Creating Great Titles
Gone with the Wind. Old Yellar. Who’s the Boss. Sex and the Single Vampire. Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. These are great titles because they tell us the genre, indicate tone and are memorable. Here is how you can create your own great title.
Why even care about a title when the publisher will change it anyway? Yes, the publisher may change it but if you are unpublished or even if the piece is not under contract, the title is going to have an impact in contests and with potential agents and editors. A strong title will make it more memorable.
I have a series of books about super human women called Amazons. Book one is Bravery Not Included and the second book is Some Assembly Required. The third book is called (currently) Construction Under Way but it doesn’t quite fit with the first two.
So how do I come up with titles? I try to avoid certain words like Love’s, or Forever, or Passion. The possessive form of love isn’t strong enough to carry a title and besides letting the reader know they are about to read a romance, it tells them little about the plot. The title needs to convey the genre or tone or both and hint at or tie into the book in some way.
Don’t push title creation. Titles happen in a flash of genius. The light bulbs that create such flashes are available at any hardware store. No, just kidding. The two things that I see people struggle with in creating a title is they stick with their first choice and they are afraid to seem silly during the brainstorming process. Brainstorming requires a certain amount of crap to be cleared out of your head for you to achieve or get to the good stuff. Write all ideas down, even if you know you won’t use them. That way you can see what the process looks like on the page and play with the words. By occupying your brain with hesitancy over an idea or repressing that idea, you block other ideas, so write it down to get it out of the way.
You want to push yourself to at least ten ideas. The first few will be flippant, easy answers. 6 through 8 tend to be painful and awkward but 9 and 10 are much more usable. Write it down and press past it so you have ideas to create off of. This is the Tool of 10 and can be great when thinking of plot points, a character’s back story and any other spots where you’re stuck and trying to figure out where to go next.
Here is an example. With Clarissa’s permission I’ve included her and my email conversation and title creation.
I need a new title for my historical. Right now it’s called Overlander, but I’d like to change it. It’s about a young woman who tries to stowaway on a wagon train to Oregon and the wagon master who wants to keep her back in the city and make her his winter wife (i.e. the woman who waits all year for him to come home for a month or two when it’s too cold to ride the trail). So far my other choices are Wanted: Winter Wife or just plain Winter Wife (Which is better?)
Any ideas? No problem if you’re too busy. I totally understand. Thanks.
I can easily picture the cover of Winter Wife and I like the double sound but is the book set during the winter? I have a soft spot for westerns and like the idea of this determined woman, knowing what she wants and going for it.
So some ideas, and a lot of these are obvious toss since the brainstorming process requires you to get the bad out of the way so you can find the good.
Firey Vixen, Winter Wife
I like the title Bound and Determined – but it may give the impression of bondage
It would be great to work off the theme of great love stories slightly tweaked like you did with From Baghdad With Love. You’re story description reminded me of Far and Away with Cruise and Kidman for some reason. Maybe something of A Streetcar Named Desire – A Wagontrain named Desire (lol). Way Down West. Deep Shades of Winter
His Wife for Winter
His Wife come Winter
Wagon Train Stowaway – this to me implies that she is young, and if that is an issue in the story, her somewhat coming of age, this would be good
Cross-land Voyage – too sci-fi which is why Overlander didn’t fly I think
Three Months a Year – I’m singing ‘three days a week, I love you love you love you’ which is Beatles I think
Holding Out for a Hero
Plain Jane Wrapper
Love Found to the West
Her Trail to Love
Mapping the Trail to His Heart
Mapping his Trail
OREGON – like OKLAHOMA add an ! and people will think its a musical
Battle at Lost River
Write me back with the characters name and maybe your theme. Is it that women can survive the trail too? Or that a woman’s place is not just the home? Are you looking for humor or deep passion? Maybe even send me the first page.
Then when Clarissa wrote me back I followed with:
The book’s cover needs to say western historical and romance. A lot of that will come from the cover but with your social media presence (which is of the awesome) you need it in the title too. That is a lot to ask of a little title. Let’s see if we can find one that will handle the pressure.
again, some of it is toss but part of the process
His Girl Monday – sounds a bit P.I.
