The struggle for a title
How to find the ideal title for your story, or better, picking a title for a story? What to put into consideration when deciding on a title for your story?
Titles can be a hard nut to crack. They are, compared to the story itself, very short, but they have to grab a reader’s attention, be nicely phrased and accurately match the story.
Some titles are really intriguing. They have our attention at first glance, make us wonder what the story has to tell. They make us look forward to discovering the story, meeting the characters and finding out what the title itself really means. Those titles are the best ones. Those that let a fire of interest burn through our veins.
The probably biggest disappointment a passionate reader will ever experience is finding out that the story doesn’t offer what they assumed it would. An amazing title will lead to the book being picked up and the online story being clicked on, but once a reader was disappointed by an author, they’ll probably never read anything written by them again. It’s always better to have a dull but matching title for a story rather than making promises with a title that the story can’t hold. If your story has nothing to do with magical or supernatural beings, don’t give it a title that makes the reader assume they will be confronted with fairies, dragons or demons.
On the other hand, the title shouldn’t give too much of the story away. If the whole story is about someone finding out that they were adopted, don’t give that away in the title. Having a title that could lead to a variety of different storylines is always beneficial.
Let’s take a look on an example.
Our story takes place on planet earth, however, aliens do exist. A very long time ago they buried an artifact that potentially could destroy the entire planet. A team of archaeologists discovers the artifact, but no one knows what it’s for. An underground organisation manages to steal the artifact and discovers that it holds a massive amount of energy. Another organisation hears of their discovery and assumes that the bad guys want to use the artifact to destroy the planet. In the end, the artifact is activated and the aliens who created it come to attack the planet. The nature of the artifact is finally discovered and both organizations unite to fight against the aliens. They win and everything turns back to normality.
There are many possible titles you could give to such a story. Titles like “Dangers from Outer Space” or “When Aliens Attack, Foes Unite” do give away way too much since the discovery of the artifact not being man-made takes up a significant amount of the story line. Titles like those would pretty much make the whole story very boring to read.
But not every spoiler in a title is too much, if done correctly. Titles should never take something away that, without the title, would be very exciting to find out about. However, especially with humoristic works, spoilers can work out nicely, taking titles like “The Stupid Story of How I Died” into consideration where we know the character will die throughout the story. The death won’t come as a surprise, however, the reader’s attention is directed towards how the character will find his or her end.
Titles should always give an insight into what the story has to offer, but at the same time, they shouldn’t give all of that away what makes the story worth reading. Finding the balance between grabbing the reader’s attention and not giving everything away whilst also not including something that isn’t part of the story itself can be quite tough - but it’s manageable. If you find yourself struggling, try finding someone to help you decide between multiple titles that would be matching.
Now that you have an idea what your title should offer for the reader, let us talk about what your title should look like.
Perhaps you want to follow famous examples like Harry Potter and plan on putting your character’s name in the title. It can work out perfectly fine, but it doesn’t have to. Harry Potter works because the name is rather short, easy to remember and, most importantly, easy to read. If your character has a rather complicated name, it’s oftentimes better to exclude it from the title by either not naming it at all or by using a nickname that is used a lot in the story itself as well. If you’re still struggling on naming your character - don’t worry, I got you. The next post will actually cover the whole topic of giving names to characters.
But let’s stick with titles for a little longer. What counts for names also counts for the rest of the title. If it contains words that are hard to read, many people don’t bother reading the story itself. If you can’t understand the title, you’ll most likely believe that you won’t understand the story as well, so why bother reading it then?
Short titles are good titles. They’re not confusing and, if chosen nicely, grab a reader’s attention in the blink of an eye. A title shouldn’t be a summary. If you believe your title needs further explanation, put it on the back of your book or, if you’re publishing online, in the short summary most readers take a look at before starting to read the story.
If you’re writing a sequel or a fanfiction (check out my posts about fanfictions if you want to learn more about those specifically), it’s often an attention-grabber to let the title hint to the story answering mysteries that remained throughout the work your story is based on. Who wouldn’t want to read a story that holds answers to all the mysterious mysteries they were always curious about?
Last but not least, I want to address the topic of choosing a title that isn’t in the same language as the story itself. I noticed that many authors write in a language other than english, but put an english title. Especially spanish and german stories often seem to have a german title and it can oftentimes be quite irritating if you’re looking for a story, see an english title, click it and suddenly look at a story you don’t understand at all.
This all comes down to personal taste, but there are always people who don’t like titles that aren’t in the same language as the rest of the text. I personally almost always give english names to the stories I write even though most of those stories aren’t in english. The english alternative often sounds smoother and better and also, the english language contains words that other languages only have descriptions for (and vice versa). Also, most of the stories I wrote and write take place in an english-speaking country and contain characters with english-sounding names, therefore an english title kind of does come back to the story itself in some way.
From my experience I can tell you that there are people out there who don’t like such titles, some who prefer them, and a vast majority of people who don’t really care. Just make sure that your target audience will be able to understand your title if it’s in a foreign language. If you’re writing a spanish story for 6 year olds, it’s probably not a good idea to give it a really complicated russian title, even if one of the main characters might be from Russia - but that’s self-explanatory.
Just keep in mind - if you had to look up a word for more than its spelling, it’s probably not the best idea to put it into the title. Chances are that your readers won’t know the word as well and don’t bother looking it up, therefore not reading your story.
If you’re publishing your stories online and post chapter after chapter, keep in mind that changing the title of the story can confuse the readers who regularly clicked on your story but didn’t save it as a favourite. It’s best to stick to the title you decided on when you posted the first chapter. I’m unhappy with many of the titles I chose as well, but authors themself are often criticising their story harsher than the readers.
If you’d like, leave some examples for good titles in the comment section down below and share what you look for in a title. I’d love to know!