Thursday, January 7, 2016

Selecting A Title For Your Story

Over and over, I hear writers say something like This is a working title. I can't think of anything better. In my online critique group, I see multiple comments along the line of I don't like the title. Can you help find a better one? 

It seems that most writers have trouble when it comes to selecting a title for an article, story, essay or book they've spent hours working on. The title should be easy. Right? Not really. Everything you've put into the body of what you've written has to come through in your title in a mere smattering of words. 

It's a no- brainer that a good title hooks the reader. It also suggests a mood or tone.It can startle a browser into looking farther. The title sometimes asks a question that can only be answered by reading farther. Curiosity might be aroused by those few words that top the whole piece of writing. Some titles depend on attention-getting words. Right now, the word terrorist is probably going to make you stop and take a second look.

Some writers like to use alliteration for the name of their story. It works especially well with stories for kids. Maybe something like Bumpy Bear's Beautiful Bridge would make a child giggle and want to look into the book. It works with adult titles, too. How about Bill Brown's Bummer Beach Babe. Every word doesn't have to begin with the same letter, but several should. 

A title can also inform the browser that there is specific information to be gained here. Climate Change: Pros and Cons lets you know exactly what the topic is. 

If all else fails, a writer can lift a significant line of dialogue or a phrase from the text to top the story. Readers enjoy seeing that bit of dialogue or phrase when they reach it within the text. It's an Aha! moment. 

You can also promise the reader something via your title. Jane, The Time Traveler does that. The reader knows that the story is about a girl or woman who travels back in time (or ahead to the future). 

Is there any set rule to when you write the title? Definitely not. Write it when you think of it! It might be the very first words you put on the blank screen, or it could come to you halfway through the story. And even more likely is that the title is the very last thing you write and it could be long after the story itself is finished if you wrestle with finding the best one.

So, why do we struggle with titles? Mostly because we know how very important they are. It's your one chance to hook that browser that you want to draw in as a reader. 

Some writers come up with a title quickly and go with it. Others make lists of titles and eliminate them one by one. Of the two, I prefer the second method. If you hit on one and go with it right away, you might be missing out on a better title. 

As an exercise on selecting titles, go to your local library or bookstore and spend some time browsing through titles of books. Note the ones that speak to you. Consider why those titles caught your eye more than others. What appeals most--longer or shorter titles? 

For something that entails only a few words, titles are of great importance. Pick a good one! 

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