The Write Title

I always find it a problem to come up with appropriate and relevant titles for my work. My imagination stalls when called upon to produce something pithy, apposite and meaningful. Some writers I know can’t put pen to paper or finger to keyboard without having first decided on the title. Personally, if it were possible to have a profusion of computer files and folders all labelled ‘Working Title’, I’d be there. Sensibly, this is no way to operate, so I’ve been thinking about where we can find inspiration when we’re stuck.

We can link the title to a scene in the story, the historical period it’s set in or that mysterious discovery the whole plot hinges on. The message of the story, the mood or the scenery can all be reflected in the title.

Bear in mind that there’s no copyright on titles (not in the UK, at least). This opens up a lot of older material, but that’s not to say it would ever be advisable or even sensible to title your new, young adult vampire story, ‘Dracula’ or ‘Interview with the Vampire’.  That would be too confusing… and it would probably prejudice your success.

There’s been a crop of what you could call ‘instruction manual’ or ‘travelogue’ style of fiction titles just lately, such as ‘A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian’ by Marina Lewycka, ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ by Paul Torday and ‘Success Stories on the Threshold of the New Millennium in Glorious Uzbekistan’ by David Mikosz, but there’s nothing wrong with good, old fashioned titles plucked straight out of Shakespeare or the Bible. Figures of speech, like metaphors and allegories, are rich seams to be mined and the weather is endlessly fruitful.

Here are some of my favourite idea generators:

  • Play on words
  • A place – real or imaginary
  • One of the characters
  • Idiom / adage
  • A plotline
  • Proverbs / The Bible
  • Hymns
  • An item that features in the plot
  • A date / number
  • Weather / Climate
  • Shakespeare
  • Poetry
  • Fables
  • The Classics / Greek & Roman myths and legends
  • Metaphors, allegories & symbols
  • Flora and fauna / The natural world
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13 thoughts on “The Write Title

  1. The original working title for my first work-in-progess novel ? “Character Study.” For the second wip? “Madeleine and Jack.” I think I’ve improved on those!

  2. I used to obsess about titles. My first novel has had three different titles. I ghost wrote a memoir and it had a particular title throughout the writing of it. I used that title whenever I referred to it. In my mind, that title was the name of the book and it stayed the name of the book until the publisher had their say. The title completely changed. It was a bit shocking, like finding out your child wasn’t the child you thought it was. I got over it, but I am less likely to feel possessive of the titles I assign to the work. I love the titles I have on the two novels I’ve recently finished and hope they won’t change, but one never knows.

    • That’s always something to bear in mind – that the publisher won’t necessarily share your enthusiasm. I agree, there’s little point in being possessive, but we still want to use something that resonates 🙂

      • Once you settle on one that does resonate with you, oh how it hurts to have it changed. I’m not sure how I’ll react if a publisher wants to change the name of my series. {{{{shudder}}}}

  3. Of the two novels I’ve completed, the titles end up being a short phrase said by one of characters. Not that they’ve been published, but at least they have a name for the folder that holds all the numberous versions. Incomplete works are usually just named the main charactor’s name. Funny you mentioned Greek/Roman myths and legends as one of my titles is “Will of the Gods.”

    • Omg, same here! I have a trilogy that until recently was just the character’s names. I thought I was the only one!

      Recently, I decided to change that though, so that they don’t became labelled those titles eternally in my mind even after I change the names.

  4. The titles of most of my short stories are terribly trite, with just the occasional piece where inspiration descended and I managed to use a play on words. The novels were even more difficult; I used phrases from my work background which probably mean nothing to no-one! 🙂

  5. I used to be someone who would try to think of a title first. But then I changed my priorities.

    Honestly, though, I can’t say I’m particularly clever with titles (if I ever was, I’ve diminished that talent). Speaking of (young adult) vampire stories, at the moment I’m trying on, “Blind Hunger in the Dawn”. I’m fairly unsure of it though; what I want is to pun on my main character’s name, Dawn, who is also a vampire. Blind Hunger, because she’s irrationally vengeful.

    As for titles on my blog, though, I’m more vague. I suppose that’s how my titles turn out when I don’t spend so my energy on them. My most recent one, for a weekly challenge here on wordpress called Friday Fictioneers, is just called Abandoned. And while that’s very accurate as to what the story describes, it’s still questionable, I think.

  6. I re-christened my latest wip last night – changing the title from ‘new novel’ to ‘middle aged spread’, which has absolutely nothing to do with the subject matter.Grasping at straws, or what? 🙂

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