Thursday, July 25, 2013

Tackling Titles

Coming up with titles for my works-in-progress can drive me insane.

I try not to obsess over it. After all, if I someday manage to find a publisher for a particular manuscript, I'm sure that they will have a role to play in deciding what the finished product will actually be called. What I called it likely won't matter in the grand scheme of things.

But I have to call it something. For me, it goes beyond that even. I need to have a working title in order to really get a sense of what my story is going to be about, to settle on the tone and how it will eventually play out. Just slapping any old name on it won't do. It has to have some meaning, even if the meaning only comes across to me.

Like many others out there, I have my own ideas of what makes a good title, too. It should be catchy, memorable. It should relate in a meaningful way to the plot or the characters, or preferably, to both the plot and the characters. It should be fairly short and sweet. Rhyming is good, but difficult to attain without making it sound hokey. Alliteration is good, but not always possible.

One thing that sticks with me from the titles I tend to remember? Short and sweet. Usually, the fewer words, the better, particularly if those words are highly evocative. Think about your favorite movie, television, and book titles, the ones that have never left you. How many of them are longer than four or five words? Probably not many.

Titles that stand out to me?

The Green Mile
To Kill a Mockingbird
Pride and Prejudice (note the alliteration)
The Silence of the Lambs
A Time to Kill
Sense and Sensibility (again, alliteration--gotta love Jane Austen for that)

If you'll note, not one of those titles is longer than five words. And the only one that is as long as five words has three throwaway words: the, of, and the. So really, there are only two words with any meaning in that title.

Sometimes, a longer title can be memorable, though it is much rarer. The Harry Potter series all have long titles, but they all stay with you. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. But then again, they are all easy to shorten to simply the second half of the title, and someone will still know what you're talking about. Another longer title I've recently run across and can't seem to get out of my head is Sarah MacLean's Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake. Why does it work? For me, it is the rhyming that makes it memorable. Without the rhyme, it would be gone from my memory in no time.

What titles stand out to you? And do you know what it is about them that makes them memorable? Do you have a trick for coming up with titles?

**Originally published at Lady Scribes**

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