Choosing a title can be a challenge as I discovered this week while working on a proposal for a new book. I ran through a number of options, none of them satisfactory. Finally, I abandoned the pursuit and opted for a short walk. As often happens when I give my brain a rest, eureka, a brilliant title appeared out of nowhere. Funny, the way the mind works.
Why are titles so difficult to craft? Mostly because we expect so much of them. In a maximum of 5 or 6 words (more for non-fiction where we have a subtitle), we need something that is snappy, memorable, elicits a strong reaction, creates immediate interest, and says in a nutshell what our story, article, script or book is about. Great titles sell, and authors, editors and publishers toil long and hard to find the perfect one.
If titles could be nominated for something akin to an Oscar, Grammy or Booker Award, I’d shortlist these five among several others:
The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywall– Humourous, colorful (pun intended), conjures all kinds of plot possibilities – the perfect storm for a title
The Unlikely Hero of Room 138 by Teresa Tollen – Raises questions galore. What hero? Why room 138? Why unlikely? Snappy, provocative, interesting
The Metro Dogs of Moscow by Rachelle Delaney – Evocative title with an alliteration that makes the words resonate
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher – Thirteen reasons? You sure? Great invitation to dip into the book.
Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker & Tom Lichtenheld – Nothing says fun quite like a rhyming title.
Great examples, but where can you find your own titles? Other than relying on eureka, here are a few hints:
- Unless a title is obvious from the get-go, resist the temptation to name the piece until you have a first draft. By then, you’ll have a better idea of the theme, structure and major turning points, and thus a better chance of hitting a home run.
- Look for recurring words or phrases. In my book Life or Death: Surviving the Impossible, a major character faced critical decisions several times in one story. I realized that I used the phrase – it was now or never – at each of those critical moments. The title was obvious – Now or Never said it best.
- Write a sentence that describes the theme. Do you have words or phrases that echo the message?
- Create a rambling web of words and phrases connected to your story. Sometimes the magic combination is there, tangled among your connecting thoughts. For one of my books, the words daring, desperate and acts jumped off the page. I worked them into the subtitle for At the Edge: Daring Acts in Desperate Times.
- Play with synonyms, rhyming words, alliterations and similes. Often these add snap to a title.