By Lynne Pleau
In Entitled to Sell, Part 1, I showed you some different ways titles become memorable. Now let’s look at how do you create them.
Start by defining your theme. In one sentence, capture what your piece is about.
Next, define what you want your title to say about your piece. Jot down anything that comes to mind. This is a right-brained activity, so turn off your inner critic. One idea will spark another.
For example, when I worked on the title for my short story about a middle-aged woman who reflects on the emotional cost of having stolen a gold-toned ring, I wrote down the phrases, “guilt is no bargain,” “guilt is too expensive,” and “paying the cost.” These three phrases led me to “ring of guilt,” which eventually became the story’s title, Ring of Gilt.
It doesn’t matter when in the development of your story or article you start this process. Sometimes examining the theme of your story or article while you’re writing it can help you focus your ideas. I started the titling process early in the draft phase of Ring of Gilt, and, as a result, came up with an idea that made the ending of the story much more powerful.
And don’t worry if the right title doesn’t come to you right away. Keep your ideas handy. Sometimes when you come back to the list later you’ll see something you didn’t before. For an article with the theme of “how life experience affects how a character speaks,” I came up with the following phrases: “What are they thinking?” “Saying it the way they see it.” “Voicing through experience.” Several days later, I came back to the list, and with a little tweaking, came up with the title “The Voice of Experience.”
Tools of the Trade
From your expanded list of title ideas, pick out key phrases and look up their synonyms. using a hard-bound thesaurus for this process can give you more options, and scrolling from page to page may give you ideas you wouldn’t catch on-line. Keep an eye out for words that are alliterative or rhyme, and for combinations that echo well-known phrases.
Define your key words using the dictionary. You may discover something about a word’s meaning you hadn’t thought of, something that will lead you to another idea.
Next, try the rhyming dictionary. This time, look for alliterative possibilities by scanning words that start with the same letter as your key words.
Here’s how I used these tools for the title of this article. The theme is “How to create catchy titles.” Since this is an informative, non-fiction article, I knew I wanted to include the word “title.” I started a list of theme ideas. “Searching for titles.” “Creative titles.” “Creating titles.” “Finding the right title.” “How to create titles.”
Then I worked with the thesaurus, looking for the words related to “title” and “search” and came up with the synonyms: bestselling, signature, query, quest, seek. This lead to a few ideas I hadn’t thought of: Title Search, Bestselling Titles, Creating Killer Titles, Title Quest. Any of these would have worked, but I kept going.
Next, I used the rhyming dictionary for title: Idol, tidal, idle, vital. Hmm. Not very helpful. Then I went to the dictionary for alliterative possibilities: Tang: Title Tang. Trap: The Title Trap. Tell: The Telling Title. Talent: Title Talent. Terrible: The Terrible Title… Topsy-Turvy Titles, Taming the Title, Down the Toilet Title, Title Bomb. Okay. Got a little punchy.
When I came back to the list later, I had just seen a commercial about a video store, and the idea for Blockbuster Titles came to me.
But I still wasn’t satisfied. I went back to the dictionary and looked up the definition of the word “title,” and under the verb form of that word, I found the definition “to entitle.” Entitle, I
read, means both “to give a title to” and “to give a right to demand or receive.” Entitled to what? To sell! I knew I’d found what I was looking for.
The goal is to spark ideas. Write your ideas down. Keep them handy. And always be on the lookout for other writers’ successful titles.
Finding the right title for your writing takes creative effort, but it’s worth it.
Lynne Pleau has published articles, reviews, poetry, and flash fiction in publications like Marriage Partnership Magazine, War Cry, Christian Communicator, and in Havok, Splickety, and Spark Magazines. She has won multiple awards for her flash fiction.
(Originally published in the Christian Communicator, May 2006)