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DominicX's avatar

Those of you who write: how do you come up with a good title?

Asked by DominicX (28777points) August 14th, 2010

I know it’s cliched to turn to other literature and poetry for titles, but that’s what I’ve been doing lately, since I’ve never really done it before. Working on a fantasy story called “Those the Candles Light” and a fantasy/surreal/philosophical story called “My Name is Ozymandias”, both lines form poems.

I couldn’t help it; they sound cool, and they find themselves working into the story in a subtle but interesting way.

How else do you personally come up with a good title? Moreover, what are some of your favorite titles? I happen to love “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead”. Gets straight to the point. :)

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16 Answers

MacBean's avatar

Most of the time I don’t. I am utterly crap at coming up with good titles. Ugh. But when I do come up with a winner, it’s because I wrote the whole story and then looked through it for a catchy word/phrase that summed up or at least spoke to the overall point of the piece.

AC's avatar

I don’t write as much as I should but I agree with @MacBean. I think it works well when the title is a distilled description of the work. Hence why it might be easier to give the title upon completion? To try and capture the essence of what has been created.

As an aside, I write a lot of lesson plans but only after I’ve sketched out my ideas and put it all in to something that works. To do the lesson plan first is much harder.

The title of one book I particularly like is “How to Be a Complete and Utter Failure in Life, Work and Everything, 39½ steps to lasting underachievement” – how catchy is that :)

marinelife's avatar

I love those titles. (I have always loved Shelley’s Ozymandias).

I think taking inspiration from literature is fine.

I also recommend taking a title from the content rather than writing to the title.

stardust's avatar

I come up with a title upon completion too for the most part. It gives me a sense of freedom to allow what I’m writing to flow. Then the title is easier to find. Starting off with a title in mind would certainly help with form and structure, but that can always be cleaned up afterwards.

Austinlad's avatar

Good question. Every writer has a different process; here’s mine—and it started with with my ad writing.

Sometimes, when I have a story or article or ad to write, a title or headline will pop into my mind, which then propels the opening paragraph of the story or ad. (Songwriters probably do the same thing.) I may change the title or headline after I’ve written the entire piece, or it may stay exactly the same…

Other times, I won’t have the faintest idea of a title or headline, in which case I just write the piece and then retro-fit a title when I’m finished. Since I will have written and rewritten the piece several times, I’ll usually have a title by the end.

As for how to write a title, I picked up the habit from an old boss, a creative director, who used to sit at his desk with a pad of paper and just scribble one headline after another, sometimes many dozens, and then pick the one he liked best. I do the same thing, but on my computer. The more titles or headlines I write, the sharper my focus and the better the lines, although often, my best title or headline turns out to be the first one or two I wrote.

Hope this helps.

By the way, I too love “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” not only for the title but for the concept of the Stoppard play. Some of my favorite movie titles are from ‘40s film noir movies, including “Out of the Past,” because of the dark images they conjure.

Seek's avatar

@DominicX I wouldn’t feel bad if I were you.

Robert Asprin has been naming books after stupid idioms for years, and he’s doing just fine.

“Another Fine Myth”, “Myth-nomers and Im-Perv-ections”, “Myth, Inc. In Action”, “Myth, Inc. Link”, “Class Dis-Mythed”, “Myth-ion Improbable”...

lifeflame's avatar

I don’t have an answer but this is a great question.
I know because I get blog traffic spikes sometimes because of the title. Whether the actual article is good or not, the name gets them there.(One that surprised me with the traffic was, “Some weeks eat ice-cream”)

mattbrowne's avatar

Brainstorm whenever possible. Write down your ideas. Check them again weeks later. Always come up with more. Create your final long list. Then turn it into a short list. Ask other people to give you feedback. Use Google. This is what I did. I used a phrase search and entered “the future happens twice” and there were zero results. I wanted something unique.

aprilsimnel's avatar

Most times, as I write, the title will come to me. It’s rare that I start with a title, but that’s happened before. If I’m not sure, I will write it down on a separate sheet and brainstorm other things as they come to me. Just sit quietly, meditate on it and let your intuition float up some ideas.

Carly's avatar

I usually either come up with a cool title, then write a story to go with it, or I write a whole story and then find some special line in it or focus on a specific character or theme and then form it around that.

Sometimes the title will just pop out of nowhere when I’m in the middle of the work im writing, but I always consider it a “working title” and go through a few more by the time I’m finished with it.

I don’t think it’s wrong or lazy of you to use inspiring hints from other works of writing. If your work with that title ever gets published, you might run into critics wondering about the meaning of the title. But I think it can be really cool sometimes.

TexasDude's avatar

I find a connection with the work at hand. For instance, my novel is titled The Hypnonaut which is a made up word meaning “sleep traveler.” The story is about a lucid dreamer whose dreams help him save a girl he loves.

My poem titles are usually just ambiguous terms that are somehow related to the topic.

DominicX's avatar

Here are some novels whose titles come from poetry or other works of literature:

For Whom the Bell Tolls, East of Eden, As I Lay Dying, Gone With the Wind, The Grapes of Wrath, His Dark Materials, No Country for Old Men, Number the Stars, Of Mice and Men, The Sun Also Rises, etc.

Some of those I already knew, some I didn’t. :)

It’s interesting; I never used to think much about titles until recently. As for whether the title comes first or the writing comes first, for me, the title seems to come after I’ve outlined the story.

Trillian's avatar

My titles all depend upon the mood I’m in at the time. Somethings I’ll be writing and a title will suggest itself to me. Other times I just use the first thing that comes to mind.

Jeruba's avatar

Titles are really important information for the reader about what the author thinks of the story or wants to say in it. They should never be random or top of the head. They require a lot of thought.

Sometimes a story and a seemingly unrelated title set up a resonance that illuminates a story in an altogether unexpected way. I remember reading on short story called “The Ram in the Thicket” that never made any mention of a ram or a thicket; but if you knew the story of Abraham and Isaac, you saw exactly what it was saying about how the parents let one brother be a sacrifice to save the other. The title revealed the central theme of the story.

Sometimes one of mine will seem to occur very naturally, such as when the name of a character or a place just steps in front of everything else as the main idea. Now and then there’s a blinding flash of inspiration. More often I struggle with them. So then I just assign a descriptive working title and proceed. When I’m done, it’s usually easier to see what kind of feeling or idea I need the title to project, to attract the reader who is going to be interested in my story.

augustlan's avatar

I don’t know that I’ve ever come up with a great title, at least not for anything I’ve actually written. I’m one of those people (or maybe I’m the only one of those people… is it just me?) who randomly think up names for products and businesses that don’t even exist – and I do this for stories/novels that don’t exist, too. They just kind of… come to me. On the other hand, when I’m actually writing something, I have a terrible time of it. I do find it easier for my blog posts than for fiction, but still… it ain’t easy.

Mantralantis's avatar

When I see an interesting word or idiom (I currently prefer idioms now more than anything) I try and build a story from a particular word or idiom. But I surprise myself and occasionally let the story’s intertwining plot create a title all on its own or at least change the initial title around a bit. So the bottom line here is, I mostly try to start with a title first and go from there. And it will work. Good luck!

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