A title functions as the very first introduction the audience will have to your story or novel. And while everyone knows they shouldn't judge a book by its cover, they will judge it by its title.
Memorable, easily-recognized titles can often be accomplished through one - or sometimes two - words. Consider Dreamcatcher, Jaws, or Roots. All single word titles that immediately bring an image to mind.
Longer titles can also work sometimes, especially if they make an interesting statement, or ask a fascinating question about the contents of the story itself. How about Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which was made into the movie Blade Runner (also a great title). Or what about I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, or The Red Badge of Courage?
Try fitting your title to the genre you’re writing for. It isn’t surprising that so many mystery books often include the word “death” or “murder” in their titles. Romance novel titles often have “love” or “kiss” included. This kind of title lets the reader know right from the beginning what kind of book they’re looking at.
If your book doesn’t fit neatly in a single genre you can use something that reflects the tone or mood of the book. Try using descriptive words to create your title. “Dark Night of the Soul” will indicate a much different book than “Happiness in the First Degree.”
Titles are not copyrightable. I have two science fiction books, both titled Millennium; one is by John Varley and the other is by Ben Bova – both big names in the field. If you want to check to see if your title is unique, try checking it out on Google.
Here’s a few do’s and don’ts when it comes to titles:
Don’t settle for just one title for your novel, come up with several and then enlist the help of family or friends to narrow it down to the one they think sounds right.
Don’t be afraid to change your title. If you’ve settled on the perfect title when you start to write, it’s okay to change it if the story takes a different turn and that title is no longer quite as perfect. I always have a working title which may or may not end up being the actual title. An Elemental Wind started out being Space Opera and my fantasy, Magical Misfire, started out as Shades of Errol Flynn.
Don’t make your title so unique that no one understands what it means. Avoid cryptic phrases, quotes or excerpts from the story, etc. if they require an explanation to make sense of the genre, tone or mood for your book. Shades of Errol Flynn made sense to me at the time because the book's a bit of a swashbuckler, but how many people out there know who Errol Flynn is?
Do use a particularly memorable word or phrase from your text. Perhaps one of your main characters has a pet phrase that would be appropriate.
Try to grab your reader’s attention. If there is one place where the first impression counts, it’s the title of your story or novel. The title must immediately tell the reader why he or she should keep reading.
Do use a thesaurus to find a catchier synonym for a single word title. It needs to have punch and should resonate with your potential readers.
And just for fun:
Here’s a list of the original titles of a few famous books. See if you can guess what the books are. The answers will be posted on Sunday.
1. First Impressions
2. The Kingdom by the Sea
3. Tomorrow is Another Day
4. Jaws of Death
5. Trimalchio on West Egg
6. Strangers from Within
7. At This Point In Time
9. Something That Happened
10. All’s Well That Ends Well