As a reader, have you ever picked up a book because the title intrigued you? Or started to read a story in a magazine or anthology for that reason alone? Sure, you have. That’s why titles are important.
As a writer, have you ever begun a story with nothing except a title you loved? Most writers will say yes. The times I’ve done this, it worked out terrifically.
If only it were always like that. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve flailed about in search of the perfect title, discarding a dozen or more, asking my beta readers for their opinions on various working titles. Then there are the times you come up with the perfect title — only to discover another story or novel with an identical— or almost identical — title. What to do? Cory Doctorow seems to have done fine reusing some of Isaac Asimov’s well-known titles. Not to mention that Gene Wolfe first wrote The Island of Doctor Death, then went on to write The Death of Doctor Island (which won a Nebula award), and ended with The Doctor of Death Island. Ah well, none of us can be Gene Wolfe.
So here are a half-dozen thoughts about titles I hope you’ll find useful:
1. Think twice before including a word in the title that is unpronounceable.
2. A one-word or two-word title that’s an unknown proper name won’t mean anything to the reader. That said, Shakespeare, Dickens, Tolstoy, Joyce, and others didn’t let that stop them.
3. Speaking of Shakespeare it seems like other authors have already used every notable line as a title. I’m not saying they can’t be used again.
4. Get more mileage out of the title by making it a puzzle or a tease. However, don’t let it give away a significant plot development or the ending.
5. A longer name may totally work for a short story, but will be a squeeze for a book cover.
6. If the work is one in a series, give some thought to the other titles when choosing the first one.
In closing, it’s kinda neat if you can work the title into the last paragraph or last line of the story. Oh yes, I do love me a great title, and a great ending.