Braz I once translated from French called “Le sauvageon” (“sauvage” = “wild” and “-on” = a diminutive in French). (I just checked, and I actually translated the title as “The Wildling,” but somehow I discovered that “wilding” was actually a word in English with an interesting meaning that I thought was fitting. Plus I think wildlings are something in Game of Thrones.)

    1. Wow! It’s cool to hear how you came up with that title (which I love, by the way!). I also often get stuck with titles and end up doing some weird research for inspiration. 😀 The best titles can come from the most unexpected places!

  4. Good post covering all the problems; sound advice. Stressing the importance of having a title which attracts the reader, without being judgemental on whether it should be short or long.
    When I was writing this humorous fantasy series they were given long and involved titles for irony’s sake like ‘An Annoying Trace of Integrity’- they seemed quite witty, until one professional finally read that volume and complained about the title- oh well lesson learnt-Irony doesn’t always travel so well.
    New work- semi-serious fantasy (with action) currently under the less ambitious Patchwork Warriors- this one might travel

    1. The same thing always happens to me! I’ll come up with a title I like, and then I Google it and find out it’s already taken. 😛 Sometimes I just let it be, though, as long as the book with the same title isn’t super well-known or anything.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s