Who's ready for a few quick tips on how to pick out a title for your novel?
1. Remember that your title is probably going to change. So if you can't come up with The Absolute Perfect title, that's okay. Many publishers will want to have input on your title, and they know a lot about what sells across categories and genres. Come up with as good a title as you can, but be open to changing it.
2. Check out comp titles. Do you see any patterns? Some genres have different expectations for word length for titles. Fantasy is more willing to accept longer titles, for example. Romance titles often reference one of the characters somehow. Action-packed stories tend to have shorter, punchier titles. Mystery series' often have something in common across all their titles.
3. Shoot for a word count title in the right range. For most genres and age categories, titles fall within one to six words.
4. Avoid subtitles. Especially if they're redundant or overly-explanatory. An info dump in the title is not a good sign. For example, if I wrote a serious novel and titled it The Sleeping Cat: A Novel About Naptime, Purring, and Forgiveness, you probably would back away slowly. Some kinds of non-fiction books can get away with this sort of title, but it's much rarer in fiction.
5. Don't chase trends. Remember a couple years ago when so many hit books had "girl" in the title? It became a joke. And if someone tried to capitalize on that trend and titled their book accordingly, by the time the book was actually published, the trend would be long over.
6. Look at your manuscript for repeated themes and imagery, important lines, or significant places or characters. Most books draw on these elements for their titles. It's often rewarding for a reader to discover the passage a title is taken from.
7. When in doubt, keep it simple.
That's it for today. Have fun editing, and as always, let us know if you have any thoughts or suggestions in the comments!
Today's post is inspired by the time I spent this week helping one of my kids, who has some learning disabilities, with a writing assignment. She had to write a short story for English, after plotting it out with a nice chart the teacher had given out. And even though kiddo is extremely smart and creative and great at telling stories, putting them on paper is an incredibly stressful experience for her.
Enter writer and editor mom, to the rescue! And as we tackled her assignment together and I did my best to nudge her along, I realized something that hadn't quite clicked before.
Every sentence is a choose-your-own-adventure type pivot point.
Each sentence builds on the one that came before it. Presenting her with choices at each sentence when she didn't know what to say next helped her to avoid getting stuck in the dreaded writer's block.
In practical terms, our discussion went something like this:
Me: Okay, you have a mob of angry villagers approaching the main character and her giant, hungry cat. Does she hear or see them first?
Her: Hear them.
Me: Okay, what do they sound like?
Her: Describes it.
Me: Okay, so does she see them next or run away?
Her: She sees them.
Me: What do they look like?
Her: Angry mob with pitchforks! Standard stuff.
Me: Got it. So how does the main character react? Does she say anything, do anything, feel anything? What is the giant cat who's the cause of all the fuss doing?
Hopefully you get the idea. By using this technique of approaching every sentence as a potential fork in the road, we were able to keep her from getting stuck in any one spot, and actually wrote a first draft that was twice as long as it needed to be. (Oops. But that's what editing is for!)
So next time you feel a bout of writer's block coming on, or you just aren't sure where the scene you're working on is going, try the choose-your-own-adventure approach at the sentence level. You might be surprised at how well it works!
Every Wednesday and Saturday we bring you an edit tip of the day. Be sure to check out the archives for our popular summer series of SHOW DON'T TELL workshops!