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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Tackling Titles

Coming up with titles for my works-in-progress can drive me insane.

I try not to obsess over it. After all, if I someday manage to find a publisher for a particular manuscript, I'm sure that they will have a role to play in deciding what the finished product will actually be called. What I called it likely won't matter in the grand scheme of things.

But I have to call it something. For me, it goes beyond that even. I need to have a working title in order to really get a sense of what my story is going to be about, to settle on the tone and how it will eventually play out. Just slapping any old name on it won't do. It has to have some meaning, even if the meaning only comes across to me.

Like many others out there, I have my own ideas of what makes a good title, too. It should be catchy, memorable. It should relate in a meaningful way to the plot or the characters, or preferably, to both the plot and the characters. It should be fairly short and sweet. Rhyming is good, but difficult to attain without making it sound hokey. Alliteration is good, but not always possible.

One thing that sticks with me from the titles I tend to remember? Short and sweet. Usually, the fewer words, the better, particularly if those words are highly evocative. Think about your favorite movie, television, and book titles, the ones that have never left you. How many of them are longer than four or five words? Probably not many.

Titles that stand out to me?

The Green Mile
To Kill a Mockingbird
Pride and Prejudice (note the alliteration)
The Silence of the Lambs
A Time to Kill
Sense and Sensibility (again, alliteration--gotta love Jane Austen for that)

If you'll note, not one of those titles is longer than five words. And the only one that is as long as five words has three throwaway words: the, of, and the. So really, there are only two words with any meaning in that title.

Sometimes, a longer title can be memorable, though it is much rarer. The Harry Potter series all have long titles, but they all stay with you. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. But then again, they are all easy to shorten to simply the second half of the title, and someone will still know what you're talking about. Another longer title I've recently run across and can't seem to get out of my head is Sarah MacLean's Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake. Why does it work? For me, it is the rhyming that makes it memorable. Without the rhyme, it would be gone from my memory in no time.

What titles stand out to you? And do you know what it is about them that makes them memorable? Do you have a trick for coming up with titles?


  1. My current publisher cut my title from "Ten Ways To Melt A Man's Heart" to "Winning Mr. Wrong", mainly because of the length. Publisher said the shorter the title, the better in today's market.

    Good blog!


  2. Thanks for stopping by, Marie. Yes, I've heard that countless times about keeping it short and to the point. And like I mentioned in the examples I gave, they are almost ALL very short.

  3. I tend to do okay with titles I think. I have an entire list of titles I'm holding onto for later use lol. But I'm like you, they have to be meaningful to the story. I can't think of any recently released titles that've really caught my attention, of course I haven't had my coffe quite yet lol. Great post, Catherine!

  4. I dont' have any hard and fast rules for coming up with titles. I just play around until one sounds good to me and conveys, on some level, the meaning of the story. Some of my favorite titles are War and Peace and The Pillars. However, I'm not sure if it's because I love the story or the title. I can say I have never bought a book based on a title, but I have not bother to even pick up book and look at the back cover based on a title.

  5. I am the worst at titles. My trick? I have a local chapter sister who is a title genius. Can you believe she actually enjoys coming up with the darn things? Anyway, I tell her what my story's about and she gives me about 50 to choose from. Someday, she will figure out that she should be charging me for this, but until then, I'm in luck.

  6. Melissa, I love that you've got a list sitting around, waiting to be used. If only I could be so productive. LOL.

    Julie, I'm one of those people that has to be grabbed by a title for me to even bother to pick a book up and look at the back cover. Unless, of course, it is an author who is an auto-buy for me. If the title doesn't speak to me on some level, I'll just move along to something else.

    Clarissa, try not to mention that she should be charging you. LOL. She might see it and start doing just that! Title gurus are worth their weight in gold, in my opinion.

  7. Cat,

    Sad to say, but I hardly ever remember titles. I'm that person that says, "You know, that book about blah, blah, blah." I can't remember movies either.

    I'm much more married to plot than anything else. I know for some it is the characters' names, the cover or even the title. I'm all about the premise. If the back blurb hooks me, I'll buy the book.

    However, it is the title that first catches my attention and a lot of that has to do with the font and color of the text. Some titles that I do remember, aside from the classics:

    Divine Secrets of the Ya-ya Sisterhood
    Confessions of a Shopaholic

    I usually come up with a working title that summarizes the premise, but I expect the titles to change at some point.

    Interesting discussion.

  8. Great topic, Catherine!

    I actually love coming up with titles, but more than coming up with serious ones, I love collaborating with my hubby on silly ones. Some nights we lay in the dark giggling over ridiculous titles. LOL!

    But it's funny that you should mention that it needs to be short and sweet. I have a friend who was published with Dorchester last year and they insisted on a really long title, claiming that lengthy titles were "in." Her title has 7 words in it, as do her subsequent titles. I don't mind the length, but the title does take up the entire cover!! LOL!

    For me, I don't have to love the title to pick up a book or a movie, but if a title does catch me, then that's great. Sometimes, though, it's the cover, the blurb, the author, the actor, etc...something has to grab me, but it doesn't have to be the title.

    Fun discussion!

  9. I like to use one word titles while the story is in draft and edits. Something short as a file name is also easy for my critique partners to remember too.

    But as the work evolves I've tried out different variations, titles that bind a series of books together. I'm still feeling my way with titles, but I know better than to get too attached. There's always a chance a publisher will have better ideas. :o)

  10. Thanks for commenting, Samantha and Jerrica.

    Samantha, every time I think of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, I'm taken back to my days managing movie theaters. When that one came out, I can't tell you how many times people would come to the box office asking to see "That Yo-Yo movie." One woman even wanted to see the Yo Yo Ma movie.

    Jerrica, I'd love to be a fly on the wall when you and your husband were working on coming up with your titles. It would probably keep me laughing for days. And I've seen evidence that some longer titles might be "in" lately. But it is very rare that I'll remember one that is very long. Could just be me--and my short attention span. LOL.

  11. Heather, I've adopted your one word title approach--at least for the next little while. But I'm with you on trying not to get too attached!

  12. I seem to find titles even when I don't have a book for them yet! So I just write them down and wait for a story to go with it. LOL It's often something I've read or overheard in conversation.

    In a recent contest I finaled in, the judge said my title was too long. I've never heard that in any contest I've been in, but even funnier, there's only four words! The longest word is only 3 letters. LOL


  13. Fun post, Catherine!

    I'm a big fan of titles. I see one I like and I'll bite. LOL I guess I'm easy. I'm the same with movie titles. One of favs was an Irish film called, "American Women". My hubs frat buddy borrowed it thinking it was something naughty. LOL Boy was he surprised.

    This was my first visit. Great site! :)

  14. Donna, that's hilarious that your four, 3-letter (or shorter) words made for a too-long title. I only wish I had the same problem of coming up with titles before I had a story to go with them.

    Sarah, thanks for stopping by! How very true that some titles can lead us to think one thing, but then be something very, very different. Usually in a good way, but not always.