Let’s talk about Titles


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
  • Germ
  • The curious incident of the dog in the night-time
  • Proof
  • 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.

Candles 061314

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?


22 responses »

  1. My method for making titles:
    *thinking* “Hmmmmm what’s the book about….. hmmmmm…. what’s a word that is vaguely related to my book… hmmmmm”
    *writes down title*
    “Bethany, that title is shit. Please tell me you’re not serious about that.”
    *thinks for six more months, calls the project “untitled” and must look through files for ten minutes to find the right one to open*
    “Hey, internet, can you give me a title?”
    *internet gives the perfect title*

    That’s basically it. If you’re ever completely stuck, try the forums at nanowrimo.org. There’s one just for naming stuff.

  2. Great post Olivia. I’m like you, I find titles really difficult. I too use a temporary title while I’m writing, often just the name of the main character. I quite like titles that symbolise something, or have some deeper meaning that only becomes clear on reading the story. But I’m rubbish at coming up with titles like that! 🙂

  3. Hm, wish I could give some advice here but I’ve got nothing. The book I’m working on now is a remake of one I made as a kid, so I already had the name picked out. Other than that, though, most of the stories I write I give a temporary title, like you, and then that sticks and that’s it. I’ve never really had to find a new, fitting title so I’m much in the same boat as you, really.

    • Don’t you wish that all stories had a title as soon as you start them? It happens to me so rarely. And (others, feel free to chime in on this!) I also find that I was much braver with titling things when I was a young’un. Like, it hadn’t yet occurred to me that I needed to wait for the perfect title. Like, you said that you’ve been carrying this title since you were a kid (which is very cool, by the way), did you find that you stressed about titles then like we all do now?

      • Oh, how lovely that would be! Oh, yes, I agree–the writing days of old were so much less stressful! I found that, not only were my ideas, even for titles, better when I was younger, but I was also a lot braver about pretty much everything. I wish my younger self had given me titles and plot outlines for all the stories I’d ever write in my whole life 😛

  4. Titles drive me crazy, too! Your post made me laugh out loud because this is all so, so familiar. I have a horrible time titling my own work, I think, because a good title is an uber-brief encapsulation of the spirit of a novel–and we novelists are not given to brevity, usually. So I wish I could offer something helpful, but all I can say is that I’m in the trenches with you! And I adore Redwall, too. 🙂

    • “We novelists are not given to brevity.” That. Is. A very true statement 🙂

      And, YES Redwall… I feel like most of my early standards for successful world building come from the Redwall series. Do you have a favorite? Mine is Pearls of Lutra. I love those riddles so much.

      • Oh, that’s a tough question! I love them all. But the ones about otters….oh, the otters…..I think if I had to choose, though, I adore the first one just for starting the whole thing off. 🙂

  5. But you picked the perfect title for my third book! Now, I’m left in your position of naming one and two. ❤

  6. I have a quick-fix for some situations, but it’s super obvious; pick a phrase or sentence that’s found near the end of your story/book, and use that (or some portion of it) as the title. Uhhh…. other ways to do it… you have a story about a girl, she happens to be from Timbuktu (which is utterly irrelevant, but sounds good) so you call the story, “The Girl from Timbuktu” and make a point of NOT going into the whole Timbuktu thing.

    I dunno. My mom used to title all my essays and stuff, in school. I suck at titling. Good luck to you!


  7. I don’t know if you’ve followed, but I had a couple posts on titles, since I was having such difficult choosing one for my own WIP, so I definitely feel your pain 🙂 I’d never really had this issue before. Finally, I narrowed it down to some choices, and put it to vote through a poll. The input helped, and as I played around with the titles some more and felt them out, I finally found one that felt right. 🙂 You’ll figure it out! There isn’t a science to it, just wait until one fits.

    • Oh hey, cool! I just read your titling posts. That’s a nifty solution to the problem. Also, I really liked the winner, but I didn’t truly ‘get’ why you chose it until I saw it on the cover. Which is another aspect I hadn’t considered: because maybe a title looks good on the top of a printed manuscript, but would lose something on an actual book cover. Since that’s the final destination, it’s really important to think about.

      • Haha! Thanks 🙂 And it really is, and was actually a huge deciding factor between that and Shadowmark. I thought Shadowmark translated better in normal text, but Nightfire had more impact and looked better on a cover. Plus I felt it was more unique and attention-grabbing. Thank you though 🙂

  8. Pingback: No Such Thing as a “Simple” Story | Often Clueless, Always Shoeless

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