Before someone even picks up a book, there’s one thing he or she is going to hear before anything else.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard it said that “the first line of your book should be perfect, how it’s your one chance to hook your reader, to draw him in for more.
And while that may be true, the title comes even before that, and thus, I would argue, is even more important.
I’ll put it this way: if the first line of your book is a job interview, the title is equivalent to your resume. Good resume? You might just land yourself a job. Bad resume? You’re not even getting an interview.
So do yourself a favor and spend some time thinking about your titles. In the meantime, read these 4 tips.
1. A good title should have resonance
Resonance is tricky. The most important thing is balance. You don’t want to give away too much or too little. Here is a fantastic article on resonance, in its many forms. Read over it, and comment below with some titles that resonated with you.
2. A good title should summarize, or at least hint at, the theme of the story
This is a tough one, and the reason why your title should be the last thing (usually) that you come up with. Why? Because you need to know what your story’s about before you title it. Now, if you plot your story out completely before you write it, that’s fine, and maybe your title does describe exactly what your story is about. But for those who write by the seat of their pants, so to speak, there is some waiting and patience that comes with titling a story.
3. A good title can be used to get a jump on the action of your story
I want to come back to the example of The Green Mile again, since I just finished reading it for the first time. Stephen King does an excellent job of using his section titles to advance the action of the story. In short, the titles keep us turning pages. For example: one section is titled, The Bad Death of Eduard Delacroix. Whoa! A character is dying, and it’s going to be bad. I’ve got to read up to that point and see what happens! Talk about suspense. Advances action, holds us in suspense, and keeps us reading. Triple kill.
4. Don’t neglect the rhythm of your title.
This might sound a little hokey to some, but I really think it has some value. Think about poetry. It’s pleasant to read, and easy on the ears. Titles can do the same thing.
Let me give you a few examples of what I’m talking about:
Notice something similar about these? They’re each three syllables long, with a stress coming on the first and third syllable. Now, this might be speculation, but I think this idea of the double stress is very much “in vogue” right now. These are all tv shows that are very much relevant to the past couple of years. Two of them are still on-air right now, as I’m sure many are aware.
Now I’m not saying that your title needs to be exactly three syllables long and have stresses in certain places, but it certainly can’t hurt to give a little extra consideration to how it sounds. Maybe it’s just me, but I think “House of Cards” is a lot easier on the ears than Avengers: Age of Ultron. In fact, think about how most people refer to it: Age of Ultron. Titles should be easy to remember, and a few, well placed words with a natural rhythm can’t hurt.
Bottom line: you can’t spend too much time thinking about your title. Get one that works and stick with it.
Feel free to share some of your favorite titles below, and what it was about them that hooked you!