Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How To Come Up With A Cool Title

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

I don't like coming up with titles. It's not my gift. But a great title can make a huge difference in the success of your book. Here are some strong titles from my bookshelf:

To Kill a Mockingbird
A Wrinkle in Time
The Time Traveler's Wife
Cinder
The Help
Redeeming Love
Ella Enchanted
Mistborn
Legally Blonde
A Walk to Remember
The Silence of Murder
The Book Thief
The Hunger Games
Miss Congeniality
The Secret Garden
Stormbreaker
The Maze Runner
Ender's Game

I could go on and on.

All these titles say something about the story behind the cover. Many also hint at the genre. The Silence of Murder, for example, is about a girl whose brother is accused of murder, but he is unable to communicate what happened that night, which makes the title deeper. And with the word "murder" in the title, it's pretty clear that it's a mystery or suspense novel. The title To Kill a Mockingbird comes from a discussion in the story itself when Atticus likens Tom's murder to the senseless slaughter of innocent birds. In Mistborn, Vin is a mistborn, so that title not only sounds like a fantasy story, it is a description of Vin's abilities.

I've been brainstorming my next epic fantasy for a while now. I've been calling it Land's End. I thought that title was perfect since it matches the story, though I did wonder if it was a problem that Lands' End was already a clothing catalog.

My agent said yes. It was not good. Whenever I said the title, all she could think about was contemporary women's clothing.

Rats.

So I set about brainstorming a new title. Here's what I did.

First, I thought over some of the themes, the magic, the character's roles in the book, etc. and brainstormed a list of words. Ex: prince, Kingsguard, land, end, root, omatta, destruction, nature, betrayal, blind, kidnapping, etc.

Second, I picked what I liked from the above list (which was root) and played around on Amazon.com and IMDB.com, looking for titles with the word "root" in them. I also looked up quotes about roots. This gave me some new possibilities for titles. Ex: Root of Arman, Roots, Deep Roots, Omatta, Omatta Root, The Deep Roots of the Omatta Tree, Deep as Omatta Roots, Rooted, Root of the Problem, Digging Deep, Root of Magic, Root of Lies, Root of Evil, Root of Destruction, etc.

For some reason, I kept saying Evenroot. I liked the sound of it. I thought it was the name of the little dragonfly in The Rescuers, so I looked it up. Turns out his name is Evinrude. So I was thinking, sweet! I can use Evenroot. Though I still didn't know why I wanted to. I did think that omatta (the magical root in my story) was a little too weird of a name for a title. But maybe I could change the name of my root. Then I had a revelation. In my Blood of Kings series, the Evenwall is what separates light from darkness. So I started searching my binders and piles of notes to find out where on earth I came up with Evenwall. I couldn't. I have no idea. But I did find Aven in the Hebrew dictionary. It means to exert oneself in vain; to come to naught; nothingness; trouble, vanity, wickedness; and in a deeper sense characterizes the way of life for those who are without God.

Well, I thought that worked mighty well for my magical root. Way back whenever, I must have, somehow, gotten Evenwall from aven. And since these books are loosely related, I figured that Evenroot worked just fine.

So for now, I'm calling my new book Evenroot. It might not be the actual title, but it's a far better title than Land's End. (Even though I still like that one. Silly mail order catalog, anyway...)

Whether or not you have a gift for coming up with a catchy title, it's important to do your best. Here are some tips you can use in coming up with a title of your own.

1. Brainstorm words that encompass the theme, plot, situation, tone, characters, magic, etc. in your book.
2. Are there any words in your list that could work as a single-word title?
3. Play around with word combinations from your list to see if you can find something you like. Can you find a play on words? Offer a sense of what the story is about? Use rhetoric in some way?
4. Look for important phrases in your story. Sometimes you can take a title right from words in your book like "Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."
5. Look up quotes, or movie or book titles with your words. Can you put a twist on a famous quote or title?
6. Once you've narrowed it down to some favorites, make sure to check that there aren't any famous stories that already use that title. I liked Roots, but there was a famous novel by Alex Haley and, later, miniseries based on the novel with that title. Yes, Roots was a different genre. It's historical fiction about slavery. But it's still so very famous, I didn't think it worked to have the same title for my fantasy novel.
7. Test your titles by asking friends, family, or critique partners for their opinion. Remember, though, it's your title, so you have final say. Also remember that if you're seeking traditional publishing, the publisher will have final say. And many times it's a blessing to have their professional help.

Do you have trouble coming up with titles? If not, what tricks do you use to come up with them?

65 comments:

  1. All my titles are very ordinary and not very catchy. It's not my favorite part of the process.

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  2. This came at exactly the right time, Jill! Thanks! I've been trying to re-title my book since I really don't like the current one. (It's not even a title, really; it's just what I call my document so I can easily find it in the 'Search' tool, lol.)

