Desperately in need of a good title for your book, screenplay, paper, article, or short story? Yeah, been there.
I find that, for me, titles either come right at the very beginning (along with the idea) or not until the very last minute (i.e. the book is about to be printed and my editor is breathing down my neck saying, “We can’t very well write ‘untitled’ on the cover and I’m like, “Why not? Sounds like a compelling read to me!”)
With 52 REASONS TO HATE MY FATHER, the title came instantly. The moment I had the idea for a story about a girl whose father makes her take on 52 low-wage jobs, the title popped into my head a second later. It’s nice when it’s that easy! But it’s not always the case.
For other books like IN SOME OTHER LIFE, THE GEOGRAPHY OF LOST THINGS, and ADDIE BELL’S SHORTCUT TO GROWING UP the titling process was brutal. I brainstormed for days and weeks on end for each of them, ending up with lists and lists of mediocre titles before coming up with the right one.
But it wasn’t until my last title debacle, for my upcoming sci-fi novel (a retelling of Les Miserables set on a distant planet, co-written with Joanne Rendell), that I discovered the ultimate title brainstorming game! And I thought I would share it with all of you, in case you, too, are stuck on the titling phase of your book or story.
Here’s how it works:
- Rip or cut up multiple small strips of paper (the more the better!)
- On each piece of paper write down a word (or phrase) that in someway is associated with the story (these can be related to themes, imagery, locations, character traits, life lessons, catch phrases, key objects in the story, even a character name!)
- Randomly divide up the slips of paper into two equal groups and put them in two different hats (bags and bowls work too). For an added challenge, try THREE groups/hats!
- Pick one slip of paper randomly from each bowl and try to mash the two words or phrases together into something coherent.
- Write down ALL combinations (even if they don’t strike your fancy at that moment, you never know when a bad title could inspire a good title later down the road)
Once you’ve made your way through all the slips, repeat steps 3-5 as many times as you like!
Last year my co-author, Joanne Rendell, and I were struggling to re-title our Les Mis retelling, (which was sold as THE DARKEST NIGHT, but everyone agreed that wasn’t compelling enough). We played this game (each of us creating a list of titles and picking random combinations from the hats.) One round, she picked sky and I picked stars. And while yes, alone these are two very simple concepts, it wasn’t until we worked at putting the two together in different ways did we come up with SKY WITHOUT STARS, which is now the title!
So give the game a try and let me know if you come up with anything brilliant! Good luck, title masters!