These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.
Even though the title of your Writing Challenge entry is not judged, it is the first thing that your readers see, and many readers will be drawn to your entry by a well-chosen title. And a great title may leave a subliminal good first impression with judges; they may start reading your piece with a happy feeling about it before they’ve even read one sentence.
With that in mind, here are a few tips for choosing a good title. While there are always exceptions, keep these guidelines in mind:
1. Do not, under any circumstances, use the topic as your title. That may go without saying…but by extension:
2. Don’t use any well-known expression, Bible verse, television or movie title, book title, song title, or any other phrase that contains the topic (or any form of the topic word). There are several reasons for this rule: you want to avoid the dreaded Roman numerals next to your title (they appear when you’ve chosen the same title as someone else), you want to avoid any preconceived notions that are already associated with a well-known phrase or title, and you definitely don’t want to mess with someone else’s copyrighted title. Finally—you’re a writer. Don’t you want your title to be original to your work?
3. Don’t give away the ending of your story with your title. This is especially true if there’s a twist or a surprise in the ending. I remember a story from several quarters ago…it was a clever little first person story, and as it was read, the reader was led to the gradual realization that it was being narrated by…a snowman! Clever, right? Unfortunately, the title was “The Snowman”.
It’s tempting to use a word or phrase from the end as your title, because lots of times that’s where the ‘punch’ is. Resist it.
4. Be sure that the mood of the title matches the mood of the story. If your story is serious, don’t give it a cutsie title with rhyming words, alliteration, or puns. If your story is lighthearted, don’t give it a ponderous title with words of several syllables.
5. Avoid titles beginning with “The”. Often the title can be strengthened by just chopping off the “The”. Instead of “The Pillow Fight”, try just “Pillow Fight”. Instead of “The Leper”, just “Leper”.
6. A good title should have at least one really strong, interesting word in it. One of the teachers in my school calls these ‘salsa’ words, while boring words are ‘rice cake’ words. I took a look through the titles in several recent challenges, and I found these salsa words: rigmarole, satin, camels, wrinkles, doggoned, outrageous, superwoman, safari, puddle, unquenched, Baboo. On the other hand, I also found these rice cake words: relationship, walk, call, destination, now, say, loss, beginning, good.
7. I think people are drawn to one-word titles (if it’s a salsa word), OR very long titles, OR titles that contain a person’s name (especially if the name is an interesting one). Here are three of each type from recent entries:
Where are Ravens When You Need Them?
Wait a Minute While I Put My Other Foot in My Mouth
Of Course Your Mom Went to Prom
Jippy Jones Goes Missing
Mrs. Chilsome Chills Out
Pastor Joe Meets Miss Imogene Dumple
8. This is just a theory, but I think people are also attracted to titles that contain punctuation, especially in conjunction with salsa words:
Whenever I See that Scar…
Castles, Dungeons, and Other Deadly Things
I Call You Mother: I Call Him Lord
Note: Titles never end with periods, even if they happen to be complete sentences. And while I’m on the subject of writing titles correctly—please capitalize key words. If you’re in doubt about which words are ‘key’ words, you can’t go wrong if you capitalize every word. TYPING A TITLE IN ALL CAPS IS JUST PLAIN ANNOYING.
I usually write my title last, and sometimes I agonize over it. If I’m really lucky, there’s a great little phrase somewhere in the piece that would make a good title. I look for key words and names of characters, and I try to think of action phrases that capture the story (without giving too much away). And then I continue to agonize, sometimes for days.
Homework: Give us your 3 favorite challenge titles, and tell why you like them. OR mention 3 book titles that you really like. OR tell us how you choose your titles, or what you try to avoid. OR just respond to something in this lesson.
And…that’s all, folks! I had three more topics in my alphabetical list, but ‘theme’ doesn’t really apply to ultra-short stories, and ‘vernacular’ was pretty thoroughly covered in ‘dialect’ and ‘dialogue’. In my next class, I hope to cover 'voice' in several different ways.
I’ve been given several ideas about what to cover in my next class, and I’m still mulling them over. I welcome more input—what would you like to see covered?
The next class won’t start until September, at any rate…I’m finishing up this school year, retiring, and taking the summer off to vacation with family, entertain out-of-town friends, prepare for my talks at the FW Conference, and welcome my new grandbaby into the world.
