Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Titles: How Do You Come Up With Good Ones?

Everything I write has a working title. Most of them are named after the setting, the main character, or, if I'm being really creative have titles like "The One with the Demon in it". Because I need to save the files on my computer under something, right? I always do this on the understanding that later on I will come back and give my WIP a decent title, and that it's more important to worry about plot and characters at this stage in the game. But, for some reason, I really struggle with titles. 

And, of course, the title is the first thing that will capture a reader's attention, right? It doesn't matter how weird and scary and unsettling that story is, if it's called "The One with the Demon in it" it's not going to inspire a lot of confidence in the rest of my writing ability. 

Here are some brilliant titles from some books on my shelf: 

I Have A Bed Made of Buttermilk Pancakes 
Electric Jesus Corpse
Death and the Running Patterer 
twenty-six lies/one truth
In Cuba I Was A German Shepherd 
The City of Dreaming Books
Remembering Babylon

And all of those titles, at one point, caught my attention in a book shop. They stood out. They interested me enough to flick through a few pages and decide to spend my money. And that's what a title should do. It's the first point of contact with a potential reader. A title should be special. 

Over to you! How do you come up with a killer title? 


  1. One of the best ways, in my opinion, to find a title is to grab the most meaningful or clever or catchy phrase (a few words) in the book. It's really fun to read through your work looking for something that pops. :)

  2. All I know is I hate one word titles, makes it harder for me to find the book if I'm spacing about the author's name. Google can't do a cover art search yet.

  3. I really have trouble coming up with a killer title.

  4. It's my fave part of writing a story. I think long and hard on it. SOmetimes I know the title before I start the draft, other times it comes to me halfway thru, and sometimes I end up changing after the draft. I try to stick with a title between 1 and three words, just because it seems catchier to me. :)

  5. Aimee, what a great suggestion! I will definitely have to try that!

    Steph, a cover art search sounds great! I hate it when I can't remember enough details of a book to find it!

  6. Michael, I know !I t's ridiculous, really! For some reason coming up with a title just presents me with this massive mental block that I can't shift. It's driving me insane at the moment!

  7. PK, I wish it was my favourite part of writing a story, but I'm just terrible at it. I agree that shorter is often catchier, but I also love the occasional whimsically long title, like "I Have a Bed made of Buttermilk Pancakes" - also a great read BTW.

  8. You read some cool books.

    As for titles, I'm the same way - some generic title and then hoping I can muster something halfway interesting.

    But don't feel bad - Hemingway and Fitzgerald weren't good at titles, either, and had to rely on their editors/agents.

  9. I always work with working titles too, except that they all usually end up becoming the actual title (with some exceptions). I always think about what I'm writing, the mood I'm trying to convey throughout, and how the working title will resonate with the themes I'm trying to convey. And when I come up with one, it somehow makes the story seem more "achievable" and less vague.

  10. I'm one of those rare birds that can write a query but can't think up a decent title to save my life. Everything comes out sounding pretentious or silly. Haven't hit on anything good yet for my WIP. I might start going with Roman numerals. I'm starting III right now. :)

  11. I definitely struggle with titles, but I do like the title for my current WIP. The others, not so much.

  12. Ugh, I'm DREADFUL at coming up with titles. I finally just used the lame "working title" I had when I printed my book out through Create Space. I was spending DAYS trying to come up with something "perfect."

    However, I have been thinking about jotting down a few lines here and there as I re-read the book. Aimee's idea is a good one. I hope it works for you!

  13. Hi, new follower.

    I struggle with this same problem occasionally. Some stories are harder to pin down with a title than others. Sometimes it's taking a title from a key phrase in the story, as Aimee suggests above. At other times, it may be something suggestive of the tale's theme (or ONE of the tale's themes). Often, a single word can be all of these things at once.

    Then again, sometimes a great title can seed a story. One of the writing exercises I do when I can't really come up with a story idea is to sit down and try to think up interesting, poetic phrases that could be used as titles and then build a story around that. A story prompt, so to speak.

  14. I like thinking up titles, and usually get my ideas from something in the actual story (or post, article) I usually start with the title and a basic outline.

    I had to change my original title on a completed novel when I kept seeing the same word in many fantasy novels, and mine isn't fantasy. You need to be aware of what's already being offered in titles.

    Thinking of what occurs as the main plot can also give title ideas. Good Luck.

  15. @ MC, If only I had more in common with Hemingway and Fitzgerald than this!

    @GK, You must have better working titles than me. Mine are all very poor! "The One with the Demon in it". Need I say more? ;)

  16. LG, I'm jealous! I'm pretty bad with query letters as well!

    Cookie, I'm glad I'm not the only one with this problem.

    TL, Aimee's idea is great, isn't it? I'm looking forward to trying it out.

  17. Hi Adam, new follower yourself! That's a great idea about coming up with titles for story prompts. I'll need to try it now that this round of editing is over and I'm having a break.

    DG, you might have hit on the crux of my problem with your comment - it's the words "outline" and "plot". As a total pantser, I don't do those! Or not on any conscious level, anyway. It's why I usually crash and burn!

  18. It's all on my husband. He's very good at coming up with titles. I need to unleash my latest to him and see what he comes up with.

  19. Lucky you, Caroline! I might need to start asking family and friends as well. And it should help me get the brief synopsis thing down pat as well!

  20. Ok, so don't be hatin' but I really love coming up with titles and usually don't have a problem with it. I like them brief, one or two words.

    But my current wip, that I really love, is killing me because for once I am drawing a blank. On my third title and I still don't like it. This is payback.

  21. Hi Martha! I never hate -- I sit and stew in jealousy as I plot my revenge...
    Look out!

    Although, as much as I'm jealous I'm also feeling sorry for you that you're currently drawing a blank. I know how that feels!

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  23. Title's can be so hilariously random and amazing! Right now I'm reading something called Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies and another one called Destroy All Cars. Fo realz. Titles are the first thing I use to decide whether or not I want to buy a book. It makes sense that they're so difficult to come up with!

  24. Those titles sound awesome, Brit! You are right how important titles are. I need to work on mine a lot harder!



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