How to Come Up With a Title for Your Work in Progress
I hate titles. I REALLY hate titles. Quite often, coming up with a title for a poem will take me longer than writing the actual poem. I desperately try not to rush myself, though—titles are important and there’s no point getting attached to a title that doesn’t sell your piece to your audience as well as another could.
When I started rewriting Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, I had a feeling it would need a new title, but I didn’t focus on that: I focused on the rewriting. 35,000 words into the manuscript, I found it! It could still change, but for now I’m happy with it and feel it fits the story, characters and tone well. I’m still mulling it over, but at the moment it matches what I’m trying to do and how the protagonists feel.
I could’ve kept the original, but I wasn’t just changing a few pieces of the story. I was changing everything but the characters. I’ve written so many different stories with these characters that that wasn’t the difficult part. What was difficult was making sure it didn’t just end up as the same story set in a different place.
It hasn’t turned into the same story, but it very easily could’ve. I’ve been working on The Adventures Of…for seven years now, so getting the events of the first adventure out of my head was difficult. Once I put the characters in a new setting the ideas came easily—especially at first.
Now that I’m further into the word count, I’m struggling a little more. I was still referring to it as GJWHF, but I knew that it would probably end up with a different title.
How to come up with a title for your story or poem
1. Don’t rush yourself
You’ve just started working on this really great project, but whenever people ask you what it’s called, you start mumbling. You desperately want to discuss your project but without a title it’s really hard to write about. So you pick a random title that doesn’t really fit and it ends up sticking.
Don’t fall into that trap.
There’s no point rushing yourself. Writing a novel is (or should be) a long process. You therefore don’t need to have a title right away. Give yourself the opportunity to change the title if you need to. You may end up with a completely different story to the one you started out with, and that’s ok. It’s your work, and you’re in control of what happens in (and to) it. Until an editor/publisher comes along, but that’s another story.
2. Don’t refer to it as ‘Untitled’. Ever.
I have seen so many people refer to poems as ‘Untitled’ and it puts me off them. ‘Untitled’ tells the reader nothing about the poem. It doesn’t make anyone want to read it, and it doesn’t tell anyone what you’re trying to achieve. How can someone help you workshop a piece if they don’t know what you want to do? There’s nothing wrong with using working titles. Your title probably will change several times, just like your protagonist’s name.
Titles are important. They’re the most important thing when you’re trying to sell a book, so don’t try and sell it to anyone—beta readers included—without at least a working title.
3. Pick out interesting lines
As you write/read/edit, make a list of words, phrases or lines that stand out to you. They might describe a particular character, plot point, setting, or simply make you laugh. Whatever it is, make a note of them. Even if you don’t use them as a title they may still be useful for marketing materials.
4. Write a list of words to describe your characters/plot/setting
Divide the page into three columns. Under one put the title ‘Characters’, the next one ‘Plot’ and the final one ‘Setting’. Now write down a list of words you associate with each of these things. They don’t have to adjectives, and they don’t have to make sense. Try to write as unconsciously as you can. Even if the word/idea sounds silly, something could still spark from it.
5. Make a list of recurring themes
Write a list of common themes in your story. Next, write down words associated with those themes. For instance, if the theme is love, you could also use words like romance, friendship, and dating.
6. Listen to music that reminds you of the characters/an element of the story
Music can have a dramatic effect on our mood. Make a playlist of songs to go with the story/character/tone you’re looking for, and listen to it with some headphones on. Look up the lyrics if you’re unsure of them. Listening to something that fits the mood you’re trying to create will not only help you to write, but it makes you feel what you want your audience to feel.
7. Research similar books
Research is important at every stage of writing. Research similar books on Amazon or Waterstones to see what other writers in your genre have come up with. You can’t copyright a title, but you should still try to come up with something catchy and original to make you and your story stand out.
8. Write somewhere different
Never underestimate the power of a change of scenery.
9. Read over it on a different platform in a different place
Just like a change of scenery can work wonders, so can going from digital to print, or even just laptop to tablet.
10. Ask others for advice
Speak to others about your project and see what kind of reaction you get. They may want a dark and cynical title whilst you prefer something more optimistic.
11. Stop thinking about how your work in progress doesn’t have a title
It’s a work in progress: it’s not finished yet. Why do you HAVE to have a title for something that could end up completely unrecognisable from the first draft?
There’s no point pressuring yourself to come up with a title for something that’s not ready yet. Most people I know that have pets say that when they met their new friend, the name came to them. Why are you trying to name something before you’ve finished it? That’s like naming a puppy when it’s still in the womb.
Take your time, focus on the writing, and the rest will come with time.