    I'm extremely poor at making up titles. I have an idea of what the second one's going to be called, though: I was thinking 'The Time Borrower'. I kind of took it off of the phrase 'borrowed time' and then, since the POV character shouldn't be alive at the moment--he's been suspended in time for nine years--I thought it worked. Still trying to figure out the first book of my duet, though. I think a good way of finding titles is looking for phrases and then changing them a little. I've never seen the film (it looks a little mature),but I always thought a clever title was 'Live and Let Die,' how they changed it around the simple phrase.

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    1. I like that title, The Time Borrower, Anastasia. That is a great way of finding a title.

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  3. This is a super-helpful post! Titling stories/chapters is always one of the hardest things for me to do.

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  4. I love coming up with titles! Brick Walls just showed up with that name, so that wasn't difficult : )

    But, my series was a little harder. I knew the first book would be Ideal Lies. My country's name is Ideal States of America, and my characters find a hidden city that the country has been keeping a secret. The city is the lie. Plus, it sounds cool. The next two book titles were harder. I came up with Bitter Cause and Foreseen End. The last book is interesting because it actually ends with "I didn't see this ending this way." "Only one did." Hence, the reason I like the name.

    Cool post!

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    1. Thanks, Alyson! I like the title Ideal Lies, especially considering the story content. Good one!

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  5. I appreciate your tips, Jill! I'm going to tuck this post away in my favorites for future reference. It's always a struggle for me to come up with a title, and for the longest time I had been calling my work in progress novel simply "Dragon Story" since it involves dragons. Now, of course that was never going to be the actual title, but it took awhile to come up with the current title, "To Slay a Dragon." I figured that it kills two birds with one stone in my story since it is referring to the literal slaying of a dragon as well as the figurative slaying of the dragons in one's life. But then maybe that title is too similar to "To Kill a Mockingbird" in the aspect that both titles are basically "to kill an animal/creature," whether figuratively or literally... hmm... I'll have to read "To Kill a Mockingbird" to get a better grip on what the title means, but for now I'm happy with my title.

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    1. I don't think it's too similar. I think it works great for a dragon story. Keep it!

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  6. Oh, this is very helpful. I mostly come up with lame filler titles to just call it something because I cannot come up with a good title.

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  7. Coming up with my title was one of the easiest things I've done in the writing process so far. I knew the story was about love, truth, and magic, so I just took what I knew about them and there I was. Though it did go through a couple of revisions as the plot developed, I didn't find it difficult at all, it just came to me.

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  8. Awesome post! It took me forever to find an awesome title for the book I'm writing. I finally decided on 'Eclipsers' because that word plays a major part in the story.

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    1. Ooh, I like the title Eclipsers, Katie. :) It'd definitely catch my eye in a bookstore.

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    2. I like that too, Katie! Nice one. :-)

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  9. So far for me, titles have been pretty easy to come up with. Sometimes, the title even comes before the story! Or I think of a title that I just know has a great story connected to it (that I have to write). :)
    But these are some great helps!

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    1. I've done that once--had a title before the story. But my publisher made me change it, so, oh well.

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  10. I often come up with my story ideas because a title pops into my head. :) I keep a big notebook filled with random phrases and possible titles that I look to for inspiration. If I'm writing a story and a title doesn't come right away, I try not to worry about it and instead give it a working title so I know what to call it when I make a reference to it. Then I usually skim through the book for quotes I like for the title. :) For instance, I thought my dystopian novel was going to be called Perfect, but that sounded really cheesy and generic. 30-40,000 words in my protagonist--Raven--mentioned how she is a "flightless bird," and so the title was born. :)

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    1. Nice! Thanks for sharing your process. :-)

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    2. Ideas come with titles for me as well

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  11. I have my main book that really doesn't have a title yet, a side book with a couple of titles and a mystery with one title. For the one that has a title I really didn't do anything. It started out as Summerville's Secret but then I was just thinking one day and the name Keenan popped into my head and I liked it better so it became Keenan's Secret! But I hadn't thought of looking up the name to see if other books have the name.Thanks Mrs. Williamson.

    HP

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    1. You're welcome! I've never heard of a book called Keenan's Secret, but it's always good to check around and make sure. :-)

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  12. THANK YOU JILL!!!! I have the worst time EVER coming up with titles. Though my last book, the title came first. What do you think of Painted Skies, Jill? When I get the title, I like to search it on Amazon to see how many other books have that name. There wasn't a Painted Skies and certainly not in the dystopian genre! =) This post is really fantastic, thank you so so much! =D

    TW Wright
    ravensandwriting.blogspot.com

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    1. Painted Skies sounds like a nice title. What is the genre, though? Does it match? Does it tell us something about the story too?

