Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Choosing a title

Choosing a title is one of the most important things a writer has to do and is perhaps only superceded by the crafting of synopses as the most hated task. So, where do we find our titles?

Sometimes, the theme of the book suggests a title. Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” falls into this category. The perfect description in three words of the basic characters of the two main protagonists, Elinor all head and Marianne all heart. Short, snappy, says everything.

Some titles are just alluring whilst referring to the subject matter of the book and I would choose Linda Acaster’s “Torc of Moonlight” to illustrate this. A timeslip thriller, it deals with the distant past infringing on the present. Again, the title is short and sweet, but has an eerie quality about it that tells you all you need to know about the tenor of the story. A play on words is frequently hard to resist. Stuart Aken’s “Breaking Faith” uses this and it reflects the multi-layered story of Faith as she comes from darkness, through adversity into light.

The genre can also help with formulating a title. Shirley Wells’s “Presumed Dead” uses policespeak to set the mood for ex-cop Dylan Scott’s search for woman who has been missing for a long time. Sometimes authors use repeated phrases; the perfect example of this is J D Robb’s ‘In Death” series, now up to about No 34. Karen Wolff’s ‘Seers’ series uses this device, too.

For the rest of us, and I include myself in this category, searching for the perfect title can be a game. I must know my title before I can begin to write. I think about the theme or tone of the book and go initially to Shakespeare, always good for a pithy bon mot or a phrase that can be tweaked to say what I want it to say. Penny Grubb used this to good effect with a quote by Joseph De Maistre in her crime novel “Like False Money”.

For my contemporary crime series featuring Georgia Pattison, I use musical titles, because she is an early music soprano. For these, I generally go to opera, so the second in the series, not yet published is “When I Am Laid In Earth” from Purcell’s ‘Dido and Aeneas’ and the third will probably end up as “Say Goodbye Now” the title of Figaro’s first act aria to Cherubino in ‘The Marriage of Figaro”. It is amusing how many musical titles fit a crime story!

So, when you next pick up a book from the library shelves, don’t think the title was just added as an afterthought. Nothing could be further from the truth.


  1. Thank you for the mention!

    Oh, the dreaded titles. I sent the synopsis of the current wip to my ed with a title I wasn't sure about. And I offered another which was okay-ish. The book has to be delivered by the end of July and I've been struggling all this time to think of a title I actually like. On Sunday, as I was eating breakfast, one came to me. I think (hope) that I finally have a title.

    The worst I ever came up with was Where Petals Fall. I mean, it's a crime novel. Whatever was I thinking? I must have been on the wine. ;)

  2. OMG! I hate titles! Bane of my life - even thinking up headings for my blog entries drives me crazy... I spend far too many hours ruminating about titles.

  3. Considering the number of words involved, I suspect all writers devote more hours per word of each title than for any other task. And, even when you think you've got it; you sometimes discover some other authors have used it, not just one, mind, but a whole bookshelf of the swine!

  4. it's the making it short and pithy bit that is so hard. My current working title is The Croaking Raven, a great title, but not for a suspense/romance! Trying to keep it to 3 words is virtually impossible. But my next blog deals with that, so I shall hope that some of you come back with likely titles. I've spent all afternoon trying to find THE one - the one that gives you a buzz and you know the minute you write it down that you have it nailed. My brain is now tofu....

  5. I'm pleased you think my "Torc of Moonlight" hits the spot. Oddly, I think mine mostly do. Maybe I haven't written enough books yet! The worst I had to put my name under was "A Wife For Winter Man", forced upon me by the publisher. Now I've got my rights back and it is an indie ebook it has my original and preferred title "Beneath The Shining Mountains". Much more wistful.

    This is a great post and I can't wait for the next one.