Something writers of multiple stories will experience: Titles may come to you in a flash. Some will take a bit of thinking through.
Say you’ve written your first and only story thus far. You may feel you have a great title for that one piece of prose. However, caution should be taken due to lack of experience in titles. You can only know how easy or how difficult choosing a title will be after you’ve written a few stories.
For the person who writes many stories or many books, again, choosing a title may come easy, or it may be one of the most difficult aspects of writing.
Some writers are unable to start a story unless they have a great title lined up. Then, with that title in mind, they set out to write, only to change the title once they see where the plot and characters lead them.
Some authors cannot title a story till it’s written and rewritten for the umpteenth time. Then they decide.
Whatever your preference, titles are just as important as the overall story itself.
Your book will first be judged by its title and cover art. Those are the first two criteria that will attract a potential buyer if they know nothing about you or your books. The title and cover must entice the viewer to look further and flip to the back cover and read the synopsis.
Here are some tips to help both the beginning writer and the experienced:
Your title should convey the overall message of the story.
An example would be if your story is about a crime taking place in an apple orchard. So, you title your book The Apple Orchard. Then you might have the front cover showing something happening in an orchard, or something related to the crime. Otherwise, a bland title like The Apple Orchard could represent anything from a romance to a UFO abduction under the apple trees. The title and cover of this book must work together.
An example of this type of title is Joseph Wambaugh’s The Onion Field. His cover is a very dark field with telephone poles and gorgeous sky in the distance. Not knowing the crime behind The Onion Field, you would have no idea what the story might be about. Wambaugh is just lucky enough to be a bestselling author so people know him and what type of stories he writes, but most of us are not yet bestselling authors.
We need more help to attract readers.
Use an important phrase from within your story. It can be from the narrative or a bit of dialogue.
In Down to the Needle, the character Joe Arno is goading Det. Britto to hurry. Time is running out. An innocent person will go to lethal injection. Arno says, “Do something, Britto. We don’t want this case to go down to the needle.” This story is about how the case slides mercilessly all the way down to the needle. In my mind, I asked myself: What better title could there be?
Be selective. Choose some of your very best lines of narration or dialogue. Use something enticing or revealing, or change the wording a bit to fit.
An overall theme: In River Bones, I selected from the overall theme. The Sacramento River runs through vast rural farm and crop lands. Tourists vacation in boats and some sidle in for anchorage and stay through the summer. Though illegal, they use the flowing river water as a garbage can and dump their leftover meat bones and other foodstuffs off the side of the boat. It’s easy to find bones here and there or washed up on river banks. It’s also easy to find bones when a crime is committed by a person who buries his victims in the soft damp river banks that promote decay.
I named that novel River Bones for that reason, also because just the mention of bones can send shivers down a person’s spine.
In order to decide just the right title for your story, think about what you’ve written or about your intended plot. Think about the best lines you’ve written or that are still rumbling around in your mind. Your title could be right there in your prose.
Mary Deal is an award-winning author of suspense/thrillers, a short story collection, writers' references, and self-help. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, Artist and Photographer, and former newspaper columnist and magazine editor.
She has traveled most of her life and has a lifetime of many and diverse experiences, all of which remain in memory as fodder for her fiction. A native of California's Sacramento River Delta, where some of her stories are set, she has also lived in England, the Caribbean, and now resides in Honolulu, Hawaii. Having traveled a bit, she continues to paint and use her art and photography to create gorgeous products.
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