Lately I’ve been writing short stories as a bit of an interlude between novels, and I was struck with an important aspect of writing: Titles! One of the short stories was set during February this year, which was incredibly cold, so the entire story is set in minus thirty degree weather. I called it Cold Snap, which I like, but then I started second-guessing myself. So, for fun, I searched around the internet for help.
I found a few title generators. I thought it would be something where I could put in a few aspects of my story (alcoholism, cold weather, social services) and it would poop out a bunch of titles. I didn’t find a site that did that. Instead, it was entirely random. I got titles like Rainbow of Consort, The Door’s Wings, or Slaves in the Birth. Bad.
So I tried a few more. I found a fantasy title generator, and got Chase of Dawn, Fish and Criminals, and Challenging the Town.
There are more sites, and more terrible names. The Unrequited Plan Gentleman. Spare Gunsmokes. Blog Dying. The Men and the Cry.
I could do this for hours.
Instead, I started thinking about what makes a good title. The problem I have with Cold Snap is that it isn’t very original. I bet there are hundreds of stories out there called Cold Snap, and while it does effectively represent the story, it isn’t particularly eye-catching. But, it’s a short story. If I were writing a novel, I would be much more critical of my choice, but within a book of short stories I think it’ll work.
So I guess the first thing, before we even talk about titles, is to write. There’s no point in coming up with a title for a story you never get around to writing. There will always be opportunities to come up with a title for your story afterwards. I remember a story I wrote, and I couldn’t come up with a name for it, so I called it A Welcome Release. Terrible name, but I wanted to get it to workshop, so I went with it. The story went over very well, but everyone just hated the name. I ended up using the first few words of the story as the title, and that became After Momma Died Carrying The Jelly Baby.
I started a list. I pulled out quotes from my favourite lines in the story. I didn’t get anything I liked. Then I thought about the characters’ names, and the main character is named Mistaya, and one of the conflicts in the book is that her cat, Mango, is missing in the cold. So, Mistaya and Mango? Not bad, but doesn’t convey the weather that I want to highlight. Mistaya and the Cold Snap? Mango in a Cold Snap? For some reason I’m getting hints of Young Adult fiction in those titles, and while I have nothing but respect for young adult fiction, it’s not my target audience.
What qualities do I want in a title? Easy. I like short titles. A few words at most. The Goat Man of Inverness is one of my longest titles, as is After Momma Died Carrying the Jelly Baby, but those are good to mix things up. Otherwise I like short and snappy. I don’t want titles that are too complicated or hard to remember. I think the most complicated word I have in a title is The Mystagogue, and I think that one isn’t too hard to remember, plus it’s unique enough to stand out, which is another requirement.
Things to avoid are titles that are too easily confused with another book that may already be published. I don’t usually go for one-word titles unless they’re quite unique words, like Schism, because there are so many books out there that it’s too easy to come up with a one-word book title and find out it’s already been done, possibly multiple times. Plus, I have to think about a possible future for the books, meaning that it might be something I’m known for, something I’m going to have to make websites for, a title I’m going to repeat over and over again. That rules out certain punctuation, certain word combinations, like a book called ‘Who Represents’ is going to have a URL as whorepresents.com, which might bring the wrong clientele to your site.
Really, though, I don’t have much difficulty coming up with titles. They tend to just come to me while writing, or one just seems terribly obvious as the idea forms in my head. So, I’ll likely stick with Cold Snap for my short story, and we’ll see where it turns up!