What’s in a name? How to choose a title for your novel

by richard on July 20, 2011

book stack 224x300 Whats in a name? How to choose a title for your novel
I am writing my second novel at the moment, and just passed the 100,000 word mark and again noted my manuscript still doesn’t have a title – not even a working one. I’m not too fussed about this, but thought I would spend a few moments looking for some ideas on where to find the perfect name. I came across this small post on yahoo answers, written by someone named “Maryn”. Unfortunately there were no more details about Maryn, but I think the advice was worth reading. Take a look yourself.

Choosing a title for your book

Start by looking for the perfect one-word title. Jaws, Deliverance, Kidnapped… It’s probably in your story already, or is what your story is all about, even where it’s set.

Look up the significant words in at least one dictionary of quotations. (For your sweeping saga about a brewery, for instance, look up beer, ale, brew, drink, drunk.) Sometimes a portion of a quote makes a good title. Don’t rule out nursery rhymes (Along Came a Spider), Biblical references (The Quick and the Dead), Shakespeare (Halcyon Days), the Romantic poets (Sick of Shadows), ancient Greeks and Romans (An Unexamined Life), etc. just because your work has no relation to them.

Consider types of titles which catch the eye of a shopper or reader. You want a title that screams, “Look at me!”

There’s the contrast title (Talking Dirty with the Queen of Clean) containing two words that are opposites.
There’s the reversal title (How Two Boys Rode the Internet Out of Idaho) which includes an unexpected word.
There’s the pun title (Carl’s Bad Tavern).
There’s the rhyming title (Dress for Success).
There’s the alliterative title (The House on Hope Street).
There’s the repetition title (First to Love, First to Die).
There’s the paradox title (Hello, He Lied).
There’s the blunt statement title (Friday the Rabbi Slept Late).
There’s the imperative title (Bang the Drum Slowly, which is also a lyric-based title).
There’s the musical lyric-based title (‘Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky), usually borrowing from very well know rock or pop lyrics but also from folk, jazz, etc.

To test your title, ask these questions: Can it be pronounced easily? Is it bland? Does it describe or fit the subject matter? Is it a cliche, or corny? Is it too sweet? Does it tell too much? Is it memorable?

The last bit of advice

Word of mouth sells more books than anything else, and you don’t want your reader to tell a friend, “I read the best book, but I can’t remember the name…”

Richard Jagger formerly worked in the biotechnology industry, and has completed his first novel “The Cure“. Apart from writing his second novel, he works as a professional photographer. He has had two solo photographic exhibitions and one joint painting exhibition. Further information can be found at www.richardjagger.com

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