The Art of a Title

What’s in a name?

When it comes to crafting a title, a good place to start is to consider a word or phrase that adds some value to the story—there’s no one way to add value, of course, but it should do something for the piece (e.g. create intrigue, create immediacy, form a hook, add some meaning, deepen a symbol or a metaphor, etc.).   

If you’re writing a story about a common event (even if grounded in the particular and concrete), move away from a title that pushes the piece toward the cliché. For instance, if you’re writing a piece about a funeral, move away from words like “goodbye” or “final.” Instead, move us somewhere new since you will be telling us a story that we haven’t heard before.

Be aware of the power the title has to frame the reading of the piece.

If the title focuses on one of the story’s themes, it may overshadow or discount other threads/themes/ideas. Though, in some instances, a thematic title may be the best fit.

Jacob M. Appel offers tips for creating a strong title on the Writer’s Digest blog. He explains that “most readers consider your title twice—once before they start reading and again after they’ve finished.” Citing popular short stories’ titles “The Lottery” by Shirely Jackson (remember that one from grade school?) and “The Swimmer” by John Cheever, he explains “many successful titles gain hidden layers of meaning as they’re read, so they pack an extra punch when reflected upon the second time.” His advice: craft two meanings.   

How do you come up with your titles? Do you have any advice to share with creative writers?


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