A Title, A Title, My Kingdom For a Title!

 

Coming up with a title for a story can be as difficult as writing the story itself!  You don't want your title to tell too much: "How Julianna Won the Art Contest," "The Boy Who Became King" "AFrankie Learns a Lesson About Honesty."  If the title already reveals what's going to happen, then why read the story?

A title needs to arouse your readers' interest without blabbing all.  It should make them wonder about what's going to happen in your story.  If the title makes them curious, they'll start reading and then, hopefully, they'll keep reading!

One of the most straightforward ways to intrigue your readers is to use a question as your title.  People can't help wondering about the answer!  I titled a story  "What's a Woozle?" to make readers think, "What is a woozle?"  (They had to read all the way to the end to find out what babysitter Irene meant by that pretend word.)  Titles like "How Do You Make Friends With An Apeman?" and "How Do You Name a Sister?" give readers an idea of what the stories are about, but they have to read to get answers.

Sometimes a question title can raise more questions.  I used the title "How Do You Spell F-R-I-E-N-D?" for a story about friends who fall out over a spelling competition.  Readers may have looked at the title and wondered, "Who doesn't know how to spell 'friend'?  Why did the author give the story that title?  Do different characters spell it differently?  Or is this story about what makes someone a friend?"

Another way to make a title interesting is to concentrate on how the title sounds.  For example, you can use words that begin with the same sound.  (This is called "alliteration.") I've used this method in a number of titles: "Homerun Hero," "Fat-free Friends," "Bree and the Beasties," "Grandma Grape," "Family Forever."  Each of these titles communicates something about the main idea of the story in a catchy-sounding way.  Rhyming words can made good titles, too, as in "The Latest, Not Greatest, Friend" or "Mad Like Dad."

A play on words can also make a title catchy.  I played on the phrase "as the world turns" when titling two stories: "As the Yoyo Swings," a story of a girl who is pulled between two family members, and "As the Turkey Gobbles," a Thanksgiving story.  I called a story about a gossipy boy (nicknamed "Mouth") "The Mouth Closes," a play on his name and his need to shut up!  In "The Nose Uses His Head," a big-nosed boy's smart thinking saves someone in trouble.  The slang phrase "___________ rules!" gave me the idea for the title "Victoria (Not the Queen) Rules!"

A humorous title makes readers expect a funny story and start reading!  For example, "Attack of the Cousins" does not sound like a serious story!  Readers might smile at the idea of "Chocolate Feve"@ and decide they have to read the story.  Or they might wonder what funny things will happen "When Bigfoot Hits the Floor."  If you used a humorous tone in a story, carry the same feeling into your title!

Sometimes the best way to make a title intriguing is to just put something unexpected into it.  For example, titles like "Pony-in-a-Box" and "My Roommate B Grandpa!" surprise readers and make them curious.  A title like "Friends For Sale" makes readers say, "Wait a minute!  You can't buy friends"@  I titled a story about a boy whose jokes hurt his friends "I'm Not Funny," not something we usually hear people say.  Just a small surprise can make your title interesting!

You might also use an allusion (a reference to something else) in your title. For instance, the title of this article comes from the famous line in Shakespeare’s Richard III: “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” (Act V, scene iv). If a story had as its protagonist a female who was a constant whiner, you might title it “Moan-a Lisa,” an allusion to the famous painting Mona Lisa.

You might try a number of titles before settling on one.  For example, "Cinderella" could have had many other titles:

Who Was That Beautiful Girl? (question)

Slippers and Secrets (sounds)

Love at First Flight (play on words)

If the Shoe Fits, Marry Him! (play on words, humorous)

Big Foot, Small Shoe (humorous)

True Love and the Shoe (unexpected)

Who Wants to Be a Princess? (allusion to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?)

 

Experiment this way to create some exciting titles!

     And one more suggestion: title your story when it's finished. Coming up with the title first can narrow your focus too much and keep you from moving the story in a different -- and maybe better! --direction than you originally intended. Also, an early title may not fit by the time the story is complete. And you want a good title that really fits -- it's the first thing your readers see.

 

This article originally appeared in Class ActFor some great ready-to-use publications for the classroom, visit their website!

About Writing:

On this page:

"Off to a Good Start" - Better Beginnings For Your Stories

"7 Things I've Learned So Far on My Journey as a Writer"

"My Kingdom For a Title!" - Writing Catchy Titles (sidebar)

 

   Off To A Good Start

 ONCE UPON A TIME, there was an article with a really boring beginning.  Even the author didn=t want to read any further!  So she tried again....

"Can I begin my stories in a captivating way?" you ask.

"Of course, you can!" I reply.

One way to capture your readers' interest right away is to use dialogue.  Starting with dialogue helps your readers get involved with your characters quickly.

Don't you have a feel for Mandi's character after reading the beginning of "Mandi-For-A-Day"?

 

"This stinks!"

Lyle tried to look at the card I was waving around.  "What's wrong, Mandi?" he asked.

"Job Shadow Day is supposed to be fun"@ I complained.  "I figured I couldn't get Principal-for-a-Day, but I would have been happy with Coach-for-a-Day!  No such luck!"

“What job did you get?" asked Lyle.

I flung the card onto his desk. 

"Custodian-for-a-Day!" I wailed.

 

In "Victoria (Not the Queen) Rules," Tori's personality shines through from the start.

 

"I'm going to get him, and I'm going to get him good," I told my friend David.

"Who?" he asked.

"Tran, of course!" I said, gesturing with one hand. Unfortunately, I was holding a carton of milk.

