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Apr 022014
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In search of a good story title

Last month I wrote a post about the impact of book covers on your reading choices. This month I am thinking about titles.

I am a fiction writer who has a hard time selecting titles for her stories. I am somewhat in awe of people who create clever titles. A writing colleague once told me that it is the titles she thinks of first and they become the inspiration for the rest of the piece.

I usually have a working title, but it is rarely something I consider appropriate for the final version. Even after the story is finished, edited and rewritten many times, I struggle to select a title. I want something catchy that speaks to the theme. I look for symbols within the story. And yet, I am rarely satisfied with my choices.

Good book titles capture a potential reader’s attention and provide insight into the content of the book. In 2008, Goodreads created a list of 276 best book titles based on votes by readers. Many titles on this list are sure to get your attention.

Books on my bookshelf with interesting titles include Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson, The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews, In The Hands of the Living God by Lillian Bouzane, and The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. (All are excellent reads, by the way.)

If you are a writer, how do you come up with titles? Readers: Do you have a favourite title? Have you ever read a book where the title didn’t seem to match the content?

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  25 Responses to “Untitled”

  1. Hi Donna, I struggle with titles every time! I like to use metaphors in my titles but that makes them very hard to illustrate and it makes it difficult to convey what the story is about. The magic happens if the title sticks in people’s minds and illustration conveys what the story is about. Not easy to achieve! How do I come up with titles? The Sheep Walker’s Daughter and The Lyre and the Lambs (working title) announced themselves to me. I think it’s a process that happens in dreams. The themes and metaphors in my stories play in my brain and the book names itself. Then the fun begins when the publisher says, “huh?”

    Thanks for writing about titles. Always a good subject.

  2. I love coming up with titles, though it can slow down the start of my process. The title for my WIP was a no-brainer since there really is a Lost Girl Road in Montana that inspired the kernel for the story. Before I started drafting, I also came up with chapter names like “Bad Medicine” and “Red Rum.” The same goes for my short travel pieces I’m working on. The title helps guide my focus and tone. One essay started off called “Home on Their Range.” As I explored how Yellowstone tourist interacted with wildlife, it then morphed into “Home on the Range in Jellystone” to better get at the ironies. Mainly, I just brainstorm and tweak for a really long time. During that time, my mind also starts building the structure for the piece as I play with titles. The real irony is that I never suggested this way for students when I taught English. I guess I don’t play by my own rules. I can never start until I really, really like my title 🙂

  3. Hi Donna. Titles really do fascinate and I specially sympathize with thosr publishing in several languages as a lteral translation seldom conveys the same nuance. Oddly many of Dickens’ titles that are simply the name of a character appeal to me though I see that more in film than in other literature

  4. Hi Donna. Titles really do fascinate and I specially sympathize with thosr publishing in several languages as a lteral translation seldom conveys the same nuance. Oddly many of Dickens’ titles that are simply the name of a character appeal to me though I see that more in film than in other literature

  5. As with the others I think finding the right title is a lot of fun and really rewarding when you are completely happy with the end result. You just know when it’s right because it fits perfectly; conveying the right message with a side of wonder that hopefully hooks the browser.

  6. Ooh, good question. A whole other layer to that for blog posts and search optimization. If it’s for my blog, I don’t worry about it to much. Little elves can change it in the middle of the night while everyone is sleeping. I could imagine if it’s for a book or magazine article then there would be much more sleepless nights.

  7. Hi Donna: I think titles are important to books and poetry, but if you were writing magazine or newspaper articles, you’d soon learn to live with whatever the editor assigned the story as they usually play with titles. Even publishers like to have their way with proposed book titles. That happened with my previous book about volunteerism. The publisher chose a subtitle that pigeon-holed the book. So I was thrilled that I had full artistic control with Chocolatour. It took months to come up with the proper sub-title, but I think it works. Cheers!

    • I’ve had article titles changed and that didn’t bother me. The choice seemed better than mine. I don’t know how I’d react if I had to argue with a book publisher over a title I’d become attached to. By the way, Chocolatour is a great title.

  8. Hello . For some finding titles is fun and for others it’s really hard.
    Title plays a vital role to help a person to get the idea of stuff provided. They also attract readers . But sometimes when you come across an amazing title go through whole book and find , title had nothing to do with story.
    I think one must be honest to reader while selecting title. I have read so many books some with good and few with deceiving ( sorry to say… I am referring to fact, in this case title was only used to catch the reader and had nothing to do with story) titles , but they are in another language.

    • It’s possible the title that didn’t match the book may have had some meaning lost in translation, but even still I would find it frustrating not to be able to connect the title to the story.

  9. Ahhhh…what a topic!! I think for some it is easier than others. Often the title comes right out of the prose….just jumps out at you and others it tales some rel thinking. My friends that have been published by the big 6 tell me that the title f their works was changed many times and was rarely what they titled it themselves. My title had had it down sides…but by and large it has served the book well.

  10. When i first started blogging I was told topick a name for my domain name that was catchy and I was also told how important the names of the articles are. So you are correct the same thing goes for book titles. some books have titles that you read and ignore and other titles grab you and draw you in. I just pick titles that go with my story that are funny, sometimes off the wall, and other times controversial.

  11. My titles come out of situations and I try to make them catchy. I mostly write a piece and then out of it springs the title. Sometimes most times I start with a title, it changes after the final content is done.

  12. Sometimes I have a title and no story to go with it!
    Maybe your problem with the title is that you feel so pressured to find a catchy title, take a deep breath, write some more and sometimes it will just pop out! I agree with ‘Syd it might just come to you in a dream, I know some of my titles for my posts have 🙂

  13. Hi Donna
    I have been told that a good title is very important but like you, I don’t find it easy to find one that grabs people’s attention. It may be easy for some but obviously not for all. Maybe it will get easier the more we have to do it – let’s hope.
    All the best

  14. Donna, I am a new writer. I have only attempted one book and only wrote 80 pages. However, I came up with an idea and just wrote. I did not think of a title. I was going with Stephen King’s analogy. He said write where you are at and do not move ahead. I would judge myself and think it has to be a certain way. Sometimes, the magic is in letting the pen write and going with whatever comes to mind. Sometimes i will listen to music similar to the type of stuff I am writing and that sometimes will spark an idea. I hope that helps. Great article! =)

  15. Hello; I’m not sure how helpful my comment will be as creating titles for blog posts is different than coming up with them for books. I have noticed more creative title making the rounds. I do know that my title could be better. and i need to work on keeping the url less than 100 characters for google. thanks for sharing and take care, max

  16. Gosh, I find creating a book title hard. You have to figure out how to convey what the books in about in a few words and at the same time capture a potential reader’s attention. That is a very tall order indeed. In my case it was by consensus and it seemed to have worked out pretty well. 🙂

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