On February 21, 2010, Mary wrote, …I’m having title trouble. Last year, we had to write a fully fledged book for a contest at school.  Mine was probably the longest and was 12 pages long, typed. I came up with a cute title, but now that I’m revising it, I’m not sure it fits….  I’m halfway done with my second draft and it’s 21 pages long, and much less whimsical than my title. I’m sort of attached to the title, it’s what I’ve called my story from the very beginning, almost a year ago. I don’t really want to change it, but I feel that I have to. The title doesn’t represent the main idea any more, but I don’t know how to fix it. Any ideas?

In Writing Magic there’s a chapter called “The Right Moniker” that talks about book titles as well as about naming characters, so you may want to take a look at that.

The first title of Ella Enchanted was Charmont and Ella, because I originally thought that Char was going to be as important a character as Ella.  When I realized he wouldn’t be, I shortened the title to Ella, but when the book was accepted for publication, my editor didn’t think that title good enough, so I was asked to come up with a list of alternative titles.  One of the titles I thought of was Spellbound, which I still like.  It’s also the title of a movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock.  Another title I submitted was Enchanted Ella.  My editor switched the words around, and the book had a title.

The title of the third book in the Disney Fairies series (to be released in June) is Fairies and the Quest for Never Land, which is okay, but not my favorite of the titles I came up with, which I had to agree were far too long.  They would have taken up the whole cover, leaving no room for art.

But sometimes a long title is a plus.  I’m thinking of The Curious incident of the Dog in the Night-Time or From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

Actually, I’m in title trouble right now.  The fantasy mystery I’ve been telling you about has no title.  All along I called it A Mansioner’s Tale, which has not met with my publisher’s approval.

Here are some ideas I’ve considered for this book and for others that may help you find your own titles :

The main character’s name may be enough.  Think of Heidi and Peter Pan.  Or you can use more than one name, as I tried with Charmont and Ella.  Or you can make the name part of the title, as in another “Cinderella” variant, Just Ella.

A location can be a title.  Think of Wuthering Heights.  The location can be combined with the main character’s name, as in one of my childhood favorites, Anne of Green Gables.

You can list words and phrases that reflect the nature of your story.  My novel Ever has this kind of title.  If none of the words and phrases is right, go to a thesaurus and look for synonyms of the words.  One may be your title.

If you are retelling a fairy tale, your title can come from the original.  Most people can guess that my Princess Tale called Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep is based on “Sleeping Beauty.”  Beauty by Robin McKinley and Beast by Donna Jo Napoli are both versions of “Beauty and the Beast.”

I haven’t tried this, but I’m going to when I get home (I’m on a train to New York City):  I’m going to look at titles in my bookshelves, not to use one of them, but for ideas.  Likewise, I’ll look at our collection of DVDs and CDs.

Alliteration can help make a title sing, such as The Wind in the Willows or Ella Enchanted.  So keep alliteration in mind in your title search.

Sometimes a book grows into its title.  I’m not sure The Two Princesses of Bamarre is the best I could have done, although I thought it was at the time.  Still, the book has had that title for so long that by now it fits.

As you know, notes are always part of my process.  I write down the possibilities and think about them and try to conjure up some more.

When Mary wrote that her title is now too whimsical for her story, she was definitely on the right track.  You want the title to reflect the mood of your work.  Not only the mood, but also the genre and the age group it’s intended for.  For example, Enigma reflects the mystery in my book, but the title is too serious, too thriller-ish.  The Case of… can be a good title for a whodunit, but probably not for a fantasy whodunit set in the Middle Ages, which mine is.

If your story is going to be published, you don’t have only yourself and your audience to please.  The publisher has to be happy too, and the publisher is happy when you present a title that its sales people think will sell.  The sales force has experience and should be heeded, but, of course, no one can predict with certainty what will take off, and a strong story is the most important factor of all.  (And a good cover. A book can fail because of the wrong cover.)

Here are two prompts:

•    Go back to three stories you’ve already found titles for and think of four new titles for each one.  Use the methods I suggest above and any others you think of.  You may come up with a better title or decide in the end that you like the original one best, but you’ll have had the experience of exploring, if you’ve never approached titles this way.

