Titles are hard for me. (Very hard. Like, ‘do 50 chin-ups’ hard)
This is important because, let’s face it, titles are what cause most people to pick up a book, or not. Ideally we would read the synopsis for every book on the shelf before making a selection but who really has time for that?
Generally, titling my work is the very last step in my process. While I’m working on it, I’ll give it a temporary title so I can refer to it in my journals and goal lists. For example, the project I’m working on is all about clocks. I call it…Clocks. I also have a trilogy that I’ll get back to some day. I have these books brilliantly titled Book 1, Book 2, and Book 3.
I guess my hope is that after the project is finished, the perfect title will be obvious to me, but that’s rarely the case. What normally happens is that I’ve been calling it by the temporary name for so long that I say, “Y’know… that’s not really a bad title… Maybe I should just keep it?”
So, I gave myself a homework assignment to unravel what makes a good title. I combed my shelves and made a list of whatever titles I particularly liked. Here’s my (non-exhaustive) list:
- Things That Are
- From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
- I am not Spock
- Catching Fire
- The curious incident of the dog in the night-time
- Ptolemy’s Gate
- And Then There Were None
- Outcast of Redwall
- The Orchid Thief
- Castaways of the Flying Dutchman
I reflected on my list and, in true Often Clueless, Always Shoeless style, I learned absolutely nothing.
Seriously, if anyone sees any patterns there, be a pal and tell me. The titles I like seem to be all over the place in terms of length and word choice and tone.
I like Castaways of the Flying Dutchman because I already know what the Flying Dutchman is, so I can go into a book like this knowing what to expect (which is a cozy little feeling). I like Germ because the title is so short and urgent. I like From the mixed up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler because it’s so long and formal. I like Proof because of the double meaning (the traditional sense of the word, and the mathematical definition).
Then there are titles which are special just because I’m familiar with the rest of the series. Outcast of Redwall really stands out to me because it goes against my whole concept of Redwall Abbey as a place of safety and inclusiveness. Ptolemy’s Gate might not mean anything to me on it’s own, but through the Bartimaeus Trilogy, we’ve had all these little hints and teases about Ptolemy, so the book promises to be as fulfilling as a trilogy conclusion ought to be.
So, that’s all spectacular, but I don’t know how to synthesize that information into a roadmap for finding the right titles for my own work. Or perhaps there is no formula other than ‘be original.’
Does anyone have a method for creating titles? Also, what titles do you find particularly grabbing?