One of the biggest challenges I find in writing is picking the perfect title. Book titles, story or essay, doesn’t matter. They’re all difficult. But picking the perfect book title? There’s a lot of pressure on that one.
Being a novelist means I like to use many words. A one-to-five word title can throw me into a writer’s block tizzy. To add pressure, the title is the first thing that intrigues a reader or says “yawn, pass this one up.” So how do you find the perfect title? Here are steps to help you uncover just the right one.
Picking the Perfect Book Title
- Begin with a working title. I usually start with my protagonist’s name or where the story takes place. I title the word file and go from there. Plenty of titles are a name or place, and this might work for what you are writing. At least you’ll have a way to identify your file on your desktop.
- Finish writing the piece (including revisions) before you start working on your title. A title may come to you as you write the first draft or during the revision process (and we always hope a gift from our muse will drop in our laps). Once you finish writing, you’ll know exactly what it is that you need to title. As you write and ideas come to you, jot them down on the side for future consideration.
- Explore your theme. Once you know what you are trying to say, you can brainstorm titles. Begin by writing down the theme in one sentence. Reword and rewrite several times, playing with subtext and meanings. Is there an object in your story that symbolizes the theme? Use it!
- Summarize your story in one sentence. If you haven’t done this exercise during the writing process, now is the time to jump in. If writing a novel, you need to do your logline anyway (which is the essence of the story in one sentence). During the process of writing your logline, chances are you will find your title.
- When in doubt, brainstorm. The right title still hasn’t emerged? Scan your manuscript for phrases or sentences that might make a great title. Look through your previous list of possibilities and change or twist a word and see what happens. Make lists from your story: character careers, hobbies, passions, secrets, settings, topographical features, mystical features, and character traits. Try alliteration or rhymes. Grab a thesaurus and expand your lists. Put words from your lists together in different ways, combining ideas. Make a list of (twenty) one-word titles. Then two words (yes, twenty again). Three words. Four-word titles. Finally five-word titles. Look over all your writing. Highlight what grabs your attention. Trust yourself, your perfect title is there, waiting for you to uncover and use it.
So, there you have it: five steps to picking the perfect book title. What’s the best book title you’ve come up with? Or what book title do you think does it all: grabs attention, relays something about the book, and makes you want to read it?
Award-winning novelist Kathy Steffen teaches fiction writing and speaks at writing programs across the country. Additionally, Kathy is also published in short fiction and pens a monthly writing column, Between the Lines. Her books, FIRST THERE IS A RIVER, JASPER MOUNTAIN and THEATER OF ILLUSION are available online and at bookstores everywhere. Check out more at www.kathysteffen.com