What’s in a Title?

Titles are important. They are the key that invites your reader to open the door to your book or your story. A good title will make opening the door easy; a bad title will not. 

So what should you consider when choosing a title for your novel or short story?  Here are a few things to keep in mind: 

1) Your title should distill your story in a nutshell.  By this I don’t mean that your title should give away your story, but it should capture the essence of your story. Don’t be in a hurry to title your story (although I am one of those writers who usually needs a title before I can even start my story).  Often a snippet of dialogue spoken by one of your characters can trigger the best title for your story. So tell your story. You may find that in the telling, you’ll discover your title. 

2) Make sure your title isn’t cutesy.  For example, don’t use alliteration for the sake of alliteration.  Use it only if it makes your title compelling. Editors detest cutesy titles. Take time to think of a title worthy of your story. 

3) A title should err on the short side.  I’ve heard said that a title should not exceed five words and that three words are a good number.  Regardless, try not to give your story a long title.  First of all, it may not fit on your book cover. Second, it will be difficult to remember. 

4) Choose a title that is “pronounce-able“.  Yes, that’s what I said. 🙂  A title that flows off the tongue will be remembered–and read.  

5) Make sure your title gives a clue to your plot.  For example, you don’t want to call your story The Belle of Amsterdam when your story has nothing to do with Amsterdam or with “belles”.  🙂 

Some writers can think of a title right away; others can take months to think of one. In either case, take time to choose a good title. You may have to go through several before you find the one that “sits” well.  Ask your friends to give you input on your title choices. You’ll be surprised at how insightful their opinions will be. 

My own first novel started with the title Sicilian Sunrise.  While this is a good title, as my story evolved I discovered that Sicilian Sunrise did not reflect my plot as strongly as I wanted it to.  After consulting with my mentors and critique partners in the MFA program in which I am currently enrolled, I decided to change the title of my novel to The Madonna of Pisano.  This title reflects the situation of my main character who, like the Madonna in the Scriptures, has suffered much in silence but has risen above her sorrow. 

If you’re like me and can’t start a story without first having a title, then give your story a “working title.”  This will allow you the psychological freedom to write your story while giving you the option of changing your title later on. 

For further reading on how to choose a title, check out this article:

http://www.writing-world.com/fiction/titles.shtml

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4 thoughts on “What’s in a Title?

  1. My understanding is all titles are working titles until the publishing houses gives the okay or changes it. That’s why you need a great title. If it’s a really good one, an editor will be less likely to change it.

    Another tidbit: titles can’t be copyrighted. I could write a novel and call it Gone With The Wind if I wanted, but I don’t think that’s a wise idea.

    My working title for my fantasy novel is Fairyeater. The antagonist does kill and eat fairies and the plot centers around the consequences of that. I like the title and I’m hoping an editor will, too.

    December 4, 2010 at 10:07 PM