Friday, October 4, 2013

It All Begins With a Title

Do you have trouble coming up with good titles for your articles, short stories, and books? Don’t worry, it’s a common problem. For many writers, professional and otherwise, creating a good title is often a challenge. Perhaps it’s the thought that the title is the first thing a reader sees and in many cases determines if he or she decides to read on.

Some writers feel that a title has to be gimmicky to catch the reader’s attention. In fact, it’s just the opposite. A simple straight-forward title is your best bet.

To begin, it helps to remember the functions of a title.  A good title accomplishes several things.
First, it predicts content. The title of your piece should give the reader a clue to what it’s about—look at some of the titles of previous posts of this blog. Second, it catches the reader's interest. If a title is interesting in its own right, it will catch the reader’s eye. Third, it reflects the tone or slant of the piece of writing. While this may not be as important in fiction, it definitely applies to non-fiction. Fourth, it contains keywords that will make it easy to access by a computer search. You probably haven’t given much thought to this last item, but it’s increasingly important to make it easier to find your work online.

Creating a good title is process all its own. Don’t wait until you’ve finished your piece to title it. Start by thinking up a good working title. This could be taken from a simple sentence, often called a topic statement, describing what your article or story is about. You may also phrase it as a question beginning with what, who, when, where, how or why—“How Often Should You Get Your Oil Changed?” And keep it as short as possible.

Pick out of your article or story a concrete image, something the reader can hear, see, taste, smell, or feel. Or try to come up with a one-word title.

Another way to come up with a good title is to think of a familiar saying, or the title of a book, song, or movie and adjust it to fit your needs—“Gone With the Weight.”

Newspapers like the New York Post constantly use puns as titles----“Astrology—Hit or Myth?” You can even use an alliteration, such as “Beautiful Bermuda.”

Use arresting superlatives to establish that your subject is unique. Both editors and readers find them hard to resist—“Meet the Person With the Highest IQ” or “The World’s Most Successful Business.” Another possibility is to use numbers—“Ten Best Foods to Eat.” Supermarket tabloids depend on titles like these to sell their magazines.

Try using captions and the active voice, such as “Listen! Mark Twain Speaking.”

All of the above suggestions work. Brainstorm some titles just for practice. Once you get in the habit of creating good titles—and the more you write—the faster you’ll be able to come up with them.

1 comment:

Josh said...

Another "spot on" piece. I just can't tell you how much I appreciate the wisdom you so freely offer.