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  13. Often the novel comes to me with a title. And if it doesn't it shows up pretty soon. (I even have ideas that if I don't know anything I about them I know the title.) At the moment I'm thinking of Ellesmere Road for my WIP novella. The place - Ellesmere Road - shows up a lot in the writing and and it's where some of the action happens. That title, though I really like it, is probably going to change.
    Thanks for this post! If I am ever stuck, I shall refer back to it.

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    1. Ellesmere Road sounds like a good title, Annie. :-)

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  14. I usually like coming up with titles. For some reason.

    A lot of times the title comes with the beginning of the book for me, but not always. Here's a few of mine:

    Leader in Disguise--This one was something I wrote when I was eleven or twelve, and I did have a hard time coming up with it. :)
    Different--Just finished this book. At first it was called "Everyday Adventures"--but come on, that's really tacky ;) And when I finally figured out what this book was going to be about, it was obvious Different was the way to go!
    Living Rain--Title was the first thing I got, here! And it has a sequel, Breaking Rain. I tried to come up with something similar here. :)

    And I'm with Magic Violinist, sometimes I just get a title and eventually the story comes along. I have a few titles I have yet to do much with: Legally Blind, Lies We Believe, Golden Silence, United, The Last Thing I Need, The Question...um, okay, so maybe it's more than a few. :P

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    1. Lucky you! Sounds like titles are not something you struggle with! Those are great. :-)

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  15. I agree that the title is one of the hardest parts. I'm not sure about the proposed title for my steampunk novella in progress (Lycaon Rising) though.

    Hope to start brainstorming during spring break. :/

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  16. This post is just what I needed! I am absolutely terrible at coming up with names for my WIPs. Either I get a title right away, or it takes me months. Or years. I am definitely going to keep this list handy in the future. :)

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  17. I have this series of sorts I'm working on. At first it was going to be a trilogy and the titles were Flight, Flame, and Fear. Then when the flight element of the story got down played on the ninth retry, and I added a huge new thing into the story, I knew I had to change the title. It's also now just going to be two books. I have two ideas for tites: The Sun Princess for the first book and the Night Queen for the second (actually, I can't decide between Moon and Night for the second one.) And there's also going to be a prequel which, if I go with the first set of titles will be called the Eclipse Queen. (The series as a whole is called Eclipse.) And the second set of ideas is #1 Solar, #2 Lunar and for the prequel just Eclipse. I think that one word titles are popular right now, (Divergent, Gone, Cinder.) and I really like those kinds of titles. But the books are fantasy so I'm thinking that The Sun Princess/Night Queen would display that better. I am conflicted, to say the least.

    So yeah,

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    1. Ninth retry... I don't know how you still have interest in that. I'm done (as in, never looking at it again done, not actually finished done) with my fantasy, and I only did it once. XD
      I personally like The Sun Princess and Night/Moon Queen best... However, it's your story, so you'd know what fits. ;)

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    2. I've never gone all the way through. The farthest I've gotten is 13 chapters. I keep coming up with different, better ways to start the story and that's how I ended up with nine different versions of the beginning.
      Thanks for your opinion.

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    3. That sounds cool, Hadley. I like Sun Princess and Night Queen too.

      And the more you rewrite a book, the better it is. My favorite writing quote of all time: "Books aren't written - they're rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn't quite done it." --Michael Crichton

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  18. Awesome post, Ms. Williamson! I'll be sure to come back here when I get stuck on titles next time (that happens with every WIP... Except for the one time I got lucky and came up with a title the day I came up with the story. But that's never happened again.)
    I love titles that play on words, quotes, and phrases, and still have a lot to do with the story. They just feel so, I don't know, right. These are like my only stories I've ever liked the title for:
    Worlds Apart--A fantasy novel about a teen girl who accidentally transports herself to another world. The title is actually a line in the novel, and I liked how it sounded.
    Factory Rats--Despite what my little siblings think, this one is /not/ about a bunch of rats who hang out at a factory and eat cheese all day long. It's a historical fiction about an orphan boy who works at (gasp) a factory.
    Pitch Black Stars--My current WIP. The main character's name is Pitch, and stars are pretty important throughout the entire series, and the play on words amused me. :D

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  19. On my current WIP (I'm only about four chapters in), I've already changed the title, but I'm still not sure about it. My original title was G.E.N.I.U.S. because the book is, in short, about a girl who is kidnapped by an organization called G.E.N.I.U.S. (I have an acronym for it) which basically kidnaps geniuses to force to do things for them. Now, I've changed the title (as least currently) to Death or Success because they basically decide that they'd rather die than concede to defeat. What do you think of these titles? Do you like Death or Success or G.E.N.I.U.S., or would you prefer something else? Do these titles grab your attention?