Monday Status: Found – perhaps too contemp
Found and Deliver
Found When Lost
Lost and Found
For Her Own Good
For His Own Good
Breaking Him In
Breaking In the Trail
Keeper of the Lost
Two Seasons to Prove Herself
Two Seasons for Love
Wife by Winter
Proof before Winter
Found by Winter
Love by Winter
Wagon-ho Wife (it makes me giggle)
And then the ones from before
His Wife come Winter
Wagon Train Stowaway
Three Months a Year
Mapping his Trail (which makes me think of THE happy trail)
Use any or none or some of each, my top three is hard to narrow down uhm…
Found and Deliver – I like the whole dynamic of him being a
foundling and taking on a career where he safely delivers people, I see him
being very protective
Wagon Train Stowaway – If it is more her book (if she does the most changing) than I think this one conveys history, romance and western and I like the way it rolls in my mouth
Found by Winter
As you can see, the process, whether done with multiple people or on your own, becomes a stream of conscious look at concepts. Grammar and formatting do not count.
Once I have words down I can use alliteration or other rhetorical devices to rearrange ideas or come up with new ones. Then I decide which ones aren’t absolutely horrible and reuse them. If the books are linked having a similar feel through word choice, cadence or tone, it will help the reader identify that they are part of a series. Examples: Brent Weeks’ Into the Shadows, Edge of Shadows, Beyond the Shadows. Katie McAllister’s Sex, Vampires and Video Tapes, Sex and the Single Vampire.
Try to include something within your book that connects the title without tying it too tightly. An author I admire had a good title but reused or emphasized the title several times throughout the book. If you try to tie it in too much it loses its power. In Bravery Not Included the phrase is never mentioned in the book though the idea that super strength does not automatically make someone heroic does. Other genres have other expectations.
If you write for Harlequin Presents you need to tell us the type of characters in the book: sheik, prince, tycoon and the conflict: virgin, bought, pregnant so the reader knows if they want to buy it. Sure, you want your title to stand out, but not to the point that they don’t realize that it is a futuristic mystery or a fantasy romance. Fitting your publisher or line is important. You don’t want Scarred Thrill Ride to be the title of your Hen Lit cozy. And you don’t want Sweet Pulse to be the title of your hardcore sci-fi thriller. The tone doesn’t fit the book or subject.
Let’s work on the third book of my Amazon series.
The third book is about Harry (short for Harriett) who is the Amazon queen’s ordinary (non super human) sister and the hero a Blue Hair (Amazon with a genetic mutation) who is a new green beret team leader and has a hang up about his weight (all that muscle weighs a ton) and causing his men’s death when they can’t save him. I want to use the ‘directions/signs’ theme used in the previous two books. So here starts the stream of consciousness exactly as it poured out. Rinse and Repeat is taken. Objects in Mirror are closer than they appear is way to freaking long. Press Start to Begin is good but implies computers and there is more water, submarines, and construction than anything else. Some assembly required would be good but already taken and fits the second book too well to move it. I catch my self reading the back labels of everything. Looking at construction signs like Work Zone, or Increased fines for speed violations. Merge left but then we get into road images and this is much more about house and family building. Contents May Have Shifted during transport which is something on the bags of chips and said on airplanes. And shifted implies paranormals and actual change in character’s in some way. Asking Directions. Read directions before use. Build or Built to Specification or Built to Spec. I like that it is tight and the three word pattern has continued. But I don’t want to settle on just that one, I might come up with something better. Creating titles is a bit like stream of conscious, you write free form your ideas down so you can see them on paper and play with them. What are some army engineer sayings or references? I have no idea and would the general public even know? I know their emblem or patch is a castle. The Green Berets do a program called red sage. Playing soldier, Standardized Pricing or Standardized Protocol or Built to Last (oh, last is a bit like Love, it just tells us that its a romance but what does the word spec do that is any better? Maybe the Spec Ops World Built to Spec Ops okay, I’m liking it more and more. The male character is named 00 and his twin is called 7 or maybe I’ve got that reversed. But the book isn’t about him. It is Harry’s book who has patiently waited for the previous books to have her turn. Love it. Built to Spec. it is. Then I just have to remember it and not lose it.
So to create a title
brainstorm and push yourself to ten to clear out the crap
use rhetorical devices to rearrange the words for impact
keep genre and tone in mind