Your book’s title. Never will an author place so high a value on so small an amount of words. And by no means is the magnitude of this choice misguided. Choosing a title will be as big a decision as any that you’ll make in the writing process. No pressure.
What makes a good title? Think of your favourite books, films or songs. What do their titles look like? Short, like J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit? Punny, like Back to The Future? Drawn out, like any of the insufferable titles-turned-paragraphs served up by contemporary rock outfit Panic! At The Disco?
If you do cast your eye over your favourite titles, you’ll soon realise that there’s no real rhyme or reason as to what makes something great, a fact that doesn’t help your quest in the slightest. Both the Sistine Chapel and Yves Klein’s Blue are both incredibly famous painted works, despite one taking 7 years for the artist to paint while lying on his back in the most holy place in the world, and the other being a square of monotone blue. Damnit art.
That disclaimer in mind, perhaps the most reliable formula for creating a title goes a little something like this:
Your Book’s Essence + A Twist = A Title
You identify the core idea of your book, you add a little somethin’ somethin’, and blow me down you have yourself a title.
The essence of your book can be surmised in any number of ways. You can use any of the following aspects of your book to find its essence, and may well come up with an appropriate title without even needing to add a twist to it, as the examples below so exquisitely show.
- The protagonist – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Mad Max
- The protagonist’s place in your book’s world – The Indian in the Cupboard, The Last Samurai
- The antagonist – Jaws, Dr. No
- A McGuffin – Contagion, The Da Vinci Code
- The setting – Waterworld, Jurassic Park
- The driving event – The Hunger Games, Homer’s Odyssey
- The over-arching themes – War and Peace, Pride and Prejudice
But if you don’t stumble upon the perfect arrangement of letters from just distilling your book’s essence, you may need to give it a little twist in order for it to work. It may be playing with the sound of the wording, or adding intrigue to a title that may be a little simple.
There are approximately a million billion ways to add a little spice to your title, but a few of the most common include:
- Wording the title from the perspective of a character in the book (e.g. Holden Caulfield sees himself as The Catcher in the Rye)
- Use imagery and metaphor to turn an otherwise dull setting or event into something more intriguing (e.g. To Kill a Mockingbird)
- Use a kick-ass piece of dialogue that also lends itself to the essence of the book
- Ask a question that encourages intrigue
- Use alliteration, rhyme or rhythm to make it a fun title to say
- Simply upgrade a standard word with a word that offers greater impact
Like a turtle laying 200 eggs on a Caribbean beach, it’s wise to go into this process aiming to produce multiple titles in the hope that at least one of them will make it all the way to the water. Asking for an outsider’s perspective is a wise idea. Aim to consult either fans of your previous work, or fans of the genre you tend to write.
You also want to ensure that your title is unique. With millions of new titles coming out every year this may seem tricky, but it really isn’t. The sheer scope of the English language means that it’s unlikely your title will clash with someone else’s, but if it does (a quick check of Amazon will answer that query) a minor adjustment should be all that you need.
Summarising your book in a few short words is an intimidating prospect, I know. But it’s one that is eminently achievable if you know how.