Wednesday, June 9, 2010


I'm really bad about book titles, and fall for every "trend" I hear about ("3 words! 6 syllables!" or "Colors in titles sell!").

So I'm curious about how you all choose titles for your stories, and what titles have intrigued you in the past and why.



Kathleen MacIver said...

I...don't know!

The historical time-travel romances I was writing, I liked phrases taken from a poignant moment from the story. Like That, Whispers of Your Name, To Know Who You Are, etc. My little e-published story in that world is "When Time Stands Still," which is sort of a play on two different parts of the the figurative "time stood still" when their eyes met near the beginning, which makes the reader think that's where the title is from. But then, at the end, you realize that, in a time-travel sense, the whole story has been taking place while time stood still. (And the phrase is used again in that context.) I love that title for those reasons.

But now, my YA fantasy world, those sorts of titles just don't work. I brain-stormed titles forever and gave up repeatedly for the longest time, for my WIP. I couldn't even come up with a query-worthy working title. But then one day Fire of Kiore popped into my head, and it stuck. I'm not married to it if a publisher says it must be changed...but it's nice that I don't have to call it "this book" any more. :-)

With other authors, I love their one-word titles...if the word is unusual for a book title. I love Jodi Meadows Erin titles.

On the other hand, I don't like "Accidental" and "Mistress" and "Demon" and "Sexy" and "Baby" and "Millionaire" (and it's variants) and "Seduction" in titles, 99% of the time. They're just soooo cliche that they mean absolutely nothing and don't intrigue me in the slightest. The publisher may as well announce, "This is just another _______ story! Nothing special about it!"
(At least, IMO.)

Dara Young said...

I think it is different for every book I write or read. Sometime it's a phrase from a key moment nd sometimes it's a key image. Like my WIP is The Golden's important in the theme of the book. Another WIP I have is Seducing the Assassin because it has meaning. Gabaldon's series Outlander has meaning and it is easy to spot the symbol or phrase from each book. Dragonfly in Amber came from a piece of amber in the book and had symbolic meaning with regard to the time travel etc.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I think single-word titles, especially single syllable, are easier to forget than those that are two or three words. One exception is GRACELING, probably because it's not a word we know and raises questions. I've purchased a few books because their titles intrigued me--SKIN HUNGER, UN LUN DUN, GOOD FAIRIES OF NEW YORK, JONATHAN STRANGE & Mr NORRELL. This is entirely unscientific of me, of course.

Edittorrent said...

Does anyone start with a title and write the book? Or is that insane? I've done that with a short story, but never a book.

jennifertanner said...

I've always struggled with titles too. I listen to all kinds of music when I write, and sometimes if I'm listening paying attention to the lyrics, it will inspire me to come up with a title. Sounds weird, but it works for me! Also, I'll look up lyrics of old standards on the net try to piece together a title. I was surprised at how many titles I found on Amazon that were based on the names of songs.

I agree with Kathleen..I'm not a fan of "Accidental (The Accidental Tourist is the only exception)...The Mistresses...Seduction type titles...nor am I a fan of cutsie-cliche titles. But if I ever get published, I'll probably get stuck with a title like "The Virgin's Vroom-Vroom Millionaire Man Candy Matchmaking Club". :)

Stephanie, PQW said...

Some titles beg me to write the book. When I start there the rest is easy because I know what the title is trying to say.

Julie Harrington said...

I've done it all with titles. Title first then story... story first then title... I've used one word title, two words, more. I love titles. But when I don't have one, nothing irks me more. Drives me absolutely crazy. I'm having that problem now with a paranormal I'm working on because while I have a title, I'm not overly fond of it.

What I'll do is I'll come up with 5 words that I feel represent the story best in some way. It can be a theme (revenge, power, greed) or a literal element in the story like, say, snow or gambling or a bakery.

Then I take those 5 words and brainstorm for "like" associations around them. Snow is cold, white, frost, blanket, storm, etc etc. Gambling can be a ton of different things and many different games. I'll start digging through specific games (if there is one focused on in the story) and look for terms or slang that would make a good title and also have a double meaning that reflects on the plot or characters.

