A to Z Challenge 2013

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What's In A Title?

Before I plunge into the current topic, I'd like to take a moment to bid one of our fellow bloggers adieu. Michelle a.k.a. The Surly Writer unfortunately is refraining from blogging (hopefully just for a while, not permanently). If you have not had the pleasure of reading her posts, enjoying her talent, drop by her blog and browse. I for one have enjoyed every moment getting to know her through her writings, and I am quite sad to hear she will be absent for some time. Don't stay away forever Michelle; we'll be here waiting for your momentous return.

Today I'd like to talk about titles. I'm talking about the moniker we hang on our stories. This is a sore subject for me, because I usually cringe when asked to come up with a title. I like titles that say just enough but not too much. A title can be compelling enough that you'll want to read the book without really knowing much about the storyline. A perfect example of this is 'Twilight'. It doesn't really give away that the book is about vampires. But as you read through the book, you understand why it was named that way. Another example is 'Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet'. The title is compelling, making you wonder what makes this hotel the centerpiece of the story.

Is it better to use one word titles or should it be a few words? I would argue there really is no "right" way to name your book. Sometimes, the title that jumped out at the author doesn't end up making it as the name of the book. What the author thinks it should be named may be different than what the editor or publisher thinks. I've heard of this type of thing anyway. For me, titles usually sneak up and scream at me when they are ready. In the case of one story I'm halfway through, I still have no title for it. The book I began (and am still editing/re-writing) had a title months before I ever wrote the first word. It still rings true as the right title for the book too.

How about your stories? How do you decide on a title? Is there a process you go through or does it just sneak up on you as the story progresses?

9 comments:

Lady Glamis said...

I don't know I really come up with titles. They just happen somewhere along the way. But I'm very attached to them and hope I never have to change them...

I like titles to work double time. They should be compelling enough to get the reader to ask a lot of questions before even opening the book. And in my case, since I like literary symbolism and all that jazz, my titles always stand for a large symbol or theme in the book.

Did you know that Twilight was originally titled Forks? Now that's not a good title in my opinion. So glad they changed it. Maybe my own titles are that bad... haha.

Sad about Michelle! I haven't been to her blog. But I trust it's a good decision for her.

e said...

I think of story/book titles the way teenagers think up band names; I usually have a running mental list of "That would make a good book title." Than I fantasize about the book that would live up to that title. But when it comes to actually writing, it seems the story titles itself. Or, its called whatever MS Word saves it as, so a lot share their title with the first sentence.

jessjordan said...

My current WIP is called "Book." Or "WIP." Glamorous, I know. I hate coming up with titles, and, knowing that agents/editors/publishers are prone to change them, I try not to stress over it. I've found that once I'm halfway or more through the book, they tend to come to me.

"Twilight" wasn't meant to be the entire title. After they decided "Forks" wasn't up to par, "Twilight" was a buzz word that they were trying to use in addition to other words. You know, "Twilight this-that-or-the-other." But eventually, they just dropped everything else. Stephanie said it doesn't really mean anything, because of that. It just seemed right.

Davin Malasarn said...

Usually the title sneaks up on me. I like multi-word titles, even though my novel is only a one-word title: Rooster. I like The Color Purple, The Secret Life Of Bees, The Unbearable Lightness Of Being, The God Of Small Things, A Clockwork Orange. Those are all gorgeous to me. They're strange and mysterious and they make me wonder what the story is about. But, I've never been able to come up with something like this for myself.

Jeannie Campbell said...

i'm with glam on this. my titles just find me. i've brainstormed titles before without having anything written...and then gone back to write a book based on a title i really liked. i LOVE play on word titles, as well...so much fun.

Danyelle said...

Titles come--sometimes not at the beginning, but they eventually find a way to make themselves heard. I agree with you, there's not necessarily a right way or a wrong way in re to single/multi word titles. But the title is what usually compels me to pick the book up in the first place. :D

PJ Hoover said...

LOL! I spent last night wracking my brain for a new title. I even got the husband involved in the brainstorming. For this WIP, it is really hard to find something commercial and enticing which conveys the sense of the novel.

Johanna said...

My novel is titled Scream Out Loud and it seems that folks either love it or hate it, though I'd venture to suggest that if someone took the time to read the entire manuscript the title would seem nothing less than perfect.

I had been struggling for a title for such a long time and my work remained untitled for many months while I threw things around in my head. But I was listening to a song that caught my ear as sounding a bit like my main character's mantra and then the words "How I wish I'd screamed out loud..." (James Blunt) and I just knew it was right.

Kori said...

I've recently developed a fondness for titles that mean something, a double entendre, I believe is the word I'm looking for. I have an idea-in-progress called "Perfect" about an heiress who commits the perfect murder(s). The title could be any number of things; a perfect body, a perfect life, the perfect murder, etc.

Ditto "Mischief and Murder" - it's a story with rats and crows (or ravens; not sure yet) as the main characters (as in Once Upon A Forest or The Secret of NIMH, or more recently, Up! and Flushed Away) - a group of rats is a mischief, and a group of crows is a murder, but it's also a story about intrigue and assassinations, so the title serves a dual purpose.

My current wip is Eden's Gate, a mental hospital in which the hosts of hell are trying to break into the human world. Edensgate is the name of the hospital, but a particularly brilliant (in my own opinion) tagline for it is "All Hell's Breaking Loose At Eden's Gate" which sums up the story, but also could mean any number of things.

As for the titles themselves, they usually just present themselves to me along with the basic plot, or one of the characters brings it with them when they arrive. The entire premise of Mischief and Murder was spawned when Moonrat mentioned on her blog that a mischief was a group of rats, so inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes for me.