This has been tremendous fun, and I’d like to sincerely thank all of you who have participated, whether little or much. It’s truly been a co-operative effort, and I’ve received far more than I’ve given.
Thanks, Jan, for the great ideas here and for all the helpful lessons we've had the opporunity to participate in. I guess my three favorite title from my own pieces are: Missile Biscuits and Fried Hens
It's a Frog's Life
While checking my titles, I found several question marks and exclamation points. Oops!
A merry heart doeth good like a medicine...
Facebook author page: Verna Cole Mitchell
Oops again with the "opporunity" to practice in your lessons. Guess I needed some southern sweet T there.
And, Jan, I hope your vacation is more than wonderful and that you'll enjoy being a grandmother as much as I do. That's a tremendous amount!
A merry heart doeth good like a medicine...
Facebook author page: Verna Cole Mitchell
Verna, question marks are fine in titles, and exclamation points are oaky, too (although I'm not fond of them except in rare circumstances). It's periods that are the no-no.
And thanks for your gracious comments...this has been loads of fun.
Jan, your classes have been the thing I look forward to the most in my week of FaithWriter activities. You have the perfect blend of "Let me teach you; now, you teach me." Every lesson has been a wonderful experience. I look forward to more. Enjoy your time off from this classroom full of difficult students... AFTER you comment on mine.
Before listing my three favorite titles, let me comment on a negative point involved with writing good titles. You really hurt yourself as a writer if you have the BEST title in the list but sub-standard story to go with it. I have read many entries that I chose because of the exceptional title but the story wasn't up to par with the title. I was left feeling let down. This may be an over-simplification, but it seems to me if you have the talent and imagination to come up with an incredible title, you also have the talent and ability to give your story that same kind of creative "Umph". 'Nuff said.
My three favorite titles (and why) are:
Zeb Callaway's Mighty Fine Bridge
In this story I wanted the topic (Bridge) to stay at the forefront of people's thinking as they read the story. It was an experiment for me because I was actually trying to get a jump-start on the judges looking at the story as one that hit the topic. Zeb Calloway is a name that I felt was off beat enough to draw attention and the words "Mighty Fine" identified the fact that this would be some sort of "good 'ol boys" type of tale. I also wanted to leave the reader wondering, before even starting the story, "What is so special about this bridge?"
Talk about laboring over a title... just describing how I came up with this one wore me out.
King Klarence Klinks a Klunker
This one wasn't so hard to come up with. I originally was going to call it "King Clarence of Carenot" but then I thought about how people might trip over how to pronounce "Carenot". Car-Eh-Note? Carry-Not? Ca-Ren-O (silent T)" SO I just eliminated the word. But what to replace it with? I chose "King Klarence's Klunker" just so it would be a fun title. Then I noticed that the initials was KKK (something that I definately didn't want associated with my writing) so I inserted "Klinks" making it "King Klarence Klinks a Klunker" It made no sense, told nothing about the story, and left everyone thinking "HUH?????" You have to read the story to understand the title. And a lot of people did.
Home is Where They Send You Next
I wanted this title to scream out "I am in a situation where I have no control!" The words I wanted remembered was "They Send You". You never get to choose... you are only sent. My hope was that the title would let the reader prepare for an emotional story. I have been told that the story was predictable, but, I really planned it that way from the title. The Mc expected a different ending. He expected to be sent yet someplace else. So for the MC, there was a twist at the end. For the reader there was only satisfaction that it all worked out. This is probably my favorite title so far, but I keep trying to beat it.
Last edited by GShuler on Mon Apr 06, 2009 8:05 am, edited 1 time in total.
I had something really memorable to write here but I forgot what it was.
OK - my three favorite titles and why, eh? (and by the way, I was HONORED to see one of my titles in your list of examples. I almost ALWAYS struggle big-time with titles! And Mrs. Chillsome IS one of my favorite titles, but I won't count it since it's already been mentioned)
A Paper Clip Opened the Door
I like this one mostly because it fit the story so well, and because the concept of it was intriguing enough (I hoped) to make people open the document and start reading. Does it still work, I wonder? (even though I started with an article!! I'd still do it, even after Jan's lesson :::ducking:::)
Because it was short and punchy, and became even MORE significant once you finished the story. It was a VERY backsided obscure hint to my twist at the end - but NOBODY caught it, as far as I know! (but maybe you will now, since you know it's a hint LOL)
Proof My Husband Has A Brain
I STILL love this title, because it's clever and definitely intriguing. BUT, I also know it gave a LOT of people an incorrect assumption about the tone of my piece. I'm not sure if that's necessarily a fatal, or even bad, thing. Probably not the best idea outside the challenge, I'd say. What do you think?
