Thursday, August 12, 2010

Aspiring Advice: Finding Your Title


You have a story, floating in your mind or drafted on paper, but what will you call it? Have you a title for your work? Finding a title for your story is one of the more difficult aspects of writing. Why? With a single word - or a short sequence of words - you're attempting to set your story apart from everything else that's out there and giving your story an identity. It's like taking a hot iron rod and "branding" your collection of words or chapters. Titles are hard to choose, and even more difficult to make sure no one else has used them yet.

Fortunately, titles come easy for me. It wasn't until I sat down and wondered why when I discovered a special formula for generating titles and how to apply them to my stories. Here are my four steps:

1: Choose your concept - what kind of story are you telling? What is your story about? Is the concept of your story unique or does it contain a new approach to a tried and established concept? Genre and concept are key. Knowing this is half the battle, so be sure to figure this out well before you start thinking about a title.

2: Generate several titles that revolve around your concept - sounds easy enough. Your title should reflect the context of your story. Say my concept is a mystery about a man who manufactures x-ray sunglasses. There's a lot to play with there. See Through, Exposed, The Man Who Saw Too Much (Hitchcocky, I know), and Warning: Do Not Look Directly into the Sun, are a few titles that popped into my head. And a couple of them seem really catchy to me. One of them, the Hitchcocky one, sounds a bit generic. Avoid that if you can.

3: Look up your title(s) on a search engine - using the internet, type in "(title) book/novel." If you use Google, it will generally show you right away if that title exists or not. Let me practice with the few titles I invented. See Through - I found a result for a book called See Through: Short Stories by Nelly Reifler. Thanks to the subtitle, Short Stories, See Through is still up for grabs. Exposed - there's several books with this title, and a movie. For the most part, it's taken. Use something else. The Man Who Saw Too Much - found one result, a nonfiction book by John Little, The Man Who Saw Too Much : David Brill, Combat Cameraman. Since my story is fiction and I won't use that subtitle, this title is open, but like I said, it sounds a bit generic. Generic titles are among my bottom ten. Warning: Do Not Look Directly into the Sun - nothing! There are no books with this title at all. This one would pique my interest the most. If I were to write this story, I would select this for my title.

 4: Make sure your story stays within the context of your title - in other words, will your finished story adequately reflect your title? Will it go on a tangent and end up being about something else? Think on that. Imagine if Warning: Do Not Look Directly into the Sun concludes with aliens creating a zombie army--that's been done.

Concerning subtitles - generally, use them to set apart different books within the same series. The series itself should have a title that encompasses the entire series, with each individual book having it's own subtitle that reflects the concept or key element that's pertinent to that book, like Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. What happens at the end of this book? The land has a king again. The king "returned." See. Easy enough. People will also use subtitles in the event that a title is already taken. Add a separate identifier (subtitle), and you have a new title!

Concerning "generic" titles - I don't know how there are so many of them out there, but they're there. If I walk into any bookstore, I'll see one . . . or twenty. For me, generic titles don't grab me. Unless there's a really cool picture on the cover, I wouldn't see myself picking up a book like The Cold Winter or The Scheme from Planet 7 and think, this sounds exciting! I'm going to buy this, take it home, and read it right now!" For short stories, titles like these are fine. I know I have a few in my - albeit small - short story collection.

That's it for Aspiring Advice this week, folks.
Thank you for clicking into The Cosmic Laire!

I'm David, and looking into the sun is bad for your eyes.

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