"Hey, Tori!   Watch it!" said David.

 

          However you start your story, don't begin at the beginning.  Instead, start when things are already happening.  For example, "Skate, Morris, Skate!" could have started pages  earlier, covering everything that led up to the main character's promise to his cousin.  Instead, it starts when the story's problem does:

 

                   When my cousin Morris showed up at the lake, my heart sank.

Mike skated up to me and moaned.  "What's he doing here?"

Why? I asked myself.  Why did I promise to teach Morris how to skate?

 

In "How Do You Spell F-R-I-E-N-D?" Janna has to help a terrible speller prepare for a contest.

 

"Father!  F-A-U-T-H-E-R!"

"No, no, no!" I shouted.  "It's F-A-T-H-E-R!"

"Whatever!"  Chandler shrugged.

"You'll never win with that attitude!"

"I'm sorry, Janna," he said.  "But I can=t possibly win that spelling contest!"

 

The story could have started earlier when Chandler entered the contest, but this story is about Janna's problem and how she handles it.  It's better to begin right in the middle of that problem.  How she got into this situation can be communicated briefly somewhere else in the story.

To make things clear, you sometimes feel you must start at the beginning and take your readers through a sequence of events.  You can still capture interest right away if you give a hint of what's to come.

For example, after reading the beginning of "Grandma Grape," you know this chaperone thing is going to be a problem:

 

It was my own fault, I guess.

When the teachers said the Spring Fling would be canceled without help from our parents, I rushed home and begged my grandmother to "Please, please, please!" be a chaperone.

 

And in "The Truth About Wayne," you know Adrian's "honesty" is going to cause trouble:

 

I believe in honesty.

Complete and total honesty.

So when Angel Preston asks how I like her new dress, I say I don't if I don't.

Or when Aunt Lorene says, "Isn't my fruitcake the best you ever had, Adrian?" I tell her,">I hate any fruitcake."

People know I'm this way.  That's why my friends decided I had to take care of Wayne.

 

Sometimes nothing has the impact of a beginning that's short and sweet.  Forget that rule about having three complete sentences in a paragraph.  Set apart short sentences to intrigue your readers and keep them reading.  For example, the beginning of "How Do You Make Friends With an Apeman?" gets right to the crux of the story:

 

I wanted to be popular.

Just once.

 

“Attack of the Cousins" starts with a humorous tone and hints about what's to come:

 

They came at night.

They came without warning.

I wish I could say they came in peace!

 

The beginning of "Pony-in-a-Box" leads right to the story's mystery:

 

I was trapped.

It had rained every day since school let out.  I was trapped inside with my little sister. Trapped!  I was going nuts!

Then the box came.

 

A good beginning can set the tone for your story, introduce the characters, and do all kinds of useful and fascinating things, but, most importantly, it can capture your readers' interest.  And if the rest of your story is as interesting, your readers will stay with you all the way until THE END.

(Now, could we have a word about boring endings?)

 

 

This article originally appeared in Class ActFor some great ready-to-use publications for the classroom, visit their website!

 

 

 

     7 Things I’ve Learned So Far on My Journey as a Writer

 

1.     If you’re not sick of what you’re writing then it’s not finished. You don’t want to hear it and I don’t want to believe it, but this is the sad, sad…oh-so-sad truth about writing. A good piece takes more revising than you think you can stand, but you have to do it anyway. Again and again. Of course, it’s helpful to set your work aside for a while to ferment, but then you’ll need to…

 

2.     Revise again. Sorry! There’s just no way around it.

 

3.     Procrastinate tomorrow. Write now. You may have heard the story (legend?) about the wealthy patron who visited Michelangelo and found him staring at a huge block of marble. Eventually Michelangelo would create the statue of David from the marble, but at the moment he appeared to be accomplishing nothing. The upset patron demanded, “What are you doing?” Michelangelo replied, “I’m working.” The art of writing takes mental preparation, too, but don’t tell yourself you’re Michelangelo when you’re just stalling around. Start chipping away!

 

4.     Don’t waste a word. Back story? We don’t need no stinkin’ back story! Jump right into the action and work in any important information as you go along. Keep description to a minimum – just enough to make the story come alive for your readers and no more! Use powerful verbs and ax the adverbs. And make sure every bit of dialogue reveals something important about character and/or advances the plot.

 

5.     Read your work aloud. Or at least do that whispery thing where you move your lips and pretend you’re reading out loud. That’s one of the best ways to find too-long sentences, awkward phrasing, grammar errors, repetitious word choices, and stilted dialogue. If you have to read something over and over to make it sound smooth then it probably needs work. (See #1 and #2 above.)

 

6.     “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” That good advice comes from William Faulkner. Samuel Johnson said it another way: “ Read over your composition and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.” Sometimes you have to look at what you’ve written with a cold eye and a heart of stone. Lovingly crafted scenes, lyrical prose, clever displays of wit, and real-life anecdotes should do more than show off your talent. Painful as it is, you must put the knife to anything that doesn’t also serve the story.

 

7.     We’re on a journey. And your main character should be, too. Of course, his external journey makes up your plot, but don’t forget the internal journey. If the main character doesn’t have one, then why should readers care about him? And if he doesn’t change in some way by the end of the story, then you don’t actually have a story! Clarify the main character’s personal journey before you even start writing then keep it in mind all through the process. Doing this will help you maintain the focus you need to write something amazing.

 

This article was originally published on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog. It's a great blog with info about many different aspects of writing, not just agents. Check it out!