On Writing: Picking a Title


For Juliet, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but a story with a title that doesn’t sing to a reader will most likely go unread.

When crafting title you must first answer some questions.

First question to answer is what’s your story about?

My first novel is about revenge. So I called it “A Tale of Compounded Interest.” To me it suggested what revenge was, an interest for a slight or crime.

Does it sit that way from a reader perspective?

Or does it suggest a book about banking or accounting?

A title is a hook. It draws in an audience and makes them turn to the first page. One should shy away from the generic and break out the thesaurus to avoid redundancy.

A good title catches attention in a clever, inclusive and provocative manner.

The dangers lie in being cheesy, confusing, vague and inappropriate.

So how do we build a great title and avoid the pitfalls.

By following these three simple rules.

Don’t be boring

Build something that zings

And something appropriate to the story


If it were only that easy.

I pick a title like I write the rest of my story. I work it. I tinker and change and allow it to live and breathe. I never grow attached to any one wording. I add and subtract until I have something that’s passable.

Some authors like the pick and hone method.

Others will look at the story and determine that the most important words are those that sum up the plot that follows and then use a combination of them in their title.

Maybe they look at the plot and pick a crucial moment and go with it.

Maybe an undertone or feeling works best. Even the theme of the work can be used as a title.

Some titles rely on the location to do the heavy lifting. A place will conjure up feelings faster then any collection of verbs and adjectives.

Every story is built on a pedigree, and studying what came first in your genre of choice can make a difference in determining the perfect title. If you are writing a space opera referring to romantic elements might not be in your best interest. Writing a drama? A serious title would probably go best.

Or study other forms of writing. Newspaper articles, essays, scientific journals are great sources for inspiration.

But my main suggestion would be to read poetry. Poets can turn a phrase like none other. They use words like gun shots.

But remember the goal should be homage. Never copy. Even though a title cannot be trademarked it still better to be original. Originality sticks out and is memorable and you for sure don’t want your work to get stuck in the crowd for having a generic title.

In the end all the work and effort an author puts into generating a title may be for naught. Publishers are known for changing titles to better reflect a work. This usually affects newer authors, but the bottom line is never be attached to anyone thing and as with all other elements of writing, be willing to accept criticism.



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