Finding Titles: The Good, The Bad, and the Downright Ridiculous

Finding  titles for your fiction is hard, right?

I mean, finding crap titles isn’t hard. I have a huge long list of crap titles I once considered, and not all of them are jokes.

But finding the perfect one for my work is another matter entirely.

A.G. Pasquella's "The Strange Saga of Why Not A Spider Monkey Jesus?"

A.G. Pasquella's "The Strange Saga of Why Not A Spider Monkey Jesus?" where Pasquella illustrates, literally, the difficulties of finding the perfect title for his book. (Click on the pic to find out more about the talking chimpanzee with televangelist aspirations. You know you want to.)

Teresa Coltrin discusses the process of creating the perfect title. It’s a great post that links to the latest blog entries by writers and agents alike about what goes into a great title, and how you can find yours.

Before I clicked through all of the links, however, I tried to figure out why my titles can sometimes be downright ridiculous. After all, avoiding the downright ridiculous has to be one of the first steps towards finding the perfect title.

For me, a bad title occurs when I’m desperate to slap a name on my current WIP. I used to not even be able to contemplate a good title; I would just name my pieces “The Southern One,” or “The Moroccan One With The Whores.” It’s okay though. They were working titles that nobody had to ever see aside from close friends and my crit group.

While I am no expert in the good title, most of my best have come once I’ve spent a lot of time really getting to know my WIP. And I mean getting to know the work itself, and not what I thought the work was going to be when I started writing it. There’s a big difference there, and the two are never ever the same. Bad titles come from my wanting to name the works while I’m still thinking about how I want them to be, and the best titles come from naming the works once I’ve figured out (and accepted) how they turned out.

So I guess the moral is to trust yourself. I’ve found many times that my crit group and editors enjoy a piece much more the way it turns out in the end rather than the way I had planned for it to go. It’s more fulfilling for me when I allow my subconscious to take over and for my writing to deviate from the plan. Usually, as long as I can let go of what I wanted it to be and accept it as is, the result is a stronger piece. And with a stronger piece comes a stronger title.

And once I had several stronger titles, I went back to the links on Teresa’s page and used the tips she collated to really help them shine. In particular, I found Rachelle Gardner’s how-to a lifesaver.

What’s your relationship with your titles?

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10 Comments

Filed under books, concise, fiction, marketing, On Writing, WIP

10 responses to “Finding Titles: The Good, The Bad, and the Downright Ridiculous

  1. Titles are so important — enough to make someone pick up your work, or walk past forever. I’m a sucker for a great title — even when what follows turns out to be drivel. Best~

    • Absolutely. While a great title can’t save a shitstorm of a book, a great book will not sell with a bad or downright ridiculous title. (Unless it’s so ridiculous that it becomes great again).

  2. “And I mean getting to know the work itself, and not what I thought the work was going to be when I started writing it. There’s a big difference there, and the two are never ever the same.”

    So true! Almost all my writing troubles come from trying to force the work into a preconceived box rather than just taking a deep breath and letting the work be what it wants to be.

    Speaking of writing and the power of the subconscious, have you read “You Can’t Hurry Love” by the screenwriter Bill Wheeler? It’s so great: http://messageboard.donedealpro.com/boards/showthread.php?t=15985

    • Yes, mine too! I just have to trust that I’ve had an interesting life and have a modicum of writing tallent, and that if I stick with my type B personality, I will create something interesting.

      Thanks for the Wheeler rec. I haven’t read it, but will!

  3. I tend to think of titles fairly early in the writing process. Or rather, my subconscious gives them to me (thinking too hard about them doesn’t always work so well). Often the title will thematically influence the rest of the work as I go.

  4. Yep yep yep. Titling is everything.

    I don’t usually have trouble pegging one, but I can never think of the appropriate title (or headline, or lede, or caption, for that matter) for a story I’ve done until after it’s 100% finished. Any sooner and I screw myself up.

    Titling in advance backfires for me, and badly. I mean, I don’t meander away from the basic theme, but writing to a title changes what I would write. It goes flat faster than Shasta.

    Usually it’s some little phrase within the article itself that comes in a burst of creativity, and I can’t get that if I have a title up front. Feels too much like homework.

  5. I look for anything recurring images or tropes, however short stories are easier to title than novels.

    • I find the same as well, but occasionally a contradictory little story will stall and it takes a long time for the name to come. I keep working on it, editing it, thinking about motivations and how everything ties together, and once the title comes to me, I know I’m done.

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