Picking Your Perfect Title

By Daniel Scocco

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Picking a title can often be the hardest part of a writing project. Sometimes the title just comes to you, but more often than not, you have to put quite a bit of work into finding just the right one. You may even have to sift through several titles before you find one that sits well with you. Here are a few suggestions to try:

1. Mad Libs

Think of a couple adjectives, nouns and verbs that describe your story. Write them all down on a sheet of paper and combine them into different phrases. Sometimes you can pick up on a title that works.

2. Pick a Part

Look for an important turning point in your novel or just focus on the climax. Describe this event on paper. Pick out the words or phrases that stand out to you in your description. Mix and match these words to see what works for you.

3. Live by Example

Pick out novels or short stories that run in the same genre as your project. Study the titles and how they relate to the story as a whole. Then, look at your project as a whole. Think of the theme or overall message of your book. Write down some words that go along with your theme and work them to see if you can find a fitting title.

4. Go for the Obscure

Avoid the obvious “The” titles like “The Pink Slipper” or “The Brown Dog.” Look for slight recurring themes or undercurrents in your novel and try naming your novel after those subtle nuances. JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, is a genius with titles. The titles, especially the Half-Blood Prince, all highlight under-riding themes that later play a large role in the series as a whole.

5. Appeal to the Higher

Poets usually have a way of weaving words in a beautiful tapestry of art that put prose writers to shame. Read some famous poetry and write down words and phrases that stick out to you. Song lyrics often have the same effect. You can find some powerful titles by mixing, matching and combining words from powerful lyrics.

6. A Writer’s Best Friend

Consult your thesaurus and look up synonyms for commonly occurring words in your novel. Write down as many synonyms as you can to try and get a fresh point of view on an event in your novel. Look up these synonyms in the dictionary to get a better understanding of their meaning. Use different words in context to find a combination that you like.

7. Super Easy Way

Type “title generator” into Google and see what pops up. There are several websites that will either have you type in a couple descriptive words and scramble them for you or they’ll just generate some random titles for a variety of genres. Some, like guywiththecoat.com, just generate extremely random and funny titles. Mostly, these titles are just good for a laugh, like “Pants ride the Bus,” but you may actually be able to find something that works with your project.

I hope these suggestions make the arduous process of title-finding a little easier. Good luck!

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7 Responses to “Picking Your Perfect Title”

  • Kent Weber

    Great summary Daniel. After you’ve picked your perfect title. What is your take on whether to capitalize some, most or all words? Uberblogger Michael Hyatt uses ALLCAPS, but most do not.

  • MaryHodges

    Titles can mislead. There are stories – probably apocryphal – of bookshops placing “Animal Farm” among the children’s books and a book called “Fish on Friday” about Roman Catholic practices getting allocated to the cookery section.

  • Cliff Wilkinson

    Yes, Mary, titles can indeed mislead.

    There is a documentary video about a group of 937 Jews who were fleeing Germany in 1939 on board an ocean liner called the St. Louis. The name of the video is the Voyage of the St. Louis. It is a Holocaust story, but I have seen it housed in the travel section.

  • Susan Kemp

    As a fine artist, I am mostly totally at a loss for the right titles for my artworks. My creative writing skills just don’t come to my rescue in this area. I tend to just label artworks, using very boring titles such as “Landscape 1” or “Figure II” and would not stop at calling an imaginative still life “Dishes”. I make a point of rather seeking the advice of my poet friend, as the right title can be crucial in communicating the essence of an artwork – and in swinging a sale.

  • Awesomesauce

    My favorite type of titles are the ones that say something about the story so that, when the readers reach the climax, a lightbulb goes off in their head. Of course, it has to be something that makes enough sense about the novel that readers think little of it until they reach that point. Harry Potter titles are pretty good examples of that– The Half-Blood Prince makes enough sense as a title once Harry gets the potions book which seems to have little relevance to the plot, but then you reach the end and (spoiler) Snape kills Dumbledore, then revealing he is the Half-Blood Prince… well, suddenly the fact the book’s title makes more sense. It’s not Harry Potter and the Random Potions Book, it’s Harry Potter and Snape– who does a lot of plot-driving this time around.

    On the subject of titles causing books to be placed in the wrong section of bookstores… there’s a reason the genre is listed somewhere on the book. Animal Farm, you should probably blame the fact it claims to be a Fairy Tale, I think. Everything else, blame the people in the bookstores who don’t use their brains.

  • Stephen Thorn

    One of my ‘find a title’ tricks is to summarize something important about my main character or group of characters, such as what is happening to them at a crucial point in the story (the ship runs aground, the lock on the tiger’s cage is left unfastened, Pat reveals he’s really a three-eyed, tentacled sign painter from Andromeda…) and work the title around that event OR what the character feels/does leading up to or after that event.

    For example, my story “To Search in the Shadows” deals with the main character’s sojurn through a dark and dangerous subculture in search of her mystical, lethal, goal. The story begins with an episode in her years-long search, and during the tale she has to search within herself to see if she truly wants the thing she’s been searching for (thereby searching within herself and the darkness that fills her).

    I also like to use action words in my titles — not just verbs, such as RAN or FELL, but words denoting something to be done: “The Job,” “Take a Snowball’s Chance,” “We Who Are the Hunters,” and so on. Such a spark can catch a potential reader’s mental eye and get them enthused enough to start reading — then I got ’em!

  • Paul M

    Great points Daniel, and from everyone else as well. I struggle terribly with titles and headlines. The title is there, I just need to know where to look.

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