Penning the Perfect Title



oldbookcoverWelcome back to Firsts in Fiction, loyal listeners! Steve and Aaron take this week to look at penning the perfect title. Check out the YouTube video below, or watch it here. As always, you can listen above or download the episode here. Find Steve and Heather and Aaron on FacebookTwitteriTunes, and Stitcher.

A simple Google search on how to find a title for your novel will return a plethora of results, and most of these hits are pretty good. But for our money, these are the tips that have the most bang for your buck.

1. The title should serve to deepen the mystery, not explain it. In college, I had a story called “Appeasement.” My professor at the time said the title was too direct. It spoke to the mystery rather than deepening it. Fiction, he said, works by distraction. The title should be an extension of this idea. Consider “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” by Flannery O’Connor or “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Both of these speak about the story, but don’t reveal it. They hint at it. Cormac McCarthy has some winners as well: “Blood Merridian” and “All the Pretty Horses.” Contrast that to something simple and abstract that speaks too directly to theme (like “Appeasement” or “Betrayal”).

2. Find a central image from your story. Flannery O’Connor was an advocate of this, and she has some of the greatest titles in literature. Consider “Wise Blood” or “Greenleaf” or “The Enduring Chill.” I adopted this idea when renaming “Appeasement,” which later became “The Coldest Winter.”

3. Take a common saying or cliche and twist it (or shorten it). Titles can often work by allusion. One of the greatest American novels is “The Violent Bear it Away” by Flannery O’Connor, which is a Biblical allusion her audience would be familiar with. My novel “The Bargain” was originally called “Ashes Ashes,” a reference to the popular children’s rhyme about the Black Plague.

4. Brainstorm important words etc. While chatting with Steve, who’s work in progress is simply called “Betrayal,” he mentioned that his magic system made use of an ability which he calls “shaping.” Based on that, we brought the two together to come up with “The Shape of Betrayal.” This still speaks to the heart of the novel, but also deepens a mystery. It works on a variety of levels.

We hope these tips and tricks help you find the perfect title for your story or novel. As always, feel free to drop us a line. We’d love to hear from you.

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