Discovering A Title For Your Story

I’ve made brief mention of my probable next novel – the Shakespearey metafictiony film mess that will be my 2014 NaNo. I had no clue what to call this thing, as I only have a page of notes.

Last night, I discovered a title for it.

I say “discover” because that’s almost always what titles are. You almost never go into the brainstorm stage with a title in mind. If you’re lucky, you’ll be writing notes, or an outline, or maybe the book itself, and you’ll pause. You’ll look back at the line you just wrote and you’ll say, “That’s it. That’s the title.”

The working title for my next novel is Verisimilitude. Long, clunky, and will probably get changed, but I’m overjoyed to have a name. Plus, it really is fitting. My book will explore the blurred barrier between reality and the ‘fictional dream,’ told from the POV of a grip working on a film. As you may know, ‘verisimilitude’ refers to the illusion of reality that you “believe” while absorbing a fictional work. It’s the imaginative “truth.”

Sometimes titles don’t come so early or so easily. The title for Paradisa was originally Crusaders. It was Crusaders for almost four years. Only once I finished the book and was explaining it to Austin did he say “Calling it Crusaders doesn’t really make sense.” So I swapped it to Paradisa, which was the name of the second book, but I’ve found the adjustment quite easy.

Some people might say “who cares about the title? The editors will change it anyway!” First of all, this isn’t always true. Read some success stories on Query Tracker and see that a good number of authors get to keep their titles. Additionally, you’re  still selling the book to an agent! You want the agent to be intrigued, right? And the title is doubly important if you’re self-publishing. With all the self-promotion you have to do, let the title’s intrigue do some of the work for you.

In James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure, which is one of my favorite books on writing, he gives a few more examples for how to ‘discover’ your title. Here are some of his and a few of mine:

1. Themes. Love? Loss? Wretched excess? Is there a Master Plot your book fits? Get a thesaurus and look up synonyms to those themes. Metaphors and double entendres work nicely too, but they’re more difficult to imagine. One of the most intriguing titles I know of is House of Leaves. Yes, it’s about a house, but the book itself – a compilation of pages/leaves about the house’s paranormal activity – is the ‘house’ of leaves.

2. People. Who is your book about? This may not be your narrator, as is the case with The Great Gatsby or Moby Dick. You could simply use a character’s name (ex. Harry Potter, Eragon, Artemis Fowl, Lolita) or the role they play in the story (ex. The Time Traveler’s Wife).

3. Unique concepts. This is the route I went with in Paradisa. It refers to the ‘world’ that I’ve built into the story. It is the grandest unique element in the book. You can  see this with The Hunger Games, The Fellowship of the Ring, and The Maze Runner. These are all aspects of world-building that no other book could refer to, making your novel unique.

3. Steal lines from Shakespeare. This is apparently really popular. You know The Sound of Thunder? Pale Fire? Infinite Jest? The Fault In Our Stars? All of those titles were pulled from lines in the Bard’s plays. I was going to use this approach if a title didn’t come to me naturally, as the ‘film’ in my story will probably be based on a Shakespeare play.

4. Give it something that just sounds cool. This is not advice that I would recommend strongly…but for the life of me, I still don’t know Twilight is called that. I believe it’s pulled from the novel’s text somewhere, but it’s not anything particularly profound. You could probably BS some meaning out of it, but it would be obvious BS-ing. But hey, it made a gazillion dollars didn’t it? Obviously people were intrigued by a novel called “Twilight” enough for it to become a bestseller. See also Dean Koontz’s Midnight.

5. Pull from your own text. It seems Twilight did this, albeit poorly, A better example is Atlas Shrugged, which is pulled from some dialogue within the novel. But that dialogue perfectly sums up the overarching theme of Ayn Rand’s Objectivist tome.

6. Keep a page of cool titles to pull from. I have about 20 stock titles lying around that are waiting for the right project. These include Lunar Masquerade, December Nights and April Mornings, The Blood Doves, etc. One of them – The Prospects of Hades – actually came to me in a dream! No idea if they’ll ever be used, but when you think up a cool title for a book, write it down!


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