This workshop actually came out of an email exchange I recently had with Ruth Kerce. Ruth and I, along with Ruby Storm, have written two anthologies together. Matched in our first one through serendipity (Diamond Studs), the three of us became such good online friends we joined together to write a second (Winter Studs). The three of us still stay in contact and have great discussions on tons of topics.
Recently Ruth and I got talking about some of our titles and I realized I committed what is probably a cardinal sin in titling: I have not just two or three titles with the same initials, I have FIVE with the same or closely the same: SS, SR, SR, SR, SS. How many can you figure out? Pay attention! There will be a quiz!
No, when I start a story, the file name I use is usually the heroine's name: "Sam's story" for example, or "Tania's story." Rarely will it be the male protagonist's name. Not sure why that is, come to think of it. My current wip is the first time I've ever used the hero's name ("Matt's story" in case you wanted to know). The titles almost always come after the story is written and, to be honest, I'm not very good at coming up with them. My husband named many of my early works. My daughter even titled a book for me!
Yet titles are often the most important tool a writer has in getting the general public to look at the book. Notice I don't say "purchase," only "look." The title and the cover work together to get buyers to go deeper and read the blurb. The cover catches the eye, the title intrigues the reader, the blurb sells the book.
There's an interesting post over at The Blood-Red Pencil on Robert Jordan's titles. He's the author of the Wheel of Time series, a fantasy that, I'm afraid, I couldn't get into. Don't throw things if you're a Jordan fan! The writing was good, the first book pulled me in and I couldn't wait to read the rest. But he lost me part way through the second book and I finally gave up.
Anyway, the post takes a look at the titles of each book in the series and compares it to another, similar, title with a discussion as to which of the two titles is more memorable.
Because, when you come down to it, that's really what you want a title to be: memorable. You want it to stick in the reader's mind so when they go to talk about it with their friends, they remember it. I always liked Mary Stewart's alliteration with The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills. For the third book she went with assonance instead: The Last Enchantment, and it works just as well. It's been years since I've read (re-read) those books, yet their titles still roll off my tongue.
A word of caution: Some people like to do a take-off of a more famous title. They have several reasons for doing so. Among the unprofessional reasons is to trick readers into buying their book instead of the more famous one. Porn movies are known for "riffing" on box office hits (Romancing the Stone becomes Romancing the Bone, for example. Yes, it's a real film.) Remember, titles are not copyright-able so you, too, can write Twilight or The Sorcerer's Stone.
Your better bet, however, is to find a title that's unique. After all, you want readers to remember YOUR title...not someone else's.
Which leads to the second need a title fulfills: it should capture the spirit of the story itself. The Great Gatsby tells us more about the character of Jay Gatsby. Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which books burn. The King's Speech uses a double meaning of the word "speech" to make a point about both meanings. In every case, the title adds to the story. It's not just a handle put on at the end to carry the story around with. It's an integral part of the storytelling.
So, what you want to create in a title is something memorable that captures the spirit of the story. Sounds easy, right? For some yes, for others (me), it's an agonizing process. But here are some tips to consider as you title your next story.
1. Use alliteration or assonance (be careful not to create a tongue-twister, though! You want readers to actually be able to say it.)
2. Examine the story's theme. Allude to it in the title (don't say it outright. Readers don't like to be hit over the head with the main idea).
3. Consider using just the hero's last name. Frankenstein. The Great Gatsby. Or title it with the setting of the story: Winesburg, Ohio. It can work.
4. Use symbolism. The Crucible works on so many levels. So does To Kill a Mockingbird and Fahrenheit 451 and Mockingjay. What symbol could you use to represent a character or the theme of your story?
5. Be obscure. The Lord of the Rings is a good example. Just who is the "lord" in that title? The creator of the ring? the carrier? the destroyer? Pages have been written about the title of this series.
6. Be unique. Make your title a one-of-a-kind.
SIDE NOTE: Okay, at the top of this post I listed five of my titles by initials only. I listed another two titles by the heroine's first name. Email me the correct titles that match those initials and names (seven titles total). The emails with the correct answers will go into a hat for a free download of one of my books (winner's choice). If the winner has all my books, the next book will be on me.
To enter, send an email with "CONTEST" in the subject line (to get through my spam filter) to email@example.com. In the body of the email, write the five titles that go with the initials and the two titles that go with the heroine's names. Entries need to be received by July 24, 2012 to be eligible.
Have fun and play safe!
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