A Quest For A Title

And, with blistered feet and chapped lips, her fingers frozen and shaking, she climbed the last rise and stood at the peak of the highest mountain. She looked at the valleys below her, the crevices and treacherous cliffs she had passed, and let out a breath. Here on this mountain, all of her journey was now complete.

Yet, she did not know the name of the mountain. The author had gotten distracted by playing Bejeweled and Candy Crush on Facebook, and had yet to create a name.

For now, her expedition would be called, Journey To The Peak of Mount [Cool Name].

Question 1: What Is Your Book’s Title?

If I was at The Bridge of Death, and asked this question, I may be in trouble. I may answer, “Blue… No… Yellooooooooow!” as myself and my book gets thrown into the pit of doom.

In other words, I have a hard time coming up with titles to my fictional works.

Blog post titles are much easier. I just say what the post is about and add an attention-grabbing twist. For example, if the post is about five ways to high-five people in space, I can just title it “Five Methods For Spacetacular High-Fives,” or, simply, “Five Ways To High-Five People In Space”. Easy.

Novels and short stories are a different creature altogether. How do I encapsulate over a hundred pages of story in a word or phrase?

One of my projects has been in development for 10 years, been through three complete drafts, and is ready for the Beta Reader stage.

Here’s the elevator pitch:

Gabriella, Princess of Edimor, wakes a century beyond her own time to find her family dead, her kingdom destroyed, and her enemy, Haldana, now reigning as Empress. While seeking a foothold in this unknown world, Gabriella has three allies: her witch-godmother who abandoned her, a wizard who is supposed to be dead; and the man Haldana brought to wake her. Unwilling to fear the armies hunting her, Gabriella chooses to stand against the Empress and seek justice for all she has lost.

NOTE: I was looking back for previous posts I’ve written about this story, and realized I always discuss it cryptically and in passing. So, this is the story I was talking about here, here, and here.

The current, exhilerating title of this story is: Post-Sleeping Beauty

Yes. Just as creative as “Mount [Cool Name]”.

This manuscript has borne many temporary titles, such as: “Woken Princess,” “Warrior Beauty,” and “Why Is It So Hard To Come Up With A Title For This Book?”

My chronic lack of good titles extends to other projects: “The True Heir,” “Big, Long Dark Epic”, “The Dark Lord”, “Brain Game,” “Circle of Time,” and “Sci-fi Action Story”.

This is like naming a new puppy “Dog”.

Perhaps, I should follow Disney’s current trend with “Frozen” and “Tangled,” and just title the Sleeping Beauty story “Woken”.

Actually… that title’s not too bad.

I think finding a title is like buying new shoes: You have to try on a bunch in order to find a pair that both fit well and look good.

Question 2: What Is Your Quest?

To find a good title for the books I am working on.

But how?

I have done some research on creating titles, but have yet to find something really helpful. I’m really looking for a title that answers the following questions:

1. Does It Match The Book’s Tone?

The title is a promise of what lies within the pages.

For example, The Adventures of Captain Underpants  by Dave Pilkey would not be named “Of Principles and Pluck,” or “Sewer of the Mind’s Eye.” Captain Underpants is a silly children’s novel riddled with potty humor, and with a superhero who bounds over tall buildings without getting a single wedgie.

This not an adult, literary novel.

For another example, Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austin is about two sisters and their challenges within the social structures of Georgian England. It would not be called “Of The Dagwood Sisters And Dangerous Men”… though that could be a fun pulp version of the story.

2. Does It Match Or Reflect The Book’s Theme?

Many great books state the theme right in the title: A Farewell To Arms, Pride and Prejudice, Great Expectations.

The title “The Great Gatsby”, for example, gives the reader a sense of the decadence within in the book, of the larger-than-life main character, and even the lies within.

Disney’s Tangled has a title which title both implies Rapunzel’s long hair and the tangled web of lies she is caught within and must escape.

3. Does It Match The Book’s Genre?

There are certain expectations readers have as they approach a section of books. A fantasy fan is more likely to pick up Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart than Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Even if the fantasy reader was not familiar with either author, they would pick up Steelheart. Why? Because the title says ‘Sci-fi! Adventure! Suspense’, whereas The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency title says, ‘This book is incredibly clever, and will involve a mystery’.

4. Does It Create Interest?

In other words, if I see the title, would I pick up the book to read it?

A great current example is “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs.

I picked up the book from the library, not knowing what it was about, but intrigued by the title and cover. The tale inside is as strange and curious as the exterior. In fact, it was the title that kept me reading past the rather generic first chapter. Once I got to the meat of the book, I could not put it down.

Question 3: What Is The Market-Potential Of An Unladen Title?

Just as King Arthur could not complete his quest to find the Holy Grail without the help of his knights, so to could I not complete my quest for a good book title without the help of friends.

In other words, this post is a long-winded way to ask for your input.

I am moving toward self-publishing a series of short novels set in a world similar to the 1910’s, with the advent of technology pushing against the traditions of society. The citizens go about their daily life as factory workers, tradesmen, accountants, clerks, tailors, cabbies, all ignorant of the magic and fairy tales hiding around the corner. Each story follows one of these individuals, their tale intertwining with the lives of others as magic abruptly changes their daily rhythm.

