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!