•    Try to come up with the title for my mystery.  If you suggest a title that becomes the title, I will acknowledge your contribution in print in the book itself.  This is probably a one-week deal, because the publisher is getting impatient.  Maybe the challenge is impossible, because I can’t give away the whole story, but here’s a little bit to go on:  Elodie, age twelve, arrives in the town of Two Castles.  Her parents have sent her off alone to be apprenticed to a weaver, but that doesn’t work out, and she is on her own.  She is a talented mansioner (an actor).  The most important characters are:  Elodie; the dragon, Masteress Meenore (not a he or a she, but an IT); and the ogre, Count Jonty Um.  The story is a mystery.  The mood is upbeat, happy, humorous, and it’s written for kids from eight to fourteen.  HarperCollins would like a one-word title, but I have proposed longer ones, and I will continue to.  The people there don’t want the word ogre or dragon in the title.  I’ve decided not to tell you the myriad titles that have been rejected because I don’t want to send your minds down any particular path.  I hope you can think of something.  If you do, post it (one or more) as a comment.  Otherwise the book may have a cover and no title!  Good luck to you and me!

Have fun, and save your titles!

  1. In reading this post, I'm led to believe that while it's fine to give your work-in-progress a title, a writer isn't obligated to do so right away, since it may change later anyway (i.e., don't use "I'm trying to think of a good title" as an excuse that prevents you from writing the actual story). Is that right?

    On another topic, your aside about how a book cover can make or break a book really intrigues me. Do you have more to say on that topic that could be made into a post? I'd love to hear your opinions about it.

    I know you're not an art director, but still, I've always wondered how authors feel about their covers (and if they ever get a say/veto power), especially ones where the person on the cover clearly doesn't match the person's description in the book, etc.

  2. That is excellent advice. Putting together your first prompt, and considering your reference of Wuthering Heights, and how the title can be named after a place, I thought about whether I could do that for my novel and remembered – I haven't named ANY city/town/village or, most importantly, KINGDOM, in my novel. That's kind of sad, since the kingdoms aren't just a background name, but a very big part of the plot. I just can't seem to come up with any name that is both original and fitting. How did you name all those places? Frell, Kyrria, Bamarre. Speaking of titles…I LOVE the title of 'Ella Enchanted' and 'The Two Princesses of Bamarre'. 🙂

  3. I've been having trouble with my title as well, a YA Sci-Fi Fantasy (YASFA I suppose you could call it). Right now I just chose the name of the planet, but that title tells the potential reader nothing about the book, except that it's Sci-Fi.
    I looked at Neil Gaiman's titles, and how he always seems to name his books after something only loosely related to the plot. Like Stardust. Or The Graveyard Book. There is no actual book in that one that is called the Graveyard Book, which is what I expected.

    As for your mystery title, (ha! play on words), here's my stab at it:

    Apprentice of Mysteries

    Elodie's Stage

    The Case of the Curious Castle (horrible, I know, but I wanted to try at least one alliteration. 😛 )

    Ufda. (Yes, I'm from the upper midwest.) This is harder than I thought. Good luck to your title search!

  4. As for titles for your new book:

    – You could follow Prince's example and use only a symbol, forcing those who talk about the book to say, "The latest book by Gail Carson Levine," and thereby getting your name out there even more. 😉

    – Depending on what the mystery is, you could play off of "untitled" for an actual title (ransom note with no name; the culprit doesn't follow typical criminal patters, so can't categorize them; perhaps "undated" if it's an impending doom that no one knows when will happen; etc.).

    – You could try a pun, or homonym. Or something that rhymes/sounds sing-songy like "Elodie's Melody," or "The Master's Mystery" (although that might not work since the dragon's name is "Masteress"). How about "A Jaunty Melody" to play off of Count Jonty Um and Elodie's names? Or "Savor" if they have to "save her" (her being someone in distress, if she exists).

    – If "IT" is something more special than or distinct from "it" (I don't know if your capitalization meant something or was a means of emphasis), you could try something with that. "IT's Problem" or "IT's Mystery" might catch someone's eye because of the odd capitalization and since it seems to be missing "a" between the two words. Or maybe "Solve IT."