Will miss this class (even though I haven't been as regular as I would like!). Enjoy your break, my friend!
Gerald, those are three very excellent titles. Great 'salsa' words, a nice length to them, and they're definitely unique. I like the "Home Is..." one best, too, because it sounds almost like it should be a proverb, but it's really not--but it's the sort of phrase that would stick with a reader.
Thanks, too, for always having a kind word. You summed this class up very well, I think, with the phrase "I taught you, now you teach me." Perfect.
Joanne, those are 3 awesome titles, girlfriend. I love the poignancy behind the "Proof My Husband..." one, and the added punch it has when one is done reading the story.
Thanks for being a super student!
"How do you come up with titles?" was one of the first questions I asked after joining FaithWriters. Got some excellent advice which you just added to.
For this week's challenge I actually changed a bit of my story to fit the title I thought of after writing most of my story. (got that?)
I even keep a list (somewhere) of titles I've thought of that don't yet have a story to go with them.
The titles that grab my attention are plays on words or familiar phrases with letters or words transposed.
My three favorite titles from my FW stories?
A Recipe for Ruin
I liked this because the entry really was a recipe, of sorts. The title and the concept for this entry just sort of came all at once. I might have been eating a home baked cookie at the time. I felt all clever inside when I was done.
Milton's Fair Fiancee
I thought of this one after writing my entry. I was wracking my brain while running errands and this title hit me right in the middle of the snack aisle at Target where I may have exhibited some sort of strange dance as I rummaged inside my purse for my little notebook and pen. I liked the double meaning that went with a punny story about Milton and his fiancee at the fair.
The Gift of the Magpie
I have a few in-laws who, like the magpie, collect things. One likes to give unusual gifts. All of a sudden I thought "gift" "magpie" and had a play on the familiar title "The Gift of the Magi"
Now if I can only come up with a title for my Bible study on the book of Ruth. All the good ones are taken.
Karen--"The Gift of the Magpie" ROCKS! It works equally well for those who are familiar with the O Henry short story and those who are not. 'Magpie' is a great salsa word, and the pun is sublime.
As for your Bible study...how about "Ruth, the Whole Ruth, and Nothing But the Ruth"?
That would be just like me. But I'm trying to play this one straight--always a stretch. The already used title I love is "God Behind the Seen" because it also works as "scene". One that just came out is "The Gospel of Ruth" which would have worked great with my study. (excellent book BTW)
I'm hoping a combination of prayer and snack foods will yield a title.
I think I’m going to be in the minority on this one.
I agonize about every aspect of what I write... except, possibly, the title. (But maybe I should... oh, dear... )
I have a rather odd relationship with my titles. I have a hard time writing anything–-even a novel–-without a title in mind. Karen says she modified her current entry to match her title, and I understand that very well. Many times, a title has insinuated itself into one of my stories or novels, altering and organizing it in ways I never could have imagined. I don’t understand how or why this happens–-it just does.
About 85-90 percent of my Challenge entries had titles before I began writing them. My very favorite Challenge title so far is Darwin and the Farmer of Southampton. I like it because this was my South America entry... and I know more than one person looked at it and said, “Huh??? Did someone think this was United Kingdom week, or what??” But the meaning of it becomes clear in the context of the story. The "Farmer" is an Argentinian dictator, exiled to England, who is conversing with Darwin.
It would be hard to make a second and third choice. I know that I really did struggle to find a title for my highest-ranking story last quarter, And the Gentiles Shall Come to Thy Light. I originally titled it And Kings to the Brightness of Thy Rising, which didn’t quite work. Then I let my husband read it. He thought the first half of the Bible verse would be a better title, and he was right!
A few (well, maybe more than a few! ) of my Challenge entries have boring titles. Ironically, my most boring title, The Very Best Christmas, Ever, was attached to the story that gave me my second EC. I still think it’s the best title for that particular story. But I learned, through that experience, how a title can encourage or discourage feedback. Though I received some feedback when I hinted (and once the results were posted for that week), I had virtually none before that. I wasn’t really surprised. I probably would have skipped over a story with that title, too!
