Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Give Thought To Selecting A Title

T  I  T  L  E  S

  A lot of writers can turn out essays or short stories of a thousand or more words in record time. But then they find themselves stumped. What shall I call this? The writer tries one title, then another, and goes on to create several more before settling on one.

Something that should be so simple is often the hardest part of writing your story. The title is what hooks the reader. It needs to be catchy, relatively short, but also indicative of what is in the story or essay. It shouldn't be boring. It shouldn't be too cutesy. It shouldn't be blasphemous.

One of the women in my online writers group has revised a personal essay several times She doesn't want to submit it anywhere until it is polished and satisfies her and the other writers who have been critiquiing it. She finally has it almost ready to go except for one thing. The title! She's tried a number of different titles, some vetoed immediately by those who have been critiquing the piece from the beginning. Others were considered to be so-so. Not terrible but also not terrific.

What should her title include? It can be something that reflects the theme of the essay. Or a short piece of dialogue that is central to the theme. It might show what lesson was learned. It might ask a question that will be answered within the essay itself. She could pull a phrase from the essay that shows enough to hook a reader.

Never pick one title and go with it. Play around with several titles. Line them up and select the one that stands out for some reason. If you keep returning to one of the titles, there is a good chance that it's the best choice.

Should you ever use a person's name as a title? Sure, why not? Think about the books that have become classics that use this kind of title. Hickleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer are good examples. Both were written by Mark Twain. He chose simplicity rather than catchy. Each book was about the person whose name became the title. If you see a book or story with only a person's name for a title, aren't you going to be a little bit curious? I think you'll wonder what kind of problem and solution will there be for that person. So, your curiosity may need to be satisfied and that will happen when you read the book.

Consider the titles John Grisham used on his books. Most are very short. The Firm and The Litigators and The Racketeer and Calico Joe and The Client. If you read the entire list of his works, you'll find that nearly all are very short titles. The author wants you to see that short title and ask yourself what is there about this title that piques your interest. I think those two words will do exactly that.

How about Katherine Stockett's bestseller The Help? Short but it makes a browser want to know what about the help. Who are they? What will happen to them? Two words can create several questions in a reader's mind.

When I select a title for my blog posts, I often pose a question. I think it tells the reader that there is something to learn here.

Picking a title for your writing is not an easy task but it most assuredly is an important part of the whole piece. Don't grab for a title in a hurry. Give it some thought.

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