If it's more of a theme word like power, greed, revenge, I'll dig through idiom books and famous quotes to see if I can find phrases I like and use those short snippet phrases to frame my title.

If there's a song I associate with the story, I'll go through the lyrics and see if I can trim it down to a unique phrase that works as a title.

But the 5 Core Words is always where I start first.


Ian said...

A lot of times for me, the title is what cements the story for me. In nearly all of my manuscripts, I've come up with the title first and the story has followed that.

For what it's worth, here is a list of some of the titles I've come up with:

-The Milkman
-Propane Jockeys
-Mustang Sally
-The Archmage
-Deep Six
-Enter the Jackrabbit
-Troubleshooters: The Longest Joke Ever Told
-Pariah's Moon
-Blood on the Ice
-The Oilman's Daughter
-Hope and Undead Elvis at the End of the World

Andrew Rosenberg said...

I write the story then the title just comes to me.
For Steam Palace I had this setting in the book called "The Palace" and since I'm writing Steampunk, I added the word "Steam" and there we have it.
And yes it's steamy. :)

Harry Markov said...

I pick titles, which are heavy in alliteration. I also enjoy seeing books with alliterative titles like Pride and Prejudice. That seems to always pop in my mind.

I have come up with Wind Whispers, Crimson Cacophony, Devised in Debris and such.

However, I enjoy evocative titles like Shadow of the Wind, Prince of Mist, The Forest of Hands and Teeth to name a few.

Sylvia said...

I hate titles. I'm really bad at them and I end up with very boring descriptive titles (Article Noun) rather than something punchy. I've been trying to get more exciting and leaning towards wordplay which helps me to think out of the box a bit.

I just peeked into my files. Recent titles are "Plague of Locusts" and "House of Mirrors" so I guess I've just traded one syntax for another. I did a snippet of steampunk erotica that I called "Blowing Off Steam" which I thought was one of my cleverer titles.

Looking at titles, I'm noticing that I like titles with verbs! So I might start focusing on that and see what happens.

I can't imagine writing a book based on a title although I sort of drafted one once. I started a short story called Kiss Me Goodbye and I decided there was more to it than the scene I was focusing on. So I started writing it as a novel. I haven't finished the draft although I'd like to at some point. But I sort of don't think the title fits anymore so I guess I'll have to go back to the drawing board on that one.

KatOwens: Insect Collector said...

I change my titles as I work through the text. With my first MS I started with "The Sad Child". Awful. I can just imagine that query showing up on someone's email as they think, "more like The Sad Book". That title then morphed into The Insect Collector and now it is The Ordinary Life of the Insect Collector. I'm happy with it.
My WIPs are currently "The Behavior of Moths" and "From the Hive", but I have worked more on TBOM and I think that resonates much better. I am still not that set on "From the Hive".
So, short answer: It changes as I write the book and eventually I feel a good one hit me, and I stick with it.

Edittorrent said...

I want to try short titles. One word. But my titles end up being long, because, I don't know. One word doesn't do it.

Punchy I'm not.

Jeff Rasley said...

I came up with a title that I thought was lyrical and descriptive, which was rejected by the publisher/editor. They insisted on a title, which I find pedestrian and not quite accurately descriptive. But the marketing dept. wanted certain words in the title. My working title did not have the key words in it.

Julie Harrington said...

When it comes to one word titles I think it's all about the feel and the vibe. So I definitely go back to that 5 word method and start brainstorming from there. I know one story I wrote was a mystery/romance. It happened in winter, around Christmas (so there's 2 words), it dealt with tragedy of the past, had a lot to do with memory and family (there's 3 more words).

So... winter, Christmas, past, memory and family. The one word I came up with and used for the title? Tinsel.

Other one word titles I've used -- mostly for flash fic pieces of free writing -- for various projects?