Thanks so much for another great class, Jan. I really appreciate the time and effort you've put into researching and writing these lessons, and then responding to everyone’s comments. I only wish I had discovered this discussion sooner... but I’ll look forward to September! If you could email me the earlier lessons, I would be very grateful. I believe you have my home email.
I confess, I hate titling this! I have the worst time coming up with a good title without giving too much away.
Though, if I had to choose three of my favorite, they would be:
Zuuuuuunnniiii! The Constipated WHAT?!
I hate to say it, I love that title just because it makes me laugh every time I see/read it. And it doesn't help that I could imagine the judges reaction to it as well.
Someone WILL Die!
This one seems to be used a lot for your class Jan. The title just kinda came to me with the picture that inspired the story. (And I know its like one of your favorite stories Jan.)
The title isn't quite what you think with this story.
When Jesus said, "It is Finished!" what He really said was, "PAID IN FULL!"
"History is not for the meek in heart."
"It’s tempting to use a word or phrase from the end as your title, because lots of times that’s where the ‘punch’ is. Resist it."
But if it doesn't give anything away, it would be okay, right?
"If your story is lighthearted, don’t give it a ponderous title with words of several syllables."
Do you suppose that carefully chosen several syllable words could be verry funny/light-hearted?
I like a challenge... Let's see how many salsa words I can mix with your rice cake words to form pretty interesting titles.
Carey Jo's Crazy Cow Call
Now That's a Pickle
Say "Aunt," or Else!
Beginning Bagel-Slicing Bloodlessly
No-Good, Gloatin' Grandson!
There are certainly times when I cut myself too close on time and end up slapping a pathetic title on an entry. I have changed at least two for any future use. Miss Jan, you were kind not to ask us to confess our duds.
I will only link to three, though can't help mentioning a couple of others of which I am fond.
This was written for the "Christmas Gifts" challenge. While most people were writing about what was inside the packages, I immediately thought of my obsessive perfectionism with wrapping them, sprinkled it with humor and hyperbole, and hopefully surprise the reader with just what my Nemesis was. (And I noticed that you liked this title, Miss Jan.)
The Fittest Punishment
This is intended to be a thought-provoking story of how differently society might have advanced had survival of the fittest dominated its development.
A Mouse Divided
I wasn't too concerned about giving away the rodent's fate, but was more intent on alluding to the household being divided.
"Lethal Return" is a poem about how neglecting forgiveness over little things can build to unanticipated proportions. A friend actually suggested I use the object I used for the metaphor as the title, but that would so not work.
"Without Belay" was intended to make people do a double-take, and hopefully go see what the stupid writer who couldn't spell the title correctly was trying to say. Then there were the handful of people who knew enough about rock climbing to know it was no mistake.
"There are two ways of spreading light -- to be the candle, or the mirror that reflects it." Edith Wharton
'It is better to be liked for the true you, than to be loved for who people think you are.'
"In order to realize the worth of the anchor, one needs to feel the stress of the storm." Daily Encouragement Net (Stephen & Brooksyne Weber)
I love titles! I love it when I get a comment that the title drew the reader in. I love it more if they follow that up with the story didn't disappoint (like Gerald mentioned).
One of the worst things about last minute entries is rushed titles, because only on a rare occasion, do I already have a title in mind (like Carol;).
The exception for that is last quarter, where I used all song titles for every entry. Music is very emotional for me, so it worked very well as a source of infinite inspiration...but like you mentioned, Jan, I avoided any well known songs. By the end of the quarter, I was ready to break out of that "theme".
Teetering on the Cusp
This was one that got its name from a line in the story. I loved the strong words, and how it sums up the story line, without being a spoiler.
My best one word title. I loved the double meaning...the captives were bound from the beginning, and the ending packs a punch; they were bound for paradise. I like it when the last line ties back in with the title, especially if it's unexpected.
The Indelicate Demise of Darwin
One of my longest titles, and my only title with a name. Because the story is true, and reads like it, I gave it a more "headline" like title; I think it still holds a little twist. Again, I loved the "salsa" words indelicate and demise. If you want to know what the real me, it's the voice of that story.
Hmmm, now what to name my WIP?
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