    – Something about the place? "Two Castles' Crime" or "A Tale of Two Castles" (okay, maybe the second one is relying on a classic title too much). 😉

    – I don't think "enigma" sounds as serious as you seem to think. I've seen children's and YA books with that word in their titles.

    …like you said, it's a bit difficult to come up with a title for a story you don't know the plot to. And a one-word title is quite hard to do! I'll come back and post more if I can think of anything else.

    I love that we get to try and help you after all the help you've given us. 🙂

  5. I enjoyed this insight on how you come up with your titles. I think it's important to have even just a temporary title when you're working on a piece, to help your mind steer towards something. Most often titles change in the process, but it's fun to keep track of the changes and see how the piece has grown.

    I suggest "Unwoven" for your novel. It evokes a mystery feel to me, something needing to be unraveled – as well as Elodie not working out as a weaver.

  6. Apprentice Alone
    The Failed Apprentice
    Elodie and the Count
    The Masioner and Mastress Meenore

    I don't know, these are just the first things I thought of. : )
    That last one is a tongue twister.


  7. Such an interesting topic.

    Here are my title suggestions:

    The Meddling Meaderings of Mastress Meenore
    Elodie Entwined, I know a lot like Ella Enchanted but it worked.

    Good luck with the title.

  8. This is such a helpful post. I'm also very interested in hearing more about covers as well.

    Now that I read the other comments, I feel like a bit of a copycat, but my first thought was Castles Curious as a title. I am looking forward to reading the book, whatever it ends up being called!

  9. Great post. I am actually drawn to longer titles but perhaps that is so many are now series. Think Harry Potter… none of the books were titled that, they were titled Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone. I really like the working title for my current WIP but, as I'm hoping it to be a series, I feel the title may be too long. Is this an issue?

  10. Elodie is such an original name, why not just title the book "Elodie."

    Or, since it takes place on the stage, you could borrow a few lines from Shakespeare.

    Also, the city name Two Castles is great. You could call it, "Elodie in Two Castles" or just "Two Castles."

    Or, my favorite, but probably not going to work: "Um"

  11. I am such a huge fan of you! You are such a great writer! Do you ever have trouble deciding how long chapters should be? I don't know when my should end when I write…

    For a title, how about…A Mystical Mystery? Or Weaver's Riddle?

  12. I'm really bad at titles, and its hard to make up titles of books you don't know, but these are what I thought of:

    A Weaver's Dreams
    The Dragon of Two Castles
    Um, It, and Elodie
    A Tale of a Dreaming Weaver

    I don't even know if she is "dreaming" at all, that is just what I got from the information you gave.I hope you like them and good luck!


  13. The following titles are a long shot based on the info you gave us about the book and from what I know about your previous works, but I had fun imagining. Actually, my favorites are the one-word titles. I hope this helps.

    Quester (connotes both a physical and investigative journey)
    Of Mansioners, Monsters, and Masteress Meenore (alliterations anyone?)
    Crackerjack (makes me think of a jester which reminds me of mansioner, and is also used to describe someone of marked ability)

    Thanks for letting your readers be a part of the books we love.

  14. Titles have always been a problem for me. Character names? They come pretty easy. Chapter names? Not too bad. But THE title? It takes me forever to come up with something decent, but I usually end up not liking it anyway. In fact, I've been working on my YA fantasy novel for over two years, and only recently did I come up with something that might actually work.

    As far as cover art goes, I'm also an artist, so I can imagine very clearly in my head what I want it to look like. It goes pretty well with my current title too. My dream is to actually do all the art myself, but publishing houses being the way they are, that probably won't happen. Oh well.

    Unfortunately, I can't think of any good title names for for your mystery that haven't already been mentioned in the previous comments. But good luck coming up with something fantastic!

  15. I've always had trouble with titles too. Always have one thats seems great at the begining and . . . not so much at the end ;D
    My favorite title ever was "Don't Kill the Good Doctor" but the story isn't about the doctor and people expected some kind of British mystery . . . *shrugs* I think I'm a lost cause 😀
    With that in mind, I shan't even try to come up with a title for your book, Gail Carson Levine. Oh, and don't use the Harry Potter template . . much too cliche. I won't buy your book if you do that! (Aren't I so threatening?)

