Sometimes they appear like magic. Sometimes they take work and experimentation. Sometimes I swear they just don’t freaking exist.
I have a hard time getting too far into a draft without a solid title. I feel like it guides me, in a way. It’s kind of like that all-important first line – it sets the tone. But with some stories, you just can’t find the right title until you write The End. If you’re struggling to find a title, here’s a little ammunition for the hunt.
1. What’s a synonym for “thesaurus?”
I’ve heard writers aren’t supposed to use thesaurus’s when we write. Poppycock, says I. Balderdash. Baloney. Hogwash! Yes, substituting words you’re unfamiliar with for words with which you are well acquainted can often lead to things like signing a letter “Baby Kangaroo Tribbiani.”** But sometimes a thesaurus will just help knock a few words out of your brain that you knew, but just hadn’t thought of yet.
Write down a list of words you associate with your book. These can be important objects, themes, descriptions, whatever. “Ghost.” “Pirate.” “Blue.” “Death.” “Resentment.” “Lonely.” “Sunscreen.” “Logolepsy.” Use a thesaurus to quadruple that list.
Sometimes you’ll see a word and realize it’s The One. Or maybe not a single one of those words will make it into your title, but seeing them in combination will trigger something new. All I know is that 60% of the time this method works, every time.***
2. The book back attack
Scenario: your book is finished and sold and life is lalala. Your editor tells you that the back of the book, rather than a blurb (which will be on the inside flap), will feature a snippet from a scene in the book. Can you pick one for the sales team by tomorrow?
Flail all you want, but admit it – you’ve got a few in mind right off the bat. We all have our darlings, certain jokes or beautiful turns of phrases or incredible imagery we’re especially proud of. Find them, cut and paste them into a document, and scrutinize them. Can you pinpoint what it is about those snippets that you’re so proud of? Maybe highlight any specific sentences? Maybe narrow it down to one mind-blowingly perfect phrase that miraculously explains what the story is about and what tone the reader can expect? The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan is a fantastic example – it’s both creepy and beautiful, the perfect title for a zombie story told is such a haunting, lovely voice.
3. I’m so punny
So how to find one? I’m working on a new series right now with one of these types of titles, and I was pretty excited when I came up with it. First: write down what genre and style of book you’re writing, using as many words as you’d like. This isn’t like when you’re querying and you try to avoid the whole “literary post-apocalyptic steampunk romance” faux pas. This is just for you, so get it all out.
Next, make a list of every single book, television show, song, movie, famous saying, comic, video game, lines of poetry, or any other form of story you can think of that makes you think of your own novel. It doesn’t just have to be a comparison, either. Maybe one of your characters has an obsession with Back to the Future and constantly quotes it. Even if your book has nothing to do with time travel, a play on that title might be perfect.
Read through your list. Is there any way to twist any of them a bit to make your own title? Alliteration and rhyming work especially well here. Mandy Hubbard’s Prada and Prejudice comes to mind, as does Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series, with titles like Only the Good Spy Young and Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy. The longer your list, the better your chances of finding something perfect.
**Fist bumps to anyone who laughed at that
***And also that
How do you come up with titles? We’d love some recommendations!