Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tackling Title Trouble

 I am one of those lucky ones for whom the titles are not a trouble at all. I can happily say that the titles just jump into my head fully formed. Till date, I have never had a working title, the title that I originally conceive are the ones that ultimately sees the light of the day.

 But, it wasn’t like that when I started out. My Journalism teacher in college constantly lectured me on the importance of suitable and eye-catching titles. According to her, my decent features lost out because of boring and dull titles. The titles of the first few articles and stories I wrote for newspapers were changed by the editors. I have to admit, that their titles were far better than mine. Even these lousy titles that I came up with just popped into my head.

I use to be extremely jealous of writers who came up with awesome titles. To get the tag of title savvy, I plunged headlong into the world of titles.  If other writers could emerge with shiny, interesting and amazing titles, then so could I.  In my case it would require extra effort. But, so what?

It couldn’t be that hard, I thought.  If few writers could achieve wonders with it, so could I. After that whenever I read any story/book/feature, I pondered over the title. Did it suit the story? Was it eye-catching? What made the title stand out? Slowly I transferred this detailed attention onto my work. What was I trying to tell my readers? What was the article/book all about? How could I sum up the work in few words? What was the best way to convey what I had written?  Which words correctly described my story? Had the title caught the gist of my story?

It was a tedious task, but eventually I got the hang of it. Nowadays the title trauma no longer affects me. For the past several years, the editors have thankfully retained most of my titles. In my title quest, I have learnt several things about them.

1. A title should  be like a Teaser. It should arouse curiousity. Based on the titles, readers  pick up books, or, read the articles and stories in newspapers. 

2. Diving into the heart of the story to emerge with a suitable title is a great idea.

3. Short and Snappy titles have immediate attraction.

4. Popular  and catchy phrases work better than long and boring ones.

5. Titles that have Instant Recall are seldom forgotten.

6. A title should make a connection with the reader.

What about you all? Do Titles Trouble and Torment you? Do you write with working titles and come up with the final one later. Or, are you the lucky ones who come up with winners right in the begining? Do you have any title tips that you would like to share with us?





18 comments:

Jim Murdoch said...

I’ve never had trouble with the title for a novel – they’ve all been quite obvious – but I do struggle with poems and, as a general rule of thumb, I find I’m not alone in this regard. Titles are often treated as labels and not as a key to understanding the piece. Giving anything a poor title is an opportunity lost. Many years ago I wrote a poem entitled ‘Untitled’ because it was about modern art and it annoyed me that so many paintings were simply listed as ‘untitled’. Although I’ve never done it I can fully understand why some poets don’t give their works titles. Better no title than a bad one, eh?

Of course we expect books to have titles and from a purely practical point of view they need titles. I agree with all the points you raise. The big problem with #6 though is that the world is a big place and what will appeal to one with go over the head of another. Which is the better title - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? or Blade Runner? Neither is a bad title and both, to pick up on #2, dive into the heart of the story but each emphasises a different aspect of the story. Dick’s novel is cerebral whereas Scott’s film adaptation is a combination of action flick and character study. There’s no right answer. And, of course, a bad title is no guarantee of failure either. Ghost is a pretty unimaginative title for a film but it did well; Soldier, not so well.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Jim..I reviewed few books last year and I felt that the titles of most of them were bad. One book's title had no connection with the book. The book was about Re-incarnation and the title just did not capture the theme. Another book's title was silly. The book was a serious one and I found the title pretty frivolous. There was a huge disconnect between the story and the title.

I agree with you that what will appeal to one person may not appeal to another. There is nothing that will come under the category of "Perfect Title". But, we can and should strive to hit the right title notes.

Carole Anne Carr said...

Had a problem with the sequel to Candle Dark, as I'm writing for a niche market and so the title must appeal to those people living in a certain area, but mostly the theme of the book easily provides the title. x

cherie said...

I'm horrible with titles! I know titles need to catch a potential reader's eye, but I struggle with titles. At this point, I'm not too worried about it because I'm not even close to querying. But once I get to that phase, yeah, I need to think long and hard for a title for my WIP.

Good post, Rachna! I bet journalism helped. I remember taking a journalism class as an elective in my high school and we constantly had to come up with titles and good, succint captions to accompany a photograph. I did well with cations, not so much with the titles. :-S

Michele Helene (Verilion) said...

Apart from the WIP I am working on now, I hate making up titles. I recently read somewhere (must get the hang of evernote) not to sweat it with titles, because they get changed. Lucky you though, not to have that happen to you. I guess it means you really know your books.

Laura Marcella said...

Ooo, you're lucky! Titles trouble me. I think that's why I tend to judge a book by its title and pay little attention to the cover. A compelling title is much more admirable and interesting to me!

I make a list of possible titles, put it aside for a couple days, and when I come back to it I cross out the lame ones. I keep doing that until I get to the final best one.

Mark Noce said...

OMG, titles totally haunt me, and I struggle with them often. I get lots of ideas, but frankly not many good ones. I'll definitely take your instructions/advice here to heart. Thanks:)

SBJones said...

I think single or two word titles are "in" right now. Also dropping The at the beginning of titles as well. Requiem, Guardian, and Sentinel are the titles to my trilogy. To me the sound and look cool compared to The Requiem of Falconcrest, The Guardian of Time, or Sentinel's Child.

Humm... they still don't look too bad.

Lynda R Young said...

Great post on titles. I usually don't have too much problem with titles, but I think I may have jinxed myself because my latest WIP doesn't have a title yet lol.

Dave King said...

Interesting post. Titles are something, alas, I am not good at. I do understand the importance of a sexy title, though.

Karen Lange said...

Titles can be tricky - whether for an article or a book. Your tips are great! I've gotten better at it over the years, from practice and observing other writers' titles.

Lady Gwen said...

I just finished the first draft of my first novel and don't have a title. Yikes! Thanks for the tips :)

joanne fox said...

Oh I do struggle with titles, yes. Quite often editors have changed them, which is fine, but I wish I could come up with the right title in the first place. Thanks for the pointers.

Ellie Garratt said...

Sometimes titles are easy and other times I cry with frustration! Thank you for the awesome advice.

Cheryl Klarich said...

Rachna, titles are really important to me... If they don't- as you say-"hit the right note" it niggles at me throughout the whole book. I'm a bit ocd that way. :)

Manish said...

As i am working on the book ingrained with ideas but the ultimate 'title' obstructed my ways...it came handy with your piece of advice. Thank you...for success in making...

J.L. Campbell said...

Your list is exactly the reason why I'm a fan of one-word titles. I've never gone wrong with them.

Becca Puglisi said...

I don't think my first title has ever been the final one, lol. Usually, I start out with a really lame placeholder, knowing it will be changed at some point. I love your ideas. I study a lot of books with an eye for certain writing methods, so why not apply that technique to titles, too? Brilliant!

Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse