One of the most stimulating forms an idea can take is that of a marvelous title.
Know what I mean?
A really juicy, intriguing, provocative title just gets my imagination whispering (and maybe bouncing up and down a little).
Obviously, titles do so much to set the stage for a book.
They create atmosphere and build the world. Or they nod to the main characters and what they're up against.
The best titles are a tantalizing welcome mat for the story inside. They wave their arms to the ideal audience, saying, "Come read me! You will LOVE this story!"
... Okay. I know. I get a little worked up about titles.
But for those of us who are idea-seekers, titles are incredibly valuable: Even if you only have a title, you're set. You have a potent, miniature writing prompt.
Come up with a title with the right kind of ring to it, and it's a bit easier to invent a story to go with it.
You start to develop a sense for the story, for what it might hold, what it promises.
Big surprise: I love inventing titles, even when I don't have any plans for writing books to go with them.
So, by now, I have a huge Title File. It's ... well, it's really, really big.
I've arranged it by category: titles that refer to a character, a conflict, a central image, a setting, a genre. (And then of course, a miscellaneous section for all the crazy titles that didn't seem to fit.)
When I used Scout Files to write a novel for Nanowrimo, I also used my Title File. I pulled out a bunch of titles that seemed to have the same feel as my central idea, and I used them as chapter titles for the whole project.
Every day, I wrote a new chapter. And each chapter had a delightful, pre-brainstormed title. Which gave me an incredibly strong launch point for that day's work.
It sped up my process and guarded me against clichés. And it hugely influenced the sprawling, rambling, fun-for-me feel of that draft.
Oh, TITLES. Look out: They can steal your heart.
There are two ways that I go after creating intoxicating titles.
We've already established—multiple times—that I'm a total word nerd on this blog.
So, maybe it won't surprise you if I confess that I, ahem, make a game out of remixing titles.
It's so fun. Seriously—it is SO FUN.
Here's what you do: looking at a bookcase or a list of books, you grab a few juicy titles. You can look at books that are near each other, or just pick whichever ones you like best.
Write 'em down.
And then you just jumble up the words. Mix and match. Swap parts of titles around, until you get compelling images, phrases, ideas.
And then you write down those titles in your Title File.
Did I mention it's easy? And fun?
So... just for kicks, just because it's Monday, just because we like to have fun: here are a handful of titles from my bookshelf.
- Great Expectations
- The Mysterious Benedict Society
- Peace Like a River
- So Brave, Young, and Handsome
- The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
- Wildfire at Midnight
- The Wind in the Willows
- The Woman in White
All right, lionhearts! Get in there and mix and match. Make some new titles!
There's no wrong way to do it: You can even cut words in half, or sprinkle in extra parts of speech when you need 'em.
Remixing the above list might give you titles like:
- At the Bottom of the Willows
- The Brave, Mysterious Peace
- Handsome Midnight
- Pie Expectations
- The River Society
- The Sweetness in the Wind
- In the White Wildfire
- The Young Woman at Midnight
Just play around until you find titles you like.
And—this is important—not every title has to be amazing. In fact, they don't have to be amazing at all. They might just have a ring to them that you find... intriguing.
Like: Would Pie Expectations be a series of essays about pie? Or would it be a weird kind of modern day Hansel and Gretel retelling? Or maybe it would be about a young girl who works in a bakery and changes the feel of her whole city when she ...
Hmmmmm. See what I mean? A pretty calm title. But some interesting possibilities.
This is a great thing to do when you feel stuck on your work-in-progress, or when you need a warm-up, or when you can't work for whatever reason: Look over your bookshelves and fill a page with remixed titles.
2. Out of not-too-thin air.
This is when you just pluck titles out of your surroundings. When you turn everything that you're observing around you into a possible title.
No big explanation needed, because that's really all there is to it: Turn your environment into titles.
So for me, sitting here at my desk and looking out the window, some titles could be:
- Wildflowers in a Pitcher
- The Undrunk Coffee (Oh, doesn't "the undrunk" sound like a zombie spoof??)
- Supplements: A History
- Pinestraw Afternoons
- Heat (and What Happens In It)
One of my favorite ways to do this exercise is when I'm sitting in a coffee shop or a waiting room.
I listen and observe for a while, picking up bits of the moods, of the other conversations and interactions between the characters, I mean, people around me.
And I'll start dreaming up as many titles as I can. Usually I'll challenge myself to fill a whole page, and I'll try to exhaust every possibility that's right in front of me.
Obviously, some of them are more quiet and less noteworthy. But they can still be valuable.
Once you start taking entries from the lists you've made, and stir in a few great ideas from your Scout Files, and sprinkle in some of these titles to help guide the way...
Seriously, the ideas start flying, and your brain fills in the blanks with much more ease.
That's why it's good news for us that title making is kind of, um, addicting.
You can do it literally anywhere, and it's only going to strengthen your work.
I would LOVE to hear any of the remixed titles that you created from the list I gave you... or even remixes from your own shelves! And if your surroundings start whispering titles to you as well, feel free to share those too in the comments!