Iced (involved diamonds and a hit)

Burned (involved a betrayed FBI agent)

Deadfall (one of my favorites, actually, because it revolved around an unknown enemy setting up a trap for the hero using the heroine. Deadfall is a hunting term involving traps)

Plunder (about a modern day corporate pirate laying siege to the heroine's business in a hostile takeover)

Whispers (paranormal romance about psi talent)

I've also used Dark, Detour, Duress, Hellfire, Incognito, Lipstick, Lust, Retrieval, Reckless, Skin, Sprawl, Stress, and Undertow.

One I didn't write but that I immediately thought of with this project is Gail Carriger's Soulless. Steampunk novel. Soon as I saw the title I was intrigued. Someone without a soul (which is exactly what it was, actually)? What's THAT about? Picked it up, read the back, bought it. Love that title. Her other ones are all one word titles for the series as well. Soulless, Changeless, Blameless, and now she's added 2 more, Heartless and Timeless. All the titles intrigue me and I'm hoping that the stories actually live up to the expectations of those titles.


Wes said...

There are great titles in many forms, of course. Ones that grab me suggest a topic but leave me wondering what the book has to say about it. Examples are Margaret George's THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF HENRY VIII. I immediately wondered what spin Henry would put on his life. Similarly, William Manchester's AMERICAN CAESAR. could the U.S. have a leader like Caesar?

For the stuff I'm grinding away at in 19th century New Mexico, I've fallen into the pattern of picking a placename where the translation hints at the theme of perversion of religion. So I have SANGRE DE CRISTO: THE BLOOD OF CHRIST named after the mountains behind Santa Fe and Taos; and SANTA FE: HOLY FAITH which focuses on the sanctioning of slavery.

Genella deGrey said...

I think one word titles work great for poetry. There are only so many words one can use which will hold an entire visual of a novel between the first and last letters. That being said, "Unmasked" is one of my titles - but the visual really works in this case, being that it's set in Venice, Italy in 1795.

My titles come to me quite easily and I am truly grateful for that.
My fave is "The Trouser Game" which will be out in January 2011.


Edittorrent said...

Welcome back, Wes! Hope you're feeling better. Good thought about titles that make you ask questions. Hmm. I'm wondering how I can use that....

Anonymous said...

I'm terrible with titles. Hopeless. And I'm never happy with my choice.

So, no, I never start a book with a title. I always start with a character.

I love your ideas JewelTones! I'm definitely giving that a try.

I really like one word titles. Some of my favourites are: Persuasion, Emma, Graceling, Legend, Magician, Goddess, Betrayal, and Eclipse (yeah, I know, but it's an excellent title for this story).

tinlizzie said...

I've never been a big fan of one word titles. In most (not all, Robert B. Parker's westerns come to mind - "Appaloosa," "Resolution," etc.) cases they seem contrived and cliched, just a trigger word that could technically be used for many books within the same genre.

I am usually writing long before I have anything more than a working title. Sometimes this becomes a problem when I want to come up with an actual title. I become so used to referring to the story by it's working title that I find myself unable to come up with anything else.

Strangely enough, this difficulty led me to my current method of titling my stories. I usually use part of a quote or expression that can be applied to the story (or better yet, comes up during the story). For example, my current WIP is a detective story/romance whose main character is a Northerner displaced to the South. The title is "Yankee Dime," a somewhat obscure Southernism for a quick kiss. Others have been "Good Intentions" and "Sins of the Fathers."

The good part about using titles like these is that you can pack a lot of information into a few words because the reader immediately thinks of the entire quote or expression and it's meaning.

As far as favorite titles go, I would have to give the nod to a classic, D. H. Lawrence's "Sons and Lovers." Can I just tell you how much I would LOVE to be able to use that again.

Leona said...

I have written one story from a title that I later changed :D These are all great comments. I am great at coming up with titles for other people. I get writer freeze when I try to do it myself 99% of time. I am so willing to let someone change the title as long as they don't suggest something like "Strawberry Shortcake" for a novel that is NOT about food!

Wes said...

Thanks for the welcome back. It's good to be part of this merry band of creative thinkers.

My health is much improved, and I should be back at work soon. (Boo)

Edittorrent said...

Wes, glad you're well enough to go back to work, but sorry you have to go back to work! :)

Wes said...

Me too!