Choosing a title can be a challenge as I discovered while trying to give my latest work-in-progress one. I ran through a number of options while writing the first draft, none of them winners. So for the moment, the quest to find the perfect title continues.
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 can 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 many others:
The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywall
Humorous, 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 a writer find titles like these that says it all in 6 words or less? Here are a few strategies that I’ve used before that proved helpful. Perhaps they will bear fruit again.
- Unless a title is obvious from the get-go, it’s often best to wait 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. For one story in my book Life or Death: Surviving the Impossible, a major character faced critical decisions several times. 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.