What makes the title of a book, short story, or poem…great? Unforgettable titles like Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera or “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot help grab readers’ attention and entice them to want to read more. Though opinions may vary, Writer’s Relief has found some common themes among exceptional titles. Here are five key elements that can help your title stand out and command attention.
Common Elements Of Terrific Titles For Books, Short Stories, And Poems
The Right Number Of Words
Sometimes, a single word is all you need. A short free verse poem about a flower can effectively be titled “Petals.” However, a one-word title does not work in many cases. The key is to give enough information, based on format and genre, to draw your reader in. Typically, shorter titles are easier to remember and fit on the spine of your book better. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid a longer title if it truly suits your work. There is a lot of leeway here, as long as the title presents the work without giving away too much or too little.
Often, titles need to be edited and considered in the same way that you edited and reworked your short story, poem, or book. We agonize over when to reveal a plot twist or where to place a comma, and we should definitely do the same for our titles. Once the information is honed, the title can really serve the work and speak to your audience!
Targets The Audience
The best titles help your work attract the right audience. This can mean including terms or references that click with the work’s genre, content, or characters. Setting the tone in your title will help you reach your readers: Most fans of True Crime or Horror may not be enticed by a title referencing cute puppies and romance, for example.
What do readers in your genre look for? Treasure Island instills adventure, Pet Sematary gives us the creeps, and Gone with the Wind evokes change and transience. You can also try using a title that makes the reader wonder how it suits the genre: Think Poe’s The Telltale Heart or Fitzgerald’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and how they subvert ideas such as honesty or mystery simply on the basis of their titles.
Completes Your Work
Your title holds a small amount of your message and intent for your audience to interpret and process. As the beginning of your interaction with the reader, the title is a sort of starting point for the journey with a work. The most important job of the title is to invite the reader inside, the way a front door can welcome someone into a home.
Having a memorable, evocative title is important—but try not to stress over the title too much. It’s not necessarily permanent! Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn notes that you can always change a book title. Check out her blog article to read about her experience with title changing.
Question: What are some of your favorite titles—and why?