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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Once again, great thanks to Alexandra for giving me an idea for a blog post!

Alexandra commented:

“…what would you suggest to people (me) who have finished their novel but haven’t the faintest idea for a title? What do you do for ideas? It’s beginning to make me very nervous. I normally don’t think up the title until I’m halfway through the story, but this is a little ridiculous. I’ve all ready given it two, and neither one was right for it. It goes by ‘Story’ around here, and I’ve had nightmares of seeing it published in bookstores with the title ‘STORY’ emblazoned across the cover.”

Titles are something that have given me trouble since I started seriously pursuing the craft of writing. So, as I do with all aspects of writing, I started studying it. And the way I did that was by pulling out all of my CDs (this would be so much easier now that all of my music is on the computer!!!) and making a list of the song titles that resonated with me, such as:
Walk on Faith
Love Remains (still using this title for a book I’ll be proposing soon)
Not a Moment Too Soon
What Matters Most (title of my first complete novel)
Not on Your Love
The Way You Love Me
Blame It on Your Heart
In This Life
Time Marches On
How Forever Feels
There’s Your Trouble

(I couldn’t find my original list, so I went online and searched for “Top Country Songs of the 1990s” and found this link. Country songs are great if you’re looking for a romance title.)

Looking at those titles, do they make you start thinking of situations, characters, or stories? That’s what you want a story title to do.

Of course, you don’t just want to assign any title to your story. One of the most important things you can do is figure out what the main theme of your story is. What’s your story about? Forgiveness? First Love? Surprises? Overcoming Bitterness?

As most of my regular readers know, the original title of Stand-In Groom was Happy Endings Inc. and the proposed title for the second book was A Major Event Inc. But when Barbour asked me to come up with a different title for the first book, I was quite taken aback—that book had been entitled Happy Endings Inc. for more than three years. That’s the title that’s imprinted in gold letters on my bound master’s thesis copy of it. But I wasn’t going to argue. So I sat down and started thinking of all the possibilities I could, by thinking about what the important themes and ideas in the book were. The three we finally narrowed it down to were:

    Once Upon a Wedding
    Wedding of the Year
    Stand-In Groom

And you know which one won.

I was actually thinking about movie titles the other day and about how they’ve kind of gotten strange or have gone for a snappy sound without really telling us much about what the movie might be about. Like Push or Eleven Minutes or Seven Pounds.

You don’t want to go with something that’s such an obscure theme in the story that it doesn’t give readers a feel for what your story’s about. But you also don’t want a title that’s so descriptive that it’ll have to be in 10-point font on the front cover.

So, how do you figure it out?
–Figure out the main themes of your story (as already mentioned).

–Go to Brainy Quote or The Quotations Page or The Quote Garden and do a search for the one or two key words in the themes you come up with (forgiveness, love, anger, fear, etc.). Do any of the quotes you find there give you an idea for a three to four word title. For example, my second completed novel features an architect, but also features four characters who have their own ideas of where their romantic futures lay—and find out God has other ideas for them, so I entitled it The Best Laid Plans.

–Look at every single title of every single song on every single CD you own and write down the ones that resonate with you/your story.

–Study books you’ve already read. How does the title tie in with the story? Does it make sense?

–Write back cover/marketing copy. Write your one-sentence pitch. (See this post for suggestions on how to do this if you’ve never done it before.) Keep whittling that one sentence pitch down until it’s as short as possible. Does it suggest a title to you?

–How does your story end? What I like to do is tie the title in with either one of the major themes of the story (as with Stand-In Groom and Ransome’s Honor) or with something that happens that’s important to how the story ends (as with Menu for Romance).

Now, get to work, and if you want help, post your options, themes, one-sentence summaries, etc., here, and we’ll all help!

  1. Thursday, February 26, 2009 9:13 pm

    Thanks so much for addressing this!

    Ok, I’m taking a stab at this. Trying to condense the whole story into a sentence…ooh. Okay. Here’s the rough draft.

    “Elizabeth Bronson thought that acting–and Donovan Murray–was her destiny…but would following her heart be her ruin?”

    Totally ROUGH DRAFT there, but it was a stab. 😉

    The verse behind the idea that sparked the whole story is Jeremiah 17:9..

    “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”

    And a direct quote from the story…

    “Some dreams are meant to be nothing more than dreams.”

    Sooo there it is. 😉 Thanks again!


  2. Thursday, February 26, 2009 9:57 pm

    “I was actually thinking about movie titles the other day and about how they’ve kind of gotten strange or have gone for a snappy sound without really telling us much about what the movie might be about. Like Push or Eleven Minutes or Seven Pounds.”

    I don’t know how fair that statement is. Pride and Prejudice, Prey, The Lord of the Flies, The Giver – all book titles that don’t do much to tell you anything about the actual plot. I mean, I read the book and I’m STILL not sure what “The Andromeda Strain” means. If it’s catchy enough to make people curious, that’s what counts. If your title DOES give an obvious hint as to what the story might be, that’s great, but it definitely isn’t mandatory.

    “Rope” or “Babel” or “Once” all sound like better titles to me than “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” or “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” You don’t necessarily need to explain your plot in five words or less (or especially not more).

    I do really like the title Once Upon a Wedding, though. I’m sad to hear it never came to be.

    Also, I think you just asked to look through fifteen thousand songs. No thank you!


  3. Thursday, February 26, 2009 10:07 pm

    Oh, and thanks for the list! I think I found the title for a future WIP… 😉


  4. Friday, February 27, 2009 12:04 am

    I always liked coming up with titles, but when I was working on my thesis novel at SHU, I was totally stumped. I finally lifted it from the quote attributed to George Bernard Shaw about America and England being divided by a common language–and since my protag is the daughter of a British linguist who was evacuated to America, “A Common Language” sounded good:) As sequels were floating half-formed in my head, I decided to give them all “A Common _____” titles, and I’ve had more than one person say they like how they tie together.

    But to those struggling with titles: sometimes it takes awhile to find just the right one. Like weeks. Or months. Or…


  5. Friday, February 27, 2009 12:24 pm

    Okay, Alexandra, here are a few ideas your information sparked for me:

    Acting on Destiny
    Destined to Dream
    The Deceit of Destiny
    Dreaming of Destiny
    Nothing More than Dreams

    Anyone else have some ideas to share?


  6. Saturday, February 28, 2009 9:03 pm


    I’m reading Stand-in Groom and loving it. I’ll let you know when I finish.

    I wanted to let you know that I’ve given your site the Your Blog is Fabulous! award. You can see my post at



  7. Tuesday, March 3, 2009 5:37 pm

    Titles aren’t my strong point either. They take forever to come up with!


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