Choosing a Title

You may already have found your title, but if you haven’t now is the time to do so. A good title for a book or story can help you see it.  It must intrigue the potential reader and make him pick it off the shelf; it must sum up the story without giving the whole plot away.  Finally, it should be easy to say and to remember.  Something like The Illustrated Mum (Jacqueline Wilson).

Although Dickens used Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and Nicholas Nickelby as titles, nowadays it is better not to use the main character’s name on its own.  But, if it is in juxtaposition with something that raises a question in the reader’s mind, using a name can be good. James and the Giant Peach (Roald Dahl), Harriet the Spy (Louise Fizhugh), Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (Robert O’Brien) are all best-selling titles.  Once your character is established, it is a positive advantage to use the name in sequels – Paddington and the… (Michael Bond), Ramona and…. (Beverly Cleary), Harry Potter and the…. (J.K. Rowling).

Abstractions are currently popular for adult novels such as Destiny (Sally Beauman), Possession (A.S. Byatt): but don’t use them for children.  They like titles that conjure up pictures – Warlock at the Wheel (Diana Wynne Jones), The Iron Man (Ted Hughes), The House on the Brink (John Gordon).

Titles that tell where the story takes place are effective: Treasure Island (R.L. Stevenson), The Children of Green Knowe (Lucy Boston), The House in Norham Gardens (Penelope Lively).  If the location is unusual, so much the better: In the Night Kitchen (Maurice Sendak), Through the Dolls’ House Door (Jane Gardam), At the Back of the North Wind (George MacDonald).

Alliteration is attractive: Harrow and Harvest (Barbara Willard), Cart and Cwidder (Diana Wynne Jones), The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame).  Titles should flow and trip off the tongue.  Consider those with the choriambic metre: King Solomon’s Mines (H. Rider Haggard), The Box of Delights (John Masefield), A Little Princess (F. Hodgson Burnett), The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien).

There was a fashion in America a few years ago for elite titles: Carry A Book and Walk Around With It. Including long titles: Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon (Marjorie Kellogg), If I Love You, Am I Trapped Forever? (M.E. Kerr) but they are much less used in the UK – think of the problems for the graphic designer who had to get The High Rise Glorious Skittleskat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake (Nancy Willard) onto a book spine!  Five or six words are about the maximum you should consider, and a short titles is more easily remembered.

Certain words are surefire child magnets. You can probably think of any number of titles containing one of these magic words: Secret, Magic, Mystery, Enchanted, Ghost, Witch, Wizard, Dragon, Dinosaur.

A final note: there is no copyright in titles. If the title that fits your book has already been used, you can use it again, but if it is a recent book, it may cause confusion and if it is a very famous book, it is inadvisable.  However you can always put on the first page of your MS, ‘Working title – Gone With the Wind’, and be prepared to be guided by your publisher.

 

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