Titles: A Rose by Any Other Name

July 6, 2008 at 7:20 am | Posted in Writing Craft | 3 Comments
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For some writers, when it comes to choosing a title, the perfect title either rings out loud and true like a single gunshot, or the various possibilities give off faint snaps, crackles, and pops like a bowlful of milk-wet Rice Krispies.


No matter how the idea comes to you, you can never underestimate the power of a title. Think of the book “Gone wIth the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell. Would the title have been as epic and metaphorical and perfectly suited to the book if it were “Those Damn Yankees,” “Plantation Blues,” “That Man is Making Me Nuts,” “Georgia Lost,” or any other conceivable title? Of course not. The title and the tone of the content should be in harmony.

Titling a book is not a science. Unfortunately, there is no exact formula that will result in the perfect title for your book. For me, it’s visceral, driven completely by a feeling. My titles are born in the exact moment the book idea is formed. For other writers I know, the book can be completed, revised, edited, and ready for publication, and still no title has made itself known.

When that happens, there are a few tips to help the process along. Start by brainstorming any and every idea that seems to fit your story. Consider the characters in your story. Is your book about “The Godfather,” “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” “The Joy Luck Club”? Think of the metaphor in your story. Is your book about taking life “Bird by Bird,” or the path not taken in “A Thousand Country Roads”? Examine your plot. Is your story about “The Hot Zone,” “The Caine Mutiny”? Is there a particular line of dialogue or narrative that stands out in the story? “Catch-22” anyone?

If you belong to a critique group or an online discussion board, run your list of book title ideas by the members and ask for additional suggestions. Narrow your list down to the top five and then approach your local librarians and book store employees for their opinions. This process may not cure your book title indecision, but it may help bring you closer to the perfect title.

In the end, it is still like naming a child. And you should choose the name wisely for that is how your book will be known.

Now, just for fun, I’ve added a list that was forwarded to me in an email of “Children’s Book Titles That Never Made The Cut”:

1. You Are Different and That’s Bad
2. The Boy Who Died From Eating All His Vegetables
3. Dad’s New Wife Robert
4. Fun four-letter Words to Know and Share
5. Hammers, Screwdrivers and Scissors: An I-Can-Do-It Book
6. The Kids’ Guide to Hitchhiking
7. Kathy Was So Bad Her Mom Stopped Loving Her
8. Curious George and the High-Voltage Fence
9. All Cats Go to Hell
10. The Little Sissy Who Snitched
11. Some Kittens Can Fly
12. That’s it, I’m Putting You Up for Adoption
14. The Magic World Inside the Abandoned Refrigerator
15. Garfield Gets Feline Leukemia
16. The Pop-Up Book of Human Anatomy
17. Strangers Have the Best Candy
18. Whining, Kicking and Crying to Get Your Way
19. You Were an Accident
20. Things Rich Kids Have, But You Never Will
21. Pop! Goes The Hamster…And Other Great Microwave Games
22. The Man in the Moon Is Actually Satan
23. Your Nightmares Are Real
25. Eggs, Toilet Paper, and Your School
26. Why Can’t Mr. Fork and Ms. Electrical Outlet Be Friends?
27. Places Where Mommy and Daddy Hide Neat Things
28. Daddy Drinks Because You Cry

Of course, those silly titles are all intended to be tongue-in-cheek, but any of them could actually be a good title for a humor book.

So, tell me, how do you choose your titles? Is it easy or difficult?

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