Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Book by Any Other Name...

Give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it, and see it. Dickens knew Bleak House was going to be called Bleak House before he started writing it. The rest must have been easy. ~Roddy Doyle

Finding the perfect title for your novel or short story (or even poem!) is hugely important. It gives the book an identity, something the reader can easily latch on to, recognize. And sometimes, a great title might be all the book needs to draw the interest of a new reader!

I struggle with titles. I just do. There's so much pressure to be clever, poetic, or attention-getting. And, to make it short. A few words? Please. I'm a novelist. I love long and winding sentences that ebb and flow and go somewhere. So, packing deep meaning into a few short words is a challenge. For my current women's fiction book series, I struggled and struggled with the title. I looked at important phrases or descriptions inside the work (I'd already written the first book, still untitled). I made lists of 30 possible titles and didn't like any of them. At one point, I was just trying too hard to make it sound unique or quirky. Then, one day, it struck me - it's a "cottage" series (with each book focused on a different person's cottage in each novel), so why not let that be a constant in each title? Whew. It all snapped into place for me. That lead me to Primrose Cottage, Hideaway Cottage, and Mistletoe Cottage. And so on...

An earlier novel I wrote (separate from the "cottage" series) is still untitled, even after more than a decade! I can't seem to get right. For the longest time, I called it The Time of In Between. It fits something specific that a character says in the book, and for me, it's meaningful. But for someone who's never read the book, it's not exactly a title that can be latched on to or embraced. It's a bit cumbersome.

So, my best suggestion when trying to title your novel - work on it until it "feels" right. It may take a few minutes, or it may take months, even years. Usually, you'll know when you've got it right. Something clicks into place. And when that happens, it's worth all the frustration it took to get there...


  1. I haven't worried myself with the title just yet, I have titled my current WIP Finding Me and at the beginning of the story it was really fitting however the more and more I write it continues to evolve further in another direction. I think when I start really messing with titles I will find the perfect one!

    Great post!

  2. That's where practicing at poetry would come in handy... tighten, tighten, tighten. Every word must earn it's right to stay. For instance, your title? "The time of"... is it necessary? Doesn't the "In Between" part sort of indicate "the time of"?

    Of course, having no idea what the significance it, it's easy for me to offer suggestions. ;)

  3. Jen, I like "Finding Me." Sounds thoughtful and intriguing.

    Yoda - you're spot-on. Getting more poetry-minded would definitely help me with titles. I like that notion...Tightening is key, for sure! ;-)

  4. I usually know the title before I start writing. That helps me focus the story. And I like to give my novels short titles, just two words. But maybe they are toooo short, too terse.

    I definitely agree that each title is critical!

  5. Deb, how neat, that you know the title that early. I'm jealous! lol

    I think a two-word title is often the best route - simple and concise...

  6. The title....the icing on the cake! Fun to select THE title after considering so many others. May be useful to jot down possible titles in a small notebook...and these ideas can come from anywhere. Something you overheard perhaps...a two or three word phrase on TV...anywhere.