Titling Stories and Novels

A couple of different things have set me thinking about titles lately. I love titling stories, but there are times when trying to come up with a title can make you want to bang your head into something metal. Especially when you're trying so hard to get the exact right title. Something that is beautiful (or purposely not beautiful) and absolutely suited to the story. Something that will capture people's imaginations and make them want to know more.

Writers put a lot of responsibility on their titles. I've heard that if your book is accepted by a publisher there's a pretty good chance the title will be changed before publication, but that doesn't stop us from obsessing. (Does anything? :D ) I know that I'm not really comfortable with a book until I have something to call it.

But it can be a real challenge to figure that out. I usually have a working title until I'm done with the first draft. The working title is just there to let me know what story it is and to keep all its various files in the same place. It could be the name of an MC or a brief descriptive phrase that tells me about the setting. It usually depends on whether the MC or the setting is, in my mind, more essential to the book.

However, when it comes time to settle on an actual title, I open the story's file and try to come up with the concepts that are at the heart of the story. If, as with A Sign in Blood, the story is mostly about a specific character I concentrate on that character and their conflicts. The things that drive the story forward.

From those concepts and conflicts, I brainstorm a few key words. For A Sign in Blood the words were "blood, symbol, sign, death, murder, deity, family, home." Those are the book's basics. Very simplified, of course. I try to reduce things to their most basic form, so that I come up with words that have multiple connections to and meanings in the story. Then I put them together in different orders and phrases until I come up with something that I think represents the story, sounds good and will interest people.

And when that fails I borrow from poetry. Poets rock. :D

So what about you? What's your process for deciding on a title? How much stock do you put in your title and how much time do you spend on it?


Anonymous said…

If I ever figure it out, I will come back and let you know. I cannot figure out anything decent for my WIP yet.


Botanist said…
I don't have much experience to go by. Ghosts of Innocence started life as An Eye For an Eye which I knew was a rather naff working title. I was happy with just a working title, but, like you, I do need to call it something.

I eventually went through a process very similar to what you described, throwing together words and phrases that seemed to lie at the core of the story, but the sound of the phrase is also important to me. Now I have a title I love, I'd be really upset if a publisher changed it. But then I'd be overawed to have a publisher in the first place, so what the heck. :)
Angela Ackerman said…
Try putting some of your novel into wordle. Sometimes themes and important words will pop up among the most used, and it will help you find your title!http://www.wordle.net/
Marion Sipe said…
@Jandrewjansen - Sometimes it takes a while. Angela's idea about Wordle is a good one, and just plain fun. :D

@Botanist - I'm not sure how I'd feel if a publisher wanted to change my title. I would probably pout, but you got to do what you gotta do, right? :D

@Angela - I love playing with wordle! And it really can help you organize your thoughts and figure out which themes are most important. Thanks!
Stephanie Jones said…
I'm in title hell - I came up with my title when I was ten and stuck with it until I realized...it sucked - then the story became 'Da big book' until I could figure out what to properly call it.
Seeing as it's a part of a series, I had to make it connect to the other books somehow. So I ended up with The *insert jewel name* of *insert deity or celestial orb here*. Now I just cut it to *Jewel name* - since the books are sort of about finding these jewels. (lol, I remember when I first submitted to CC, people thought Ruby was a girl). Unfortunately I run out of jewels by book 5, so I'm still brainstorming on that.
With my current WIP, I just named it the first thing that came to my head. - What's the book about? Hunters. Hunters it is ;)
Celebc├╣en said…
Hi Mary :-)

Ehy, I’ve just discovered you have a blog! And it looks very interesting too. I haven’t read much more than titles so far, but I’m certainly having a look to many entries. They sounds so interesting =)

Well, about titles…
I don’t bother myself with titles too much, because they usually present themselves to me at a stage or another of the story. Many times, the title comes to me together with the story, I almost never have working titles. Only once or twice I have felt the need to change a title.
Very often my titles comes from the story, I mean, from actual phrases I write in the story. That’s why I never chose a wring title: if I don’t’ have a title when I start to write, I know that most probably it will come to me while writing.

I know, this is not very helpful for anyone :-(

Yes, I hear that if a story is published, very often the title is changed. Isn’t that awful? =(

Marion Sipe said…
@Stephanie - Series can be tricky: trying to get all the titles working together, in addition to keeping them relevant and interesting. There's just so much to consider! Good luck trying to negotiate title hell!

@Sarah - Howdy Sarah! Welcome to the blog! I'm really enjoying it and it's fun to have it as an outlet for my thoughts. I like the organic approach to titles! I wish mine would come that smoothly.

I think it's always helpful to see how others handle things. It's helps to see the range of things.

It would be hard for me to part with my titles, but I'd do it. But to me, the books will always be what I named them. :D
Great post, Mary! As you know, I am often in title hell! I love the idea of using the Wordle for this. I am going to try it now. Ciao! :-)
Marion Sipe said…
Thank you! Titles can be tricky, especially with everything we put on them. Yeah, Wordle's a great idea. Good luck with it!

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