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What’s in a Name?: How to Develop Your Title

Choosing a title for your writing project can be a daunting task. It is, after all, a potential reader’s first look into the soul of your work. It is often just as important as your pitch, query letter, even the work itself. It is critical that your title shed some light on what your book is about, but also that it catches your potential reader’s attention. Here are some things to consider:

Identify Your Genre

First of all, you need to know what realm you’re working in. If the working title for your latest children’s book is The Zombie Queen of Hopscotch, you should probably reconsider. Your title should be reflective of the genre, or vague enough that it can fit anywhere.

Make it Attention-Grabbing

This doesn’t mean that your title has to jump off the page and slap someone in the face, but that it is enough to create a little spark in the mind of whomever comes across it. It should make your potential reader curious about what glorious wonders your work contains. The title can give a strong indication of what the story is about (Star Wars) or very little (1984). The fact that this spark exists is what is important.

Don’t Let it Limit You

When you’re writing with a working title, don’t get too attached to it. If the seed of your idea comes from a catchy title, or is an instructional guide or the like, this wouldn’t be as applicable. But if your idea is character or conceptually driven, be careful not to let your working title put you in a corner.

If you start your WIP with the title George the Lizard, but then your work evolves beyond that title as you write it, don’t get locked in. That’s why it’s called a working title. You’re working on it!

Consider the following:

What would have happened to these books (and film) if they’d kept their original working titles? What thoughts, emotions, or ideas do the final titles elicit, versus the originals?

Have Fun!

This is something I strongly encourage in all aspects of your writing, including developing your title. You’ve spent (or are spending) a lot of time and effort on your creation, molding it and shaping it with a steady hand. Pick a name for it with the same care you used in writing it.

Try this: Pick out a couple of catchy phrases that reflect your work in some way, and choose one that you like best. Or, combine different parts of those phrases to make a whole new one. Can you use that as a title? Be sure to take the time to enjoy the creative process while you’re at, because that’s what being a writer is all about.

What is the title of your work in progress? If you’ve decided on one, what were some others you considered before?

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Be the Expert

As a writer, I’m often asked a question that is immensely difficult for me to answer:

What is your story about?

When I hear this question, my brain rifles through many answers, but can never settle on just one. I often find myself starting my answer with details about the story’s premise, but end up switching gears somewhere. It’s not because I’m a scatterbrain (though some might argue against this), but because I feel that I have so much to say.

Portrait of Henry Ford (ca. 1919)

Image via Wikipedia

It’s like asking Henry Ford, “tell me some things about an automobile.” Would he respond with “oh, well, it has an engine, some doors, and four wheels?” No! He’d likely go into laborious detail about it, because of his intimate knowledge on the subject. Much to the chagrin of the questioner, no doubt.

As writers, we are experts in the field of our stories. No one knows them better than we do. So, it’s only natural to have the urge to over answer on such a question. So what if your cousin obviously stops listening to you 20 seconds later, they asked!

But what happens when the question is posed by someone other than your cousin? An agent or editor, perhaps? Is it necessary (or appropriate) to give a long, drawn-out explanation of your story?

As soon as possible, a writer should develop a short hook about the story that can be delivered in 15 seconds or less. Think of it as the description that will go on the back of your book someday.

Larry Brooks of Storyfix.com has a great post to help you do this that can be found here.

Remember, you’re the expert here, you’ve got plenty of material/ideas/thoughts to pull from to put your pitch together. It’s important that you give just the right amount of detail to grab your listener’s (or reader’s) attention, then end with a statement that will make them ask for more.

When has your pitch worked for you? Let me know in the comments below.

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