In simpler terms, these stories are Downton Abbey mixed with Once Upon A Time.

Before I can start publishing, however, I need a title.

On my own, I came up with “The _________ Tales”.

Then, I began playing madlibs with the blank. Some of my own ideas include The Grimmville Tales (too dark), The Fair Town Tales (too bland), and The Calanville Tales (too random).

However, I was able to turn to my local knights friends, and the came up with these excellent contenders:

A. The Willington Tales                                           B. The Pippington Tales

Before you decide which title works best, or come up with a suggestion of your own, here are some pictures from The Commons on Flickr that I’ve based the feeling and setting of the stories on.

If you’d like to help, here’s a poll:

What is your favorite title? What book did you read based on the title alone? What is the marketing-potential of an unladen book title?

Side Note: In between working on this post, I read this helpful article: Why Is It So Hard To Write A Decent Ending? from I09.com.

14 thoughts on “A Quest For A Title

  1. “Smog, Smocks, and Spirits.”
    “The Gaslight Faeries.”
    “Dieseltown Adventures.”

    I don’t actually think most titles capture the book’s contents all that well. “Miss Peregrine”? One aspect of a larger story. And “The Great Gatsby” could refer to an overweight gourmet; it is only in retrospect it seems essential.

    What should a title do? You’ve actually suggested at least three criteria: 1) it capture the essence, 2) it attract the reader’s interest, 3) it identifies the genre. And yet most titles fail at least one of these. “To Kill a Mockingbird” fits (1), but by itself, how well does it really do (2) or (3)? “Gone Girl” may do all three, but in fact it’s deliberately misleading about (1), at least superficially.
    What these and some of the other titles suggest is to look within your own text for something, an event, incident, or phrase, that somehow captures what you want the reader to see up front.

    • Thanks for the suggestions and thoughts.
      It would be interesting to see a version of The Great Gatsby centered around food instead of money – updated for the foodie world of today.
      I think many things make more sense in retrospect – I am sure we both try to build layers in our writing, hoping the reader will want to go back a few pages to see what that detail was, or have an ‘aha’ moment.

  2. “The Pilkington Tales” has a nice ring to it that jives with the setting/feel.

    Then again, I’m a fan of titles that just stick out without giving anything away. For example, “The Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul” by Douglas Adams.

    I tend to have wretched titles for my stories. Even worse are sequels, which usually get numbered. Often my working title is invented the first time I hit save, when there’s not much there yet.

    Of course, I haven’t tried to actually sell anything. I think there would be much angst.

    • This post was an attempt to share my own angst as I push myself toward publication. If I’m going to ask for people to pay for reading my work, I should at least give them a good title. (A good book would help too).

  3. Two things I have such a hard time with – Titles and (in your side note) Endings! Well, why don’t I through Beginnings too. 🙂

    I don’t have a preferenece or a new suggestion for the poll so I’m not going to vote there but how about for your other story: When Beauty Wakes. I don’t know, I like the 2 W’s and it sounds like it all happens when she wakes up. No worries, I won’t be hurt if you hate it 😉

    Good luck finding your titles – I loved how you started your blog by the way!

    • In other words, everything in writing is hard – fun, but hard. It’s the challenge that keeps coming us coming back.

      And yes, the Sleeping Beauty does entirely take place after she wakes up. The story begins about five minutes before she wakes, and then veers off into adventure. I’ll think about the title.

      Also, thanks for the compliment on the beginning. The first paragraph is actually similar to how the Sleeping Beauty story is written – more serious and epic. The second paragraph is similar to the project I’m asking a title for – more silly and self-aware.

  4. An eternal challenge. Sometimes I don’t get my story’s title until I’ve written the last line. My title may be some permutation of that last line.

    What’s even worse? Getting well into the work and realizing you need to change the title. Because someone else has already used it. Because it no longer captures what the story is about. Oh, the agony!

  5. Great post, very funny 😀 I’m not too bad with coming up with titles, but when I get stuck I get *really* stuck!

    I tend to like simple titles, and gravitate towards books with them. ‘The Pippington Tales’ sounds good 🙂

    • Pippington looks like the winner, so far. The best info I got was from a 12 year old in my sister’s Girl Scout troop: “I like Pippington because it sounds fun.”

      I’m finding asking for help is helping a lot with the title, so I’d recommend doing your own title quest.

  6. Pippington is my vote! Has a good ring.

    By the way, that first picture, is that where they filmed Fellowship? Doesn’t it look exactly like that place where Frodo fell and Boromir picks up the ring and goes wonky?

    • The picture is actually from the Commons via Flickr – as are most black and white pictures on the blog.
      It does look very Lord of the Rings-esque.
      As I just mentioned in another comment, Pippington is the winner so far. We’ll wait and see…

  7. A interesting exploration of titles! I like to write books with metaphors swimming just under the surface (not too many–less is sometimes more in metaphorical suggestion), and because I always have that extra layer/reflecting pool, I draw on it for a title. Often, I can find poetry (or a song) that has a line or title speaks to my book, and I’ll lift that (poem/citations included) for the book’s title. 🙂

    • Poetry can be a great source. As for metaphors, that’s part of why I like something to do with ‘waking’ for the Sleeping Beauty story. It’s not only about her physical awakening, but about her wakening up to see the world around her.

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