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. Holes, Uglies, Unwind), 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.
- 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!
- 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
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.
- 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?