Choosing a Title for Fiction Writing

A Protist’s Guide to Titling

Before a reader even picks up your book, story, or poem, they read the title. To many, this is of little significance. Well, it shouldn’t be. A title is lie a first impression, an introduction.

If you told someone your name was Cindy, they wouldn’t expect you to be a man, right? Likewise, the title should support what your piece is about, but not give everything away.

Good titles have special significance in the piece. Great titles have multiple levels of significance.

There are many types of titles, too.

Some titles are the name of an important character, like Rebecca or Lolita. They can also have descriptors, such as Anne of Green Gables or The Great Gatsby. The title character does not necessarily have to be the protagonist or the narrator, but they should play an important role in the story. They could even only appear for a scene, but they must be important enough for the reader to know about them before they open the book!

Other titles are the names of places, settings of the story or integral locations to the plot. Titles like these include Cold Mountain or, with descriptors, The Wide Sargasso Sea.

Many titles also include possessives, indicating a title character, such as The Doctor’s Wife.

Others can be an association of ideas. Titles with nouns tend to be stronger, but don’t be afraid to mix them with abstracts. Gabriel Garcia Marquez seems to be good at this, with Love in the Time of Cholera (which is so much better in Spanish) and 100 Years of Solitude.

Some of the best titles do not have perfect or ordinary syntax, but have rhythm, and are memorable because of it, such as Tender is the Night.

Some titling clichés I’d be wary of:

Titling your novel with an action with –ing at the end. You know, Waiting to Exhale, Raising Helen, Finding Nemo. It’s getting a bit trite. However, let this not dissuade you from using an action in your title. When done right, these can be very strong. To Have and Have Not, for example.
Other bad ideas for titles include plays on clichés. They can often sound silly and cutsie. I won’t even give you examples of these. I’m too afraid you’ll use them (or use them against me). Try to think of phrases that haven’t gone stale.

Titles can be long, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, or short, Jaws.
Just play with it and see what you dig up. Ignore all the rules if you have to or stick to simplicity. The choice is yours. Just, don’t you ever leave your work untitled! It’s not cool, it won’t get you chicks, or readers. Just take a few seconds and give it a name.

Nothing coming to you? Try my handy work sheet:

1. Names of main characters:
2. Characters occupations:
3. Descriptors of main characters:
4. Setting(s)
5. Descriptors of settings
6. Important objects:
7. Important Quotes
8. Symbols
9. themes
10. descriptors of objects, themes, etc

Combinations from above:
1. Character Name
2. The (descriptor) (Character Name)
3. The (character occupation)
4. (Character Name) of (Setting)
5. Setting
6. The (descriptor) (setting)
7. The (noun) of (setting)
8. The ______ of _______
9. ________ and ________
10. ________, ________, and _______
11. The ______’s _______
12. Any combination of the above. Be creative!

Did this get you thinking? Remember to think out of the box when you title your novel. Think like your reader: Would I pick this up?