Hey. Remember in school, when you had an essay to write and your teachers always wanted a creative, witty title and all you wanted to do was title your dumb essay, “The Dumb Essay You Made Me Write On Biological Ecosystems,” because that’s what it was? I do. One time, I had to write a personal narrative for an English class and I titled it, “Personal Narrative,” and got docked half a point on an otherwise perfect score paper because it was “uninspiring” and showed a “lack of effort”. But I’m not still bitter or anything.
Anyway, then I became a writer and finished a novel and guess what? I had to title that novel. And I couldn’t just title it, “The Book I Wrote,” because who would pick that up off a shelf? (I might, actually…)
As it turns out, our teachers were preparing us writers. Because titles do matter. Along with the cover, the title of your book is going to make or break your success. A bad title is the difference between your book stopping a casual browser in a positive way and stopping a casual browser in a way where they’ll pick it up, scoff, and say, “What a stupid sounding book.”
I panicked when I realized my completed manuscript needed a name. My mind went into a spiral, trying its hardest to force ideas forward. It took me a week, and many terrible ideas, before I finally pulled myself together. I sat myself down and said, “Self, be calm. Think rationally. What is your book about?”
And then I started listing. What is my book about? What are its themes? Are there any motifs, repeated catch phrases, or metaphors? During this process I actually grew closer to my story and gained more clarity on what I was trying to accomplish with Bewilderments. I opened to a blank sheet of paper in my notebook and wrote, “What is the theme? What is the point?” and it forced me to catalogue my story in both a simplistic, elevator pitch type of way and a more in-depth way. Also during this phase, it struck me just how important it is to know your motive (but that’s a post for another time.)
Becoming the/a Puppeteer
Learning to Strut
Abandoning the Cave
Crawling From the Cave
-Scratched titles for Bewilderments
Within the story, I repeatedly compare Quinn’s depression with Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. So, at a total loss and with a cringe-worthy list of possible book titles, I decided to reread the Allegory in hopes of sparking some inspiration. And voila!
“Anyone who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light.”
Plato, The Republic
It was instant love. It just struck me, and it felt so right and so encapsulating of the story that I had zero doubt that I had found my title. Even now, I still could not imagine a better name for my book than Bewilderments of the Eyes. It just works.
I have other WIPs, though, that are still untitled: short stories, essays, even blog posts in waiting. Some of the stories aren’t yet developed enough to give me a solid feel for what I’m trying to sell, or have enough character and meat to give me ideas. Others are fully completed, but waiting on the perfect title to strike. Nothing I’ve come up with so far has conveyed exactly what I want for that particular piece of writing.
Once, I wouldn’t have cared. But now it matters.
How do your titles come to be? Do you have a title first, and work your story around it? Or are you like me and need to have a story before you can have a title? Do you have any titling tricks or go-to’s? Do all of your titles follow a theme or pattern—certain number of words, certain sentence structure or format—in an effort to brand yourself as a writer and have your readers know, right off the bat, if a book is yours? Tell me your secrets!