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    1. I think G.E.N.I.U.S. sounds more unique. But your the author. ;) And you know your story better than anyone.

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    2. I like G.E.N.I.U.S. too. Death or Success doesn't give me the impression of the right genre.

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    3. Thanks for your help! I still wasn't sure about Death or Success, so I'm thinking I'll probably go back to G.E.N.I.U.S. at least for now.

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    4. What about death, success and/or G.E.N.I.U.S?

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  20. THIS IS SO GREAT. I'm bookmarking this. I absolutely suck at title-making.

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  21. Ooh very very good!!! I have a mixture with titles. Usually I start out with one that isn't horrible, but I eventually change it. Sometimes the title comes to me before the story. Other times I have to work at the title. Sometimes I post the original title in GTW, and part of the plot, and ask for help. :P That's how I got one of my favorite titles, The Pauper's Masquerade. :D Thank you for the tips! These are amazing.

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    1. I like The Pauper's Masquerade, Bethany! Sounds intriguing. :-)

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  22. Niceee!!! My titles are roller coasters all around! My first book has gone from the uber-lame title of "The Room That Was Never There" to the simpler title, "The Missing Room" which still sounded like a little kid's mystery book. Then a friend suggested "Quandary" to match my other two books' one word titles (Revolt and Paradox). These two were easy, since one works with a rebellion called "The Revolt" and the other deals with a Time Paradox, but I'm still not sure about the first title. So far it's the best I've got. Any ideas?

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    1. Quandary is an interesting title. Would just Missing work for The Missing Room? I'm not sure I like that better than The Missing Room, though.

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    2. I like The Room That Was Never There

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    3. The Room That Was... just seemed too long. See? I'm even too lazy to type it out. :P
      I thought about Missing, but there's already a book out there by Haddix called "The Missing" that's fairly popular in the teen/jfic section.

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  23. I nearly did cartwheels when I saw the title of this blog post (which is comical only becauze I'm a klutz and have never been able to do cartwheels in the first place)! I have such a problem with titles, so this is inspirational! :) Thank you very much!

    (And I look forward to finding out more about "Evenroot." I enjoyed "Captives." :) )

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  24. Right now I'm working on a series of four books called The Eyes. That title was originally a placeholder of sorts, a title that really had nothing to do with the books. I think it was a vague reference to an anime or something... But now it fits. XD I don't really have any method for coming up with titles. Sometimes they just appear. Sometimes (like in this case with The Eyes) my sister will say something random and it will stick and turn into a theme.
    I was having a lot of trouble trying to name the individual books though. Then suddenly it hit me that maybe they should have something to do with eyes, lol. I managed to come up with fitting titles for all four: Blinded, Iris, Aquity, and Focus.

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  25. I'm inconsistent when it comes to quality of titles. My current novel has a working title of Curtsy to a Dragon. It's not horrible, but it seems a bit "meh".

    Then I get struck for inspirations for titles, and might tweak the storyline for the title, if it's for an unwritten project. For example: The Crossing Of Stars. The title plays on the phrase star-crossed, or ill fated, and the fact that it is set on a generational starship. In the original mental draft (comes before the first;), the starship had in fact already landed on a planet and the passengers only think they're in space. My 12 year old self thought this was such a unique and original plot twist. Ha. Ha. Ha. To fit my title, I think I'm going to have the ship actually in transit. Or else I'll have something like "Stars we have crossed." No, no, definitely not. Or ditch the whole "Stars" line of titles and go with Usefulness, because it deals both with conserving resources and relationships with sociopaths. I'm making my unwritten novel sound very crazy...

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  26. Great advice on how to come up with titles!! I'll have to try some of these, I always have a hard time coming up with my own.

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  27. I come up with my titles by using what the story is about. For instance I used to have one story I called Back to Beginning. I no longer call it Back to the Beginning because I had to change the end, but I usually try to base my titles off what the story is about.

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  28. This is a great post! It should be helpful with the title of my next story. (-: Isn't there also a port-town in England called Land's End?

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  29. My WIP is currently being called Worlds Away. It works good with the story, except I looked the title up on goodreads, and there was a book called Worlds Away in the SAME genre as mine...fantasy. *sigh* I'll just have to think of another one.....

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  30. I generally am good with titles. My current book is probably going to be "the owl locket".

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  31. It took a while, but I finally came up with a title! My book is called "Falling Through"

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  32. I am HORRIBLE at coming up with book titles!

    I have a lot of WIPs, and only a few of them have titles. One good way to come up with titles is your family. I got both the working title 'The Breakfast Book' and the actual title "The Lost Day" from my brother, and a few other titles from books and songs I grew up on, got from my parents. Maybe they can help me figure out titles for my other WIPs.

    ~ Gracelyn

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