  16. I used to have a lot of trouble with choosing the perfect title among many, but I realise now you can grow on a title, perfect or not. Though titles of course do spark the interest.

    I was actually very drawn to the title Pride and Prejudice, at a young age, when I didn't even know what those two words meant, and always meant to read it, due just to its name. And it turned out to be a great favourite.=)

    I'm completely excited, thats really generous to give us fans a chance to help in return! Here are few of my takes.

    Two Castles Unveiled

    Elodie's Enigma

    Mystery on the Mise-en-scène/ The Mysterious Mise-en-scène

    A Mansioner's Mystery/Tale

    I do hope they're helpful, or at the very least, help you to other ideas.=) I do not think a one word title would work, for the age group mentioned. Kids, including me, rather like a clear sort of title, I reckon.

    Anyway, I hope to read the mystery soon!

  17. I was wondering where everybody got their info from, and THEN I read the second prompt…Btw, love the Masteress title…Master/Mistress…lovely mashing up!
    I also remember you saying that this was based loosely on the 'Puss-in-Boots' tale. Hm.

    I like what Jenna said, but 'Unwoven' doesn't seem to carry the vibe…how about 'Unravelled', instead? For the same reasons Jenna mentioned?

    Also..expanding on that…'Two Castles, Unravelled'. Kind of creates a rhythm, doesn't it?

    How about something playing about with her acting ability? 'A Tale of Two Castles in Three Acts'? Kind of long, lol.

    Or…how about including Elodie, Meenore and Jonty in the title as 'She, he, and IT' (depends on if the IT was emphasis or not.)

    Here're the titles for easy perusal, hehe.


    -Two Castles, Unravelled

    -A Tale of Two Castles in Three Acts

    -She, He and IT

    Hope they help. Good luck!

  18. @Darby May

    I really like "Um, It, and Elodie"! Great suggestion. 🙂

    Here are some more from me:

    – I found it interesting that you said "the town of Two Castles." Towns (which evokes a much smaller population than "cities" do in my mind) usually don't have castles. So, perhaps that could be the title.

    – "Woven and Spun." Both weavers and mysteries/riddles do these things.

    – "Strange Acts," "Acting on Principle," "Not Actually Acting," "In On the Act," "It's All an Act," and "Caught In the Act" all play on the fact that she's an actor.

    – "Elodie's Calamity." It rolls off the tongue pretty well.

    That's all I can get out of my brain this morning. I'll be back if I think of anything else.

  19. I love this post, and I'm so excited to hear about your new book, Gail! Thinking of a title is definitely one of the hardest parts of writing for me. It's so hard to find a title that just sounds right and perfect.

    -I love "Unravelled," as a few others suggested
    -"Complicated Elodie" sounds kind of punny, and the "complicated" part lends itself to the twists and turns of mysteries
    -"Mask", "Masking," or some variation of the word. Not only is it an acting term, but it also deals with masking the facts, creating secrets and mysteries

    Good luck with the process! I can't wait to see where this will go. 🙂

  20. News! I just heard from my editor. We're going with A TALE OF TWO CASTLES, which April suggested, and which I thought of earlier and have always loved. So, thanks to everybody. I will acknowledge you all in general and April in particular.

  21. In the Town of Two Castles
    The Two Castles Mystery
    Elodie's Mystery
    The Two Castles Secret
    Elodie and the Secret (Or Secrets, depending on what kind of a mystery it is)
    Whispers from the Castles
    Secret of the Castles

    I don't know… Thanks for letting us help you! By the way, Elodie– What a fantastic name! 🙂


  22. Wow, maybe you guys are better at this than you think?
    Book names don't normally give me issues, and most of my works-in-progress have names. But I can't come up with a name for my current one. I think it's because I haven't yet named the magic island where 90% of the story takes place.
    See, it's people and place names that I struggle with.
    Anybody have any ideas of what to name a magic island where many magical people and animals live and has pink mountains and a purple sea? (Magic is a very big part of it.)

  23. Ah! I can't believe I'm just one day late and too late to get in on all the title suggestions. My older daughter would have loved to have put in her ideas as well.

    We just finished the audio version of Ella Enchanted (younger daughter's birthday) and older daughter whizzed through three more of your books. She was so disappointed that we only own five! I sent her to the library, but I'm sure finishing there isn't going to take her very long either. She will love that there is a new book coming out.

    Write faster, write faster! 🙂

    For the record, the one that jumped out at me was "Two Castles, Unraveled." I love the way it kind of rolls of your tongue. Great one, F! Of course, lots of them – and the chosen one – were great too!

  24. Oh, wow!!! I'm so excited! 😀 I'm glad I suggested that (I almost didn't), and that it's one you always loved. Please let me know if you need my last name.


  25. maybeawriter:
    The Magic of Pink
    Under Pink's Spell

    Oh, wait, you wanted to name the *island* not the book.

    Cotton Candy Island or just Candy Isle
    Pinkadise (as in tropical paradise)
    Purple Shores
    Bubblegum Cliffs

    Everything seems to obvious with just that little bit to go on. But maybe you could put one of them in the middle of a page and brainstorm from there!

  26. Just a quick suggestion… I was reading about your story and came up with the title "Riddled with Riddles." It sounds like something I would love to pick up- especially with a mystical looking cover, like yours have. But it also has a playful sort of feel too. "Riddled with Riddles…" I like it a whole lot! But I will try to think of more. 🙂

  27. Haha! I love that title! I was about to suggest it, when I saw April had already, and so I left it. It really has a ring to it, doesn't it?

    @Erin: Thanks! 🙂

  28. Rachel:: How're you doing?! Where have you been? 😀

    This was a really great post, Mrs. Levine, thanks! It was really informative on choosing titles; sometimes I just get ideas with a title, but other times, I have to let it sit until I know exactly what I'm dealing with.

    April:: Congrats! 😀 So cool that your title got chosen… 🙂

    Oh, Mrs. Levine, I had one quick question. I've heard that authors don't have any control over their book covers. What if a publisher gives you a really rotten book cover? Do you have any say?


  29. Gail, Could you add tags and put a list in a side column -readers click on words and it takes you to all the posts with that tag – the lovely Laure Halse Anderson clued me on in how those work.

    Or add some type of index? Archives with titles?

    I want to send a friend a link to a post I think I remember you doing on characterization, and I can't find an index.


  30. April–Yes, if you are willing, your last name would be good to have so I can acknowledge you completely.
    F–I do discuss naming places in WRITING MAGIC, but I can probably think of more to say in a post.
    Erin Edwards–I will find out how to do this.

  31. THANK YOU!!!:) This post helped so much! I loved the title contest idea and sorry I came to late in the week to participate in it Do you think a common word for a name like "Journey" or " The Journey" be ok for my story? Thanks so much! With love….me!

  32. I always love reading your blogs, they're so helpful and insightful. (:

    I think that, if you want to keep the title simple, something like 'Two Castle' or even 'Castle' would sound lovely (: Or…oops, I just looked at the other comments. Congrats, April, your title is much better worded then my all-to-simple-ones. (:

    * Belle.

  33. Thank you so much for writing the post about my question! I've read a lot of authors blogs and commented on them, but no ones actually read what I wrote and…. wrote about it. Thanks; it meant a lot to me. 🙂

  34. Hey, April! That's exciting to see your name in a book! I hadn't seen who came up with the title before. And I guess we'll find out your last name. 🙂

    When ever I see your name I always hear in my head: "They're changing guards at Buckingham Palace… Christopher Robin went down with Alice…" It's from an old Winnie the Pooh record that I listened to as a kid. My kids still listen to it at my parents.

  35. I am writing my own fairy tale spin off of Sleeping Beauty. The trouble I am having in planning it is that there is too much that is connected and has to go on at the same time, and I don't know how to organize my thoughts about it.
    Do you have any techniques for outlining and planning stories with multiple plot threads?
    I want to be able to see the different character's journeys sort of, I'm just not sure how to lay it out.


  36. Jane–I don't outline, but I'll try a post on your question. I'm adding it to my list.
    Erin Edwards–There's now a search line and a list of labels, but, since I didn't write tags on most of my posts, it will be of little help. However, I will ALWAYS write them from now on, and someday, when time slows, I'll go back and add labels where they're missing.

  37. I LOVE writing storys but I can never find enough insprion so like half way through my story my brain is ALL dried up.. Does this ever happen to you? If so then what do you do to get more insprison? Or do you just start another story?

    BTW, I LOVE all your books!! Ever, Ella, Fairest, The two princess of B!!! And all the other ones!!!!


  38. Sami–I plow on. I don't start another story, but it's okay if you do. You may find it helpful to look at the chapter in WRITING MAGIC called "Stuck!" or to read my post on writer's block, called “Playing with Blocks” on October 28, 2009.
    April–I got your message. Good thinking! I was trying to think of a way for you to reach me, but you figured it out.

  39. I never have trouble coming up with titles, just deciding between them. for example: I don't know whether I should call the story I'm writing Beyond Blue, Rapunzel Rethought, or The Second Rise of Duke Eldred.

    Mostly what I have trouble with is making my plots more, um, structured. Why should the main character be miserable in a castle if she's lived in one all her life? I'm kind of new to this blog, so if you guys all think I'm crazy please say so.

    Mrs. Levine: I AM A HUGE FAN OF YOURS! so is my older brother. he says the best authers can write childrens stories that adults enjoy. DON'T EVER STOP WRITING!

  40. Gail, so glad you brought up the topic of titles. I just looked you up after reading Quest for the Egg to my preschool class, and we had a huge problem with it — no chapter titles.

    Whenever I start a new chapter book, I read the table of contents to the kids (we have a mixed-age class, 3-5 year olds). They delight in anticipation and thrill in imagining the possibilities suggested by chapter titles. Inevitably one of my kids will ask daily if we are going to read a specific chapter, one they seem to have single out just by the title.

    And when I'm done reading a chapter, the first thing they ask is "What's the next chapter called?" Imagine their disappointment when I have to say, "It's just a number. The next chapter is called 'Chapter Three'". GROANS.

    Well, we don't mean to be presumptuous, but my class has taken it upon themselves to give each chapter a title as we finished reading it.

    Here are Room 3's chapter titles for Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg:

    1. The Baby's Laugh
    2. "I Don't Think I Have a Talent"
    3. (no title — they couldn't decide and lost interest)
    4. "My Talent is Eating?"
    5. Does Prilla Have a Water Talent?
    6. Mother Dove
    7. Watch Out! The Cat Chased the Fairy. (They were in a silly mood that day — has nothing to do with the chapter)
    8. The Pretend Crack
    9. The Fairy Goes to the Mill Where Mother Dove's Feathers Go (sometimes I have to combine suggestions into a long title to keep everyone happy)
    10. Fairy Dress Up/I Wish I Had a Friend
    11. Mother Dove (again)
    12. The Hurricane
    13 The Egg Island
    14. The Mermaid Sea
    15. Kyto the Dragon and the Egg
    16. Rani the Leader
    17. The Holder in Capt. Hook's Mouth
    18. The Pirate Sword
    19. I'm Coming! Prilla Is Not Fast Enough
    20. Tink's Story
    21. The Hawk
    22. The Feather — She Was Disappointed
    23. "Cut Off My Wings"
    24. Rani Swims
    25. Get Me a Wand
    26. The Fox
    27. Mother Dove Cannot Fly
    28. The Golden Wing
    29. Kyto Spoiled the Egg
    30. Prilla Saved Mother Dove/Clapping Talent Fairy (they have no problem giving away the ending)

    So there you are. Perhaps this list will come in handy in later editions? You're welcome!

    Oh — you should know that the kid's were positively aghast at how naughty Kyto was. And they all knew, just KNEW, that Prilla would find her talent in the end. They never doubted her for a second.

  41. I’m writing a story that started out based on Snow White, then kind of branched off. I still take inspiration from the fairy tale, but a lot of what I write is entirely from my own ideas. My title is Remedy, which is tied to the MC and a very important secondary character and appears throughout the book. My problem is that for a fantasy fairy-tale sort of story, it doesn’t seem to fit. But I love that title, and at the moment it’s the only one I have.

    • Gail Carson Levine says:

      I often give characters nicknames based on their full names. Remedy could be Rem, Remmy, or Edy.

      You’re more likely to get responses from other writers if you post questions to the latest post, even if they’re off topic. They’re more likely to be seen that way.

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