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Presenting your Presentation: Titling your Title!

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Sat Apr 03, 2010 1:28 pm
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LookUpThere says...



It's Happened to me time and time again. I'm on a review spree. Man I'm so hyped. Man, I wanna give back to YWS that has given me so much! But how can I when I see stuff like: The Afternoon, or Golden Lake. These aren't very interesting titles, and coupled with the fact that they're both under Action/Adventure...
I'm Hero, I'm gonna help you fix up your title. And just because I write bad titles, I'll use my own example: The Janitors, through this tip. It's meant to be a story about action, mystery, superhuman powers and cool lines and characters. Does the Janitors show that? Is it a good title? Enjoy! ;)

How to Write Titles
from Superhero Nation Article: Writing Titles that Sell (Novels and Chapters)

(I tweaked some stuff just to make it more navigable.)
(Blue is the stuff I added)

Superhero Nation and TheNewHero wrote: :arrow: What makes a title effective? They usually connect emotionally with readers (Heart of Darkness, Return of the King). Some may suggest an unusual premise or plot, like His Majesty’s Dragon or Superhero Nation. Others suggest an unusual reading experience (Barbara Bloodbath or Saddam Hussein and the Hippies from Space).

:arrow: Building Emotional Connections
If your title doesn’t affect your reader, he will put your book down. How can you make your title more powerful?
Brainstorm a list of nouns that relate to your book– generally, effective titles depend on forceful and evocative nouns. For example, if you’re writing a book about a rebel, The Rebel would probably fail because it’s boring. What else is in your rebel book? Let’s say the rebel’s personal growth is an important theme. The Rebel’s Growth doesn’t work either, so let’s try using a thesaurus. Growth is a synonym of rise, which is a synonym of ascension. The Rise of the Rebel and The Rebel’s Ascension are both pretty strong.

Tell me, what would you choose: Being the Leader or Mein Kampf (Which in English mean My Struggles). Even though Mein Kampf was written by one of the most hated people in history, Hitler himself, it is a very gripping title. He's not asking for you to listen to his success, or how he hates any non-Aryans. No, this title is basically saying: Come listen to all I've struggled through. My life wasn't all dandy you know.

(Additionaly, you could tweak the title to be The Rebel's Rise or Rise of a Rebel. As you will see below, that can have a huge impact)

:arrow: Word Choice:
Slight changes to your title’s structure can hugely affect its emotional impact. For example, The Return of the King is a great title, but The Returning King is absolutely awful. The words are the same, but the rhythm and style have changed.

You can also try tweaking your word-choice. “Return” and “King” both have great, robust sounds and flair. By contrast, “Homecoming of the Monarch” is lousy. Even though the literal meaning is identical, the sound is off. In addition to the sound and style, word-choice can also affect the mood and feel of the title. For example, His Majesty’s Dragon is different than The King’s Dragon because HMD suggests that the dragons are like the British navy, His Majesty’s Ships. Just from the title, you can tell that HMD has a lot of historicity and realism (except for the dragons, obviously).

:arrow: Made up Words and Titles (and character names e.g Percy Jackson):
Some works, particularly sword-and-spell fantasies, make the huge error of using a made-up word in the title. C.S. Lewis did not name his book The Chronicles of Narnia (The Series was Chronicles of Narnia, the books had their own titles like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Horse and His Boy). His prospective readers haven’t heard of Narnia and won’t care about it. **Nothing is less likely to emotionally affect a potential reader than a word he hasn’t seen before.** Place-names are particularly weak. Character names are reasonably weak. As a rule, most character names are not strong enough to intrigue potential readers. (There are some exceptions, like Barbara Bloodbath).

Character names usually work better in chapter titles. By the time your readers are reading the chapter, they will have some emotional investment in the character. Something like “Paingod, Humanitarian” might intrigue you if you already knew that Paingod isn’t human and is humanitarian mainly as far as he’s not vegetarian. As a rule, character names that can interest prospective readers are typically a bit sinister and exotic (like Barbara Bloodbath, Paingod, Saddam Hussein, etc.) In contrast, names like Harry Potter are usually too boring to entice readers.

:arrow: Suggests an Unusual Premise
There are two main reasons you would use a title to suggest your premise or plot.

One, your premise is so cool and fresh that it sells itself, like His Majesty’s Dragon.
Two, your premise is odd enough that you need to reach for a niche market. For example, Superhero Nation is targeting a specific niche of superhero-fans.

So why Superhero Nation? Nation suggests the book’s scope. Most superhero novels focus on a single superhero or a team of superheroes, usually working in a single city (usually NYC). We’re selling a nation, with rightwing nutjobs, pinko commies and at least one scientist transformed into a Pokemon-parody. “Nation” also sounds tough and more refined than “country.” (Once again, YWSers, word choice!)

:arrow: Suggests an Unusual Reading Experience

If you have something like Saddam Hussein and the Hippies from Space lying around, go for it! If you’re not at that level of style, a more conventional title will probably work better. Saddam Hussein is an extraordinarily eye-grabbing title, but that creates tremendous audience expectations of extraordinary writing. (Is it possible to write a book called “Saddam Hussein and the Hippies from Space” that satisfied our expectations? Probably not).

This kind of title is more prevalent in children’s literature. If your audience is older, a conventional title isn’t much of a liability.

:arrow: Arouses Curiosity (Makes Reader Asks Questions)
This is another unconventional, risky approach. If your title makes your readers curious enough that they open the book, great. The key is giving them enough to wonder. So You Want to be a Honey Master works only if readers wonder what a Honey Master is. What about The King’s Death? Most readers probably won’t care who the King is or wonder why he died. Giving us more information might draw readers into the story. For example, The King’s Dead (but it was an Accident) is probably a winner.

Also Note: The Rest of the link has tips on writing Chapter Titles as well.
Thanks B.Mac! Okay, so what can we gather from this?
:arrow: Your Title Should Be Clear
:arrow: Your Title Should Connect With Your Audience
:arrow: Please Don't Think About How Cool Your Made-Up World Is And Use That In Your Title
:arrow: And of Course, Be Interesting!
:arrow: Careful with word order and choice!

And that's my entry. There are other Cool link on Superhero Nation, such as:
Ten Words that will RUIN your Title
How to Write Titles
And Titles that Sold! which is a list of titles that sold.

With the review over, you can stick around to watch me analyze my own title, maybe copy my style. So let's analyze The Janitors according to this criteria. You can analyze your own title too.
:arrow: Is The Janitors very clear. No. Imagine you're searching books on Amazon, just looking at titles and not genres or blurbs. Will The Janitors come across as Cool, Action, Superhuman and Mystery. No. So how can we tweak it? Let's see...
The Janitors is about a government organization who have to clean up major messes in information and security (Bermuda Triangle, Roswell, The Superhumans...). There's going to be action, and a Percy Jackson styled comedy. The main characters are teenage superheroes who The Janitors recruit for help. I don't want to make this sound too childish. So how about this. The Janitors: Superhumans, Faulty iPods, Death and Other Teenage Problems. It's not perfect, but it's clear. That's all we're worried about right now.

:arrow: Does The Janitors: Superhumans, Faulty iPods, Death and Other Teenage Problems connect with it's targeted audience? I'd actually say yes. I'm targeting a group of Maximum Ride fanatics that are between 12 and 14. I've set the main themes: Action, Humor, Drama, Dealing With It... and made sure it's known, this isn't going to just