Tuesday, 14 August 2012

4 Ways to The Perfect Title

1. Look at other titles in the same area. 
With Adultery for Beginners, I had in mind Carol Clewlow's book A Woman's Guide to Adultery, which I thought was a brilliant title. I wanted something like that, though obviously my own. I played around with text book ideas, substituting adultery for maths, geography, whatever.

2. Write a list (it may be a very long list) of words you associate with the book.
This could be place names, character names, adjectives, themes, verbs, nouns... I knew what became Kissing Mr Wrong was about Lu's hunt for a mythical perfect man, so I was playing around with ideas about perfection and Mr Right eg Looking for Mr Right and so on. Then I turned it upside down - the book was really about her mistaken idea of who Mr Right was, and how she actually needed Mr Wrong.  

3. Find a phrase or bit of dialogue in the book that seems to say it all. 
In my second book, Oliver tells Anna as he's seducing her that "Nice girls do." The book is about nice girl Anna going off the rails, so it sort of fits. They do, and she does. BTW My working title for this was A Girl's Guide to Hedging and Ditching*, which was using the combination of no 1 and no 2, as Anna is a garden historian. 

4. Ask other people to brainstorm ideas. 
I'm always amazed by other people's take on things - if I ask a class for a list of adjectives I can bet that none of the ones I thought of will be mentioned.  Book No 4 obviously needed an Italian theme, preferably mentioning Rome. I had the longest list of words but still couldn't find a title. At one point I collared a bunch of my son's friends and had an impromptu eight person title brainstorming session. In the end, my lovely friend Nancy came up with A Single to Go, which needed just a bit of tweaking to become A Single to Rome.

That's 4 ideas - any more out there?

*I loved this, but my editor didn't.  Another Woman's Husband had the working title The Sex Lives of Hamsters, which she didn't like either.


Liz Fielding said...

I find titles either come in an "it does what it say on the tin" moment, or not at all. Occasionally I'll have titles I love, but "The Trojan Hamster" didn't fly with my editor (I wasn't wild about The Billionaire Takes a Bride). Clearly, as a profession, they have something against the poor creatures.

Kate Lace said...

I am bad at titles so this is really useful. I think of my 14 novels only about 3 have titles I came up with on my own. Maybe I'll do better next from here on in!

Jim Murdoch said...

Between you and me I think both A Girl's Guide to Hedging and Ditching and The Sex Lives of Hamsters are wonderful titles. I would never pick up a book called Another Woman's Husband. Okay I’m not your target audience but still. I mean A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian sold as did The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing. I may not sell many books but they all have the titles I gave them which all came to me during the writing of the books with the exception of Milligan and Murphy; that title was obvious from the very first line. I’m reading a book at the moment which I’ve been sent to review and simply cannot keep the title in my head it is so meh! Where I am bad with titles is poems and I’ve been trying recently not to simply treat them as labels. I see people doing it all the time with poems and stories. They have a story about dogs and so they call it ‘Dogs’.

Sarah Duncan said...

Liz - I'm shocked to hear the hamster embargo is widespread and not an isolated incident.

Kate - Given your last book was called Cox, I feel you're not doing too badly...

Jim - I'm glad you liked my working titles. I think titles of poems and short stories are doubly important as they often add meaning to the whole piece - you're spot on with rejecting the label title.