Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Titles, Themes, and Planting Ideas

HOW do you come up with a title? I know there is a better process than the one I have.
I slink out to the hammock with a tablet and stay there until I've compiled a list of 15 titles. Anything that comes to mind can go on the list. Then I trot back inside, type up the list, and blast it out to my closest friends and family. They pare it down for me.

The truth is I'm TERRIBLE at coming up with Titles. Encapsulate my entire work into an eye-catching 3, 4 or 5 word phrase? Also, you should google your title on Amazon to be sure it hasn't been a best-selling title recently. (Although a title can't be copyrighted, so you're free to re-use someone's).

In truth, a title is very closely related to that thing we were taught in high school English--THEME. It makes us uncomfortable to talk about theme. Most of us had high school teachers who slapped us with a D on the paper and wrote "WRONG" across the top. I graduated from college during a time when something called reader-response theory was in vogue. If you read it, and your response is genuine, then your ideas are valid.

I often tell my college students that the theme of a story is the meaning minus the specific character names. It's over-arching like an umbrella. Our title should suggest or tease that theme. Choose carefully, then enjoy the fun part . . . planting it deep in the story.

Lucy realized they would all continue to take the risks they needed to take,
pay the price required of them. They would do it for the people they cared
about. So Dayton, and any other children coming into this circle, could grow up
in the country they loved. Living without love was something she wasn’t
courageous enough to do. The cost of love? It had always been, would continue to be, high. Gazing across into Dean’s eyes, she’d wager love was worth any cost.
excerpt from The Cost of Love)


Jacqueline Seewald said...


I love your comment: Title should tease or suggest theme. Excellent statement! Selecting titles isn't easy. In my case, The Inferno Collection appeared like a perfect title and it turned out to be unique. In the case of The Drowning Pool, the title again fit perfectly with the theme and plot of the novel. However, it turns out there are a number of mystery novels with that title. Not such a good choice after all. Readers didn't give it much of a chance. So now, I check World Cataloging to see if a title is unique. You want it to be appropriate but different enough to draw readers. I know there's lots more to be said on this subject, an important one for writers and readers alike.

Roz Morris aka @Roz_Morris . Blog: Nail Your Novel said...

I find titles so difficult. It takes me a lot longer than 15 minutes in a hammock - in fact I find the title eventually emerges by itself during rewrites. Suddenly a line flows out that says it all - like your Cost of Love.

Terry Odell said...

I'm hopeless about titles. They're the absolutely LAST thing I come up with. Finding something to fit the theme, the genre, and be memorable is utter hell for me.

I keep wishing I'd have a publisher with a marketing department responsible for titles.

I'm already confusing my two Five Star books. The first is When Danger Calls, and I thought it would be smart to connect the series, so I called the next one Where Danger Hides. If I keep getting them mixed up, how will readers remember which one they've already read?

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Drue: Great topic! I can vouch for how important titles are. I had an agent request a full because she loved the title, and said this was why she asked. (It didn't pan out, but she asked!) What I do now is try to think of a title I love, and "plant" it in the ms. I brought home a glass partridge from Venice and knew I wanted it for my Venice book, so I just have him giving her one. Hey, whatever works. Enjoyed your take on titles!

Anonymous said...

I'm terrible at titles, also, Drue. Thanks for the mini-lesson!

Anonymous said...

Jacqueline, I love your titles, and they look beautiful on the cover. : ) That is another thing to consider--how your title will look on the cover. If it's too many words . . .

Anonymous said...

DWC, 15 TITLES, not 15 minutes. Sometimes I'm in that hammock a very long time. For me, the title doesn't usually come in the beginning, but it does come before I write it into the story. Then it starts resonating in my mind like a drumbeat.

Anonymous said...

Terry, I am completely feeling your pain.
Joyce, LOVE the image.
Rebbie, we're all agreed on this-aren't we? Titles are hard!!! Hmmm . . . I have found that a glass of wine helps. No kidding on that.

cc harrison said...

I, too, am terrible at titles. I thought I was the only one. I see so many clever, intelligent book titles these days, I was getting a bit intimidated.

I do check Amazon and World Cat before I settle on a book title. In the past, I've come up with I thought were fabulous catchy titles only to have them totally dissed by agents and other industry insiders.

I am liking the title of my next Five Star book though - PICTURE OF LIES. It truly describes the book. I love the titles of all the books shown on this blog. Good work, ladies.

Anonymous said...

GREAT title, CC. I know what you mean about being intimidated. I try to think like Grisham, you know . . . keep it to 2 words, but it just doesn't always work out that way for me. : )

Anonymous said...

Titles are painful to come up with and I know that I am bad at it. I tend to just spout random combinations of words until friends of family latch onto one phrase or another and then refine it into something workable. At the moment I'm working on Yet-To-Be-Titled. I've got nothing - or at least nothing useable.

Anonymous said...

Yet-to-be-titled. Catchy, Cassandra. You bring up a good point, though - - friends and family are a great resource; after all, they're READERS. Maybe it's like naming a baby. Maybe it's because we're so close that it's difficult.

Anonymous said...

Cassandra's post reminded me that for about a year, I referred to The Cost of Love as "Dean." It was "Dean's Story." In fact, the files are still under a folder entitled "Dean." And while the title might have changed, the focus never did.

Carol Kilgore said...

I always have trouble with titles. Maybe this will help when I need the next one. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for stopping by, Carol. We all can use whatever help we can find.

Jackie Griffey said...

I not only go blank when it comes to choosing a title, I'm pretty cowardly too. I get a chuckle out of the quirky ones like Tamar Myers uses but I'm afraid to use them. LOL. The trilogy of a catchy title, an eye catching cover and the back flap hints are all very, very important to me as a reader. (I guess that's why I'm a coward. LOL)
Jackie Griffey

Anonymous said...

Jackie, you're not a coward. You're AWARE of how important the 3 items you name are. What's also important though is to have a good marketing dept helping you along. We're writers, not advertisers--and of course we need to do our best. Still, at some point we hand it off to people who actually majored in SALES. Or at least that's a hope of mine . . .

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