What’s In A Title?

To me, the most challenging part of writing a story is thinking of a good title for it. If, like most writers, you consider that newly written story that you’ve slaved over for so long (you know — weeks, months, years, perhaps even centuries if you’re an eldritch Hellspawn like me who’s so inclined) to be your baby, then finding the right title is much like picking a name for a newborn child. Of course, this metaphor is such an old cliche, but you can’t deny that it’s the truth. Think of the similarities  your book’s title, just like your newborn child’s name, is a major deciding factor in whether its early life will be smooth sailing or a living nightmare. Give your child a funny name, and he’ll get laughed at — give your story a crappy title, and nobody will respect it, either.

Here’s a little something for you to think about:

The title of your story is what identifies it to the outside world.

Your title is what has the pleasure of introducing your readers to the story. It’s the very first thing they read when they get their hands on it (except for maybe the pretty cover artwork — we like shiny things) and it’s what they refer to when they search for it or (more importantly) tell other people about it. Therefore, if you’re one of those people who’s content to find a single (usually completely unrelated to the story’s content) word that sounds cool, stick it on your book’s cover and say “there, now my literary opus is complete” without much thought , you really should be getting into the habit of approaching your title the same way you would any other part of the story. Your title is what distinguishes your story from all of the other stories that its competing with for the reader’s attention. It’s what sums up in one little thought byte what your story’s about, what it offers, and what’s unique about it.

This book's having an identity crisis.

This book’s having an identity crisis.

Now, we’re starting to get into personal preferences here, but I’ve often found that the books that immediately jump out to me when searching for something new to read, and the ones that are most memorable to me after the fact, are those with good titles. What’s a good title, exactly? It’s hard to say (and only you really know what’s right for your piece of writing), but the common trend these days (particularly with YA novels) leans towards one word titles (such as Twilight, Wake, Apocalypse etc). These are what I’d use as examples of bad titles; I mean, they sound good and they’re usually catchy, but one word on its own is very rarely unique. One word titles risk becoming generic by becoming associated with too many things at once. You’re literally making it harder for your story to stand out.

By that logic, a good title is something that isn’t generic. Think of something that captures the essence of your story — what makes your story itself unique. For example, my novel is about two people struggling to survive a nuclear winter following the end of the world. This “winter” is the main element of the story. In that sense, Winter is a definite title, since it sums up what the book’s basically about, but it’s too generic to use on its own. So then, what else is there about my book? Well, it’s a nuclear winter, therefore unnatural. So we find something that sounds unnatural when associated with winter — Sun Bleached Winter is my end result. It captures the core feature of the story, and it also sounds unique enough to be memorable. If you search it on Google, you get pages of results — it’s easy to find because it stands out. Likewise, if you search for an old short story I wrote, called Caveat Emptor, there are much fewer results, because that title’s far less memorable (and that’s with my name appended to the title — if you searched just for “caveat emptor” you wouldn’t find it at all).

More “good” titles: Game of Thrones (it’s about political backstabbing — an apt title), 11.22.63 (it’s the date of the Kennedy assassination, the main plot point of the book), Flashforward (the book’s about people “flashing” forward to the future, and it’s a cool spin on a common word, flashback). Do you get the picture?

Basically, you wouldn’t want to give your child a stupid name, so don’t do it to your book baby. End cliche.

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Did you like this blog post? Feel free to leave a comment. Sun Bleached Winter is on sale at all major online book retailers. If the title grabbed your attention (and I’m sure it did), why not buy a copy?

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