Oct 14, 2015

How to Title Your Book

   Naming your work of art? Your masterpiece? Summing up everything you think and feel about this one thing you've poured your heart and soul into for who knows how long?  How can something so big, so near to your soul be so precisely epitomized into one tiny sentence of five words or less? There's just no simple way to do this!
Is there?

I'm picky when it comes to naming something. I poured over name sites for two days searching for the right name for my lamp owl. For me, finding a book title is a deciding factor in whether or not I should continue on with this story. With a few exceptions, once I find a title that fits magic starts to happen . . .

Fiction titles can usually be found under one of three categories:

WHO: a person or thing - Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

WHAT: the overall theme - To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, Evil Under the Sun, Agatha Christie, The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane

WHERE: the book's setting - Mansfield Park, Jane Austen, Wuthering Heights, Charlotte Bronte, Walk Gently This Good Earth, Margaret Craven,

Or any combination of the three: The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett, serves as not only the setting (WHERE) but as a symbol of the new life and new chances(WHAT) that Mary and Colin find. The same with The Silver Chair, C.S. Lewis (WHO and WHAT). The title North&South, by Elizabeth Gaskill, not only tells us WHERE but by digging deeper into the story you find it's about WHO and WHAT as well.

There are titles that, at first glance, really do not seem to fit into these categories at all. But most of the time single titles will have a WHO or WHAT(theme) title to them. Why? My guess is because they are the main reasons why we read stories at all: a resonant character who, through trial and hardship, discovers a universal truth in worlds near or far from us.

Where To Find Your Book's Title

Sometimes a book's title is quite clear from the beginning. Other times the reason for the title is buried deep within the pages of the story, sometimes in plain sight, other times a little disguised: - Echo, Pam Munzo Ryan. An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir. I Heard the Owl Call My Name, Margaret Craven. You have to read them to figure what they mean and why they're important to the story. And once you do, if they're done well, they are chillingly meaningful.

But your book's title is completely unique to who you are and what your book is about.

First, I would look to the very core of your story. What is it really about?
  • Who is the main character and what are their inner and outer struggles? (Take note that sometimes it's NOT about the point of view character at all. Such as in Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbit,  and The Giver, Lois Lowry.)
  • What is the underlying theme you want to portray? 
  • What is it your character must learn before they can move beyond what has happened to him in the past?
Is there a symbol such as Suzanne Collins' Mockingjay that could possibly work as a title?

Does your story take place in a setting significant to the plot? (The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway, Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson)

Whatever the title is, it's somewhere. It's IN the pages of your book. Perhaps a snippet of dialogue, one of the best quotes. It's in there. You just have to dig deep enough to find it.

Once you have found it, you can have a lot of fun disguising it to meet your book's demands.

In Behold the Dawn by K.M. Weiland, the theme is redemption. This title is a great example of how you can come up with a title that describes your theme to the T.

So, find the very core of your story:
1. Who or what is the story really about? (The Help, Kathryn Stockett)
2. Is there a vivid and meaningful symbol used? (The Bronze Bow, Elizabeth George Speare, A Wrinkle in Time, Madeliene L'Engel)
3. What is the theme rising from the ashes of protagonist's past, present, or future? (Number the Stars, Lois Lowry, Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins)
4. Perhaps there's a short sentence, or piece of dialogue. The title Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand, comes from what Zamp's father said about him when he returned from WWII. 

Once you find the center, and decide the WHO, WHAT, or WHERE of your story, get out a notebook and pen ideas of how you could possibly describe them in a poetic and meaningful way. But in no way should you feel limited as to what you may or may not title your story. The world is yours!

Love, Kayla

Let's talk! Do you already have a good method for titling your books? Tell us about it in the comment section below!

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