The Importance of Titles (and some notes concerning them)

6:00 AM

I love book titles. They're something I'm very passionate and excited about. I love that moment when you finally come upon one that just sticks. It feels so right and you just can't stop reading it and smiling.

Unfortunately, coming up with those beautiful, perfect titles usually stinks.




Finding titles is hard. But the goal of every story is to hook you. To draw you in. And the title is what does that first.

Think about it. You're in the bookstore, running your hands along the beautiful spines of hundreds of volumes. You can't pick up every book to read the back cover blurb or inspect the cover or glance at the first page. Only a select few get that privilege.

The title is the first test.

And this applies to blog posts, too. When I'm scrolling through my blogger reading list and my email, there are simply too many blogs to read all the posts I see. So I usually pick the ones that sound like I'll connect with them.

And how do I get that idea? What about the article or book tells me I might find it interesting?

The title.

Titles used to be super hard for me. I'd agonize over them, unsure if they were good or not. Of course, the first four years I wrote I was committed to the same book series. And that series was ... cliche. It was not the most original idea in the world, and as a result the title was not easy to find.

I've grown a lot since that nine book series I'd planned. And I've discovered a lot about titles.

Let's break down some of the different types of titles, shall we?


NAMES & TITLES

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The Thief Lord. The Book Thief. The False Prince. The Lost Girl of Astor Street. Peter and the Starcatchers. Steelheart. Coraline. The list goes on and on. Names aren't my favorite types of titles, and I think the phase of that has passed. But the opportunities for titles are endless. It can be the title of the main character (The False Prince, The Thief Lord, The Book Thief). It could be the title of an important minor character (The Prisoner of Azkaban). It could be the title of someone who was hurt (The Lost Girl of Astor Street).

Every story has someone that's important to the plot. Someone that set everything in motion. Sometimes, the title you give them is just a good description of who they are, and being who they are is important enough to warrant their label being the title of the story. Sometimes, it's the reason they are called what they are that gets them on the spine of a book.

Either way, the name/title tactic is a common but good approach. You could also fit groups of people or organizations under this category (like The Mysterious Benedict Society or The Boxcar Children or The Fellowship of the Ring or The Color Project). My current project is called The Dream Walkers. I gave it its name because the basic premise is about a group of children who go to a land of dreams every night, until one of them gets stuck there and they have go venture deeper in this world to save him. When you read the book, you come to know that these children are called Dream Walkers. And these children are the reason this story exists.


OBJECTS & PLACES

Howl's Moving Castle. Treasure Island. The City of Ember. The Westing Game. The Blackthorn Key. Serafina and the Black Cloak. The Screaming Staircase and The Whispering Skull. Dragon Slippers. 

The title could be something they're searching for (Treasure Island) or some puzzle they're trying to solve. It could be something everyone is after, or a place no one dares to go.

I wrote a book in July called The House at the End of the Lane. The title is tentative because it's similar to another well known book that I didn't know about until after I'd already come up with the title and let it stick, but I still like it because it plants that seed in readers' minds. They know there's something about that house at the end of the lane that will play a key role in the book. It'll be important. It's almost like a hook.


THEMES & UNDERTAKINGS

Pride and Prejudice. Divergent. Dare, Deny, Defy, and Deliver by Tricia Mingerink. A Proper Pursuit. Summerlost. 

It could be a lesson that they learn. A misconception they start out having, but have to learn to overcome. It could be task they have to complete, or a milestone they're working towards. Or it could foreshadow events later in the book.

I've had a story idea for ages that I'm still fleshing out, and I got an idea for the title today (hence, the post). I'm calling it Ashes of the Dawn and it's foreshadowing of what happens by the end of the book, with a little theme thrown in as well.


These are just three categories, and they cover a lot. And of course, you can always combine them. You could specify a name with an object or an object with a theme or place. The books in my YA series are combinations of people titles and actions/objects. The Thief's Conspiracy, The King's Vow, The Queen's Game, and The Hunter's Lament. 

Hopefully me breaking down the different types of book titles gave you some ideas. Go look at your book shelf and analyze what titles are your favorites. Go to the library or scroll through goodreads and see which titles catch your interest and think about why. Watch for cliches, too. Words that commonly come up in titles (like "thief") would be best to avoid if you want something really original. Then again, one of my favorite book titles is The Thief's Conspiracy. I was miffed that the book wanted to be called that, but I couldn't really say no. So if you have a really insistent title, don't throw it out just because one of the words is common in book titles.

Now you might be thinking, "Right, but how do I find out which type of title to go for?"

And the answer is, you just have to experiment. Sit down and pull out your notebook. Write down key people, key titles, key objects, places, themes. Write everything you can think of. Create an aesthetic of words for your story. Then string them together. See if any will fit and toss the ones that don't. The title I finally came up with today (after trying to find one for nearly a year) was the last of about fifteen-twenty combinations of the words dawn and ash. It took a lot of tries before I finally saw that they fit together and worked.

Don't be afraid to put down stupid ideas, either. Get it all out in the open. We have to scrape the weeds off the top before we can reach the rich earth underneath.

I've gone on enough. What about you guys? What category does your book title fall into? Are you trying to find a book title? If so, which category is your favorite? 

<3

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6 comments

  1. I haven't written a book, so I haven't had that struggle (although I imagine it would be hard!), but even naming blog posts is something I feel unsure about. The common post title advice is to promise your readers something, but I'm still figuring if it's possible to do that without sounding like a salesperson. It's interesting how you broke down titles though - that might give me some more ideas, so thank you! :) Also, I didn't realize you've written so many books! Go you! :D

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    1. Ah, you mean titles for blog posts? I ought to do an edition of that! And you make lots of promises to your readers without even realizing it. For example, this post promised you some facts about titles and how/why they are important. I didn't title it, "How to Title Your Novel Like a Pro" even though I could have, but they both have similar promises. One's just more up in your face, like a salesperson ;) It just depends on which suits you and your taste/style!

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  2. I love this post! As an aspiring author I'm obsessed with titles and choosing JUST the right one that really makes the story pop. So far I seem to either love what I come up with or absolutely hate it, there is no middle ground. Thanks for breaking it down like this, very helpful :)

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    1. Lol same :P But maybe that's a good thing? I'm glad you found it helpful!

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  3. I just try to think of titles that are fairly unique. The current one for my Contemporary WIP is one that I'm really satisfied with.

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    1. Aw, I'm happy for you! And yes, unique titles are always the best, though getting harder to come up with as more books are published :P But we're writers! We live for a challenge

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