What’s in a name

January 31, 2011 at 8:23 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 32 Comments
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One thing that I generally have trouble with is thinking of titles for my stories. Sometimes they come easily, but mostly not. I get a lot of my titles from quotes and/or song lyrics, but sometimes nothing really presents itself. I’m on the verge of submitting a novel, which has a name that I’m not sure I’m happy with, which is annoying. I tend to like snappy titles, short and to the point, with at least a tenuous connection to the story itself. Titles can put a reader off – I know that I’m more reluctant to buy a book with a title I don’t like, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. But then what makes a good title? What appeals to one person won’t appeal to another, so you need to be happy with it yourself, so at least one person likes it, haha.

So, authors – how do you find inspiration for titles? And readers – does the title influence your decision to pick up a story? Do you find yourself favouring certain types of titles over others? Enquiring minds want to know.

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  1. Just lately, I’ve been finding a word that describes the theme of the story and Googling it. Sometimes it gives you a Tweet stream and that can be very handy. You get to see the many contexts the word is being used in and it can give a great idea. Really, it can be any word that pertains to the story. It’s fun, too.

    • I never considered using Twitter in that way, that’s really interesting. I might have to have a crack at that!

    • I never considered using Twitter in that way, that’s really interesting. I might have to have a crack at that!

  2. Just lately, I’ve been finding a word that describes the theme of the story and Googling it. Sometimes it gives you a Tweet stream and that can be very handy. You get to see the many contexts the word is being used in and it can give a great idea. Really, it can be any word that pertains to the story. It’s fun, too.

  3. I have a friend who usually writes her drafts without a title – so I get the story without them, and it is an odd experience. As a reader, there is always something about the title which is a head-space setter – a clue, no matter how oblique, to how one should be thinking when reading the piece.
    When writing, I always title first. It really is the first thing that hits the page to get rid of the blank screen. For me it’s a place holder, an easy change I can do later once the story has grown more organically – but actually it’s pretty rare for the title to change (I’m talking shorts here though – I expect it to be different for long pieces). Because the title idea arose the same time as my fic idea, it either tends to be a line of dialogue I already know I’ll be including, or is a thematic resonance.
    Like you, I like short titles, probably to the point of abusing them myself.
    One thing that might be helpful is doing a ten minute free-writing exercise and just looking at the results for possible titles.

    • I write mine without titles. My poor, long-suffering betas get files named things like “Cowboys”, “Volcano priests” and “Docs without borders”. I always title right at the very end, so it’s quite interesting to me that that’s the first thing you do. I don’t know that I could do that.
      I like the free-writing idea. I can see how that would drag up some subconscious things.

    • I write mine without titles. My poor, long-suffering betas get files named things like “Cowboys”, “Volcano priests” and “Docs without borders”. I always title right at the very end, so it’s quite interesting to me that that’s the first thing you do. I don’t know that I could do that.

      I like the free-writing idea. I can see how that would drag up some subconscious things.

  4. I have a friend who usually writes her drafts without a title – so I get the story without them, and it is an odd experience. As a reader, there is always something about the title which is a head-space setter – a clue, no matter how oblique, to how one should be thinking when reading the piece.

    When writing, I always title first. It really is the first thing that hits the page to get rid of the blank screen. For me it’s a place holder, an easy change I can do later once the story has grown more organically – but actually it’s pretty rare for the title to change (I’m talking shorts here though – I expect it to be different for long pieces). Because the title idea arose the same time as my fic idea, it either tends to be a line of dialogue I already know I’ll be including, or is a thematic resonance.

    Like you, I like short titles, probably to the point of abusing them myself.

    One thing that might be helpful is doing a ten minute free-writing exercise and just looking at the results for possible titles.

  5. If it doesn’t come to me in the process of writing the draft, I’ll look back over the dialogue and pick something out that resonates with me and play around with the word structure/similies and that will, nine times out of ten, become the title. Otherwise, poetry, songs, quotes, stuff that gets my mind thinking of titles.
    And I also prefer the shorter titles, one word if at all possible, but that isn’t always doable.

    • I always have a playlist for whatever I’m writing, usually the title comes out of that. Either that, John Donne or Shakespeare, haha. Gotta love a Donne-related title.

      • John Donne is awesome. Maybe also try one of the random title generators? That might spur an idea too.

      • John Donne is awesome. Maybe also try one of the random title generators? That might spur an idea too.

    • I always have a playlist for whatever I’m writing, usually the title comes out of that. Either that, John Donne or Shakespeare, haha. Gotta love a Donne-related title.

  6. If it doesn’t come to me in the process of writing the draft, I’ll look back over the dialogue and pick something out that resonates with me and play around with the word structure/similies and that will, nine times out of ten, become the title. Otherwise, poetry, songs, quotes, stuff that gets my mind thinking of titles.

    And I also prefer the shorter titles, one word if at all possible, but that isn’t always doable.

  7. As a reader, I’d say that yes, a good title can influence me one way or another, but it’s a lot less important than (in the case of fanfic) the pairings, summary and kinks or (in print books) the summary and cover/book jacket. And in both cases, the author is really important too! Half the time I don’t even remember titles, just “that spanking fic by XYZ author” or “Wally Lamb’s book about Columbine.”
    So I wouldn’t agonize TOO much about it. 🙂
    As a beta, I’ll sometimes have a writer ask for title help, and I’m usually pretty awful with that, LOL. I tend to think about the themes of the story as well as any significant objects/actions/scenes and try to play with words and phrases from there.

    • You’re right that ultimately it’s a lot less important than the actual content of a book, but with really awful titles it’s a close thing. I’m always slightly jealous of people with fics that have great titles, haha. Sometimes it’s so difficult to think of things, though! Plus, with the published stuff, you need to check whether any other book in your genre has that name – in my case, I had a title in mind, and then another m/m book came out with that title. Pipped at the post! I couldn’t believe it, LOL.

    • You’re right that ultimately it’s a lot less important than the actual content of a book, but with really awful titles it’s a close thing. I’m always slightly jealous of people with fics that have great titles, haha. Sometimes it’s so difficult to think of things, though! Plus, with the published stuff, you need to check whether any other book in your genre has that name – in my case, I had a title in mind, and then another m/m book came out with that title. Pipped at the post! I couldn’t believe it, LOL.

  8. As a reader, I’d say that yes, a good title can influence me one way or another, but it’s a lot less important than (in the case of fanfic) the pairings, summary and kinks or (in print books) the summary and cover/book jacket. And in both cases, the author is really important too! Half the time I don’t even remember titles, just “that spanking fic by XYZ author” or “Wally Lamb’s book about Columbine.”

    So I wouldn’t agonize TOO much about it. 🙂

    As a beta, I’ll sometimes have a writer ask for title help, and I’m usually pretty awful with that, LOL. I tend to think about the themes of the story as well as any significant objects/actions/scenes and try to play with words and phrases from there.

  9. I always have a working title for anything I’m writing – else what do you save the file as? – but it’s always the first thing that pops into my head, and rarely stays the course. When I’m looking for the final title, I usually brainstorm a dozen or so, and fling them at my betas to see which one sticks!
    I didn’t use to worry about it so much (which is why some of my stories have truly awful titles) but then I got a review of Pricks and Pragmatism where the reviewer specifically said she picked it up because of the title!

    • My file names are silly things, like “Cowboys” and “Volcano priests”, haha. I’ve always done it that way, it’s habit now. These days I try to have a title in mind when it goes off to beta, so that I can tell them what it is and see if they laugh. 🙂
      then I got a review of Pricks and Pragmatism where the reviewer specifically said she picked it up because of the title!
      I bet that was a surprise. The first I saw a reviewer mention titles, she said that she favoured unusual titles over generic ones (the example she cited was “Electric Melty Tingles” by KZ Snow). So people are noticing these things, aren’t they?

    • My file names are silly things, like “Cowboys” and “Volcano priests”, haha. I’ve always done it that way, it’s habit now. These days I try to have a title in mind when it goes off to beta, so that I can tell them what it is and see if they laugh. 🙂

      then I got a review of Pricks and Pragmatism where the reviewer specifically said she picked it up because of the title!

      I bet that was a surprise. The first I saw a reviewer mention titles, she said that she favoured unusual titles over generic ones (the example she cited was “Electric Melty Tingles” by KZ Snow). So people are noticing these things, aren’t they?

  10. I always have a working title for anything I’m writing – else what do you save the file as? – but it’s always the first thing that pops into my head, and rarely stays the course. When I’m looking for the final title, I usually brainstorm a dozen or so, and fling them at my betas to see which one sticks!

    I didn’t use to worry about it so much (which is why some of my stories have truly awful titles) but then I got a review of Pricks and Pragmatism where the reviewer specifically said she picked it up because of the title!

  11. I wouldn’t worry too much about titling things. I title things based on what I remember the most about it, like a date that might be important to the story, or something that is important to the main character. Eventually when I’m done I think more seriously about it, but in the end I am terrible at naming, so I happily accede that privilege to someone else.

    • I usually don’t have this much trouble with it. I think I’ve found one though. Unfortunately I don’t have the option of leaving it untitled – I wish I did!

    • I usually don’t have this much trouble with it. I think I’ve found one though. Unfortunately I don’t have the option of leaving it untitled – I wish I did!

  12. I wouldn’t worry too much about titling things. I title things based on what I remember the most about it, like a date that might be important to the story, or something that is important to the main character. Eventually when I’m done I think more seriously about it, but in the end I am terrible at naming, so I happily accede that privilege to someone else.

  13. I was thinking about this on the way home today…I do think a title plays a role. I think I prefer the slightly querkier titles – Marie Sexton’s Strawberries for Dessert springs to mind. (I’ll never be able to look at strawberries the same way…although I think I may have missed the season altogether without having one!)
    I think…I like if the title relates to, maybe not necessarily a theme but to a particular scene, to a particular message. I want the title to evoke the memory of the scene. Which is why Strawberries for Dessert works to well *grin*
    Happy title writing!

    • I like if the title relates to, maybe not necessarily a theme but to a particular scene, to a particular message
      I think it needs to as well. I have thought of something now, which is completely different to the things we were considering this morning! But there is one thing that I keep saying lately when I’ve talked about the story, and it occurred to me that I could have a title related to that, so I think that’s what I’ll go with.

      • I love your idea! I think it’s perfect!

      • I love your idea! I think it’s perfect!

    • I like if the title relates to, maybe not necessarily a theme but to a particular scene, to a particular message

      I think it needs to as well. I have thought of something now, which is completely different to the things we were considering this morning! But there is one thing that I keep saying lately when I’ve talked about the story, and it occurred to me that I could have a title related to that, so I think that’s what I’ll go with.

  14. I was thinking about this on the way home today…I do think a title plays a role. I think I prefer the slightly querkier titles – Marie Sexton’s Strawberries for Dessert springs to mind. (I’ll never be able to look at strawberries the same way…although I think I may have missed the season altogether without having one!)

    I think…I like if the title relates to, maybe not necessarily a theme but to a particular scene, to a particular message. I want the title to evoke the memory of the scene. Which is why Strawberries for Dessert works to well *grin*

    Happy title writing!


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