Stuck For A Title
Okay, so you’ve written your story, short or doorstop-length, and you no longer like the title you started out with, or maybe you never had one in the first place. What do you do?
I know it may seem that I have it in for ‘The Girl on the Train’ (I have) but the one thing it had was a good title. At the very least it delivered on its title. People refer to Mervyn Peake’s masterwork as ‘Gormenghast’, but that’s the middle part of the trilogy, the first and in many ways more important part being ‘Titus Groan’. We remember names quite well; think of ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Oliver Twist’. Sometimes the first sentence of a story can provide a title. ‘Don’t look now’, says John, the husband in Daphne du Maurier’s story, ‘but there’s somebody staring at you.’
Tom Cruise had a movie out called ‘Edge of Tomorrow’. No-one could remember the title. It doesn’t mean anything, it’s too generic, so in the UK the home entertainment release became ‘Live Die Repeat’, which is more explanatory.
I think it’s best to start with one title and keep it throughout a book’s production, because the title should reflect the theme and this will act as your guide, keeping you on target. All of the Bryant & Mays have the titles they began with, but my novel ‘Plastic’ was first called ‘Shopping At Gunpoint’ and then ‘Wed & Buried’. Although I’m very proud of it, the book did not do as well as I’d hoped, so I’m rather superstitious about changing titles now.
If a title is too simple readers will have trouble Googling it. A mate of mine directed a very good film he called ‘WAS’ except that the middle letter was a Greek delta that I can’t even add in WordPress. When even journalists can’t type your title, you know you have a problem. Don’t called your book ‘Love’ or ‘Cry’ because no-one will find it in searches. The more unique the title, the better chance you have of listing high.
If you’re stuck one good trick is to check all the track listings of your music to jump start an idea. Another is to highlight pleasing phrases in books. For years I’ve marked down words from authors as far apart as JG Farrell and Ronald Firbank, and have used them, just as I search old movies for character names.
There’s a current fashion for not being too clever with titles, and using them to explain contents clearly. Perhaps Magnus Mills’ ‘The Restraint of Beasts’ would now be called ‘Two Men Not Working’. My upcoming non-fiction work, ‘Invisible Ink’ will now be called ‘The Book of Forgotten Authors’, which is certainly clearer if less poetic. I worry about my thriller, though, which is called ‘Somebody Else’ and is a title that only makes sense after it’s read.
Personally I prefer oblique titles. ‘Easy Rider’ says so much more than ‘Looking For America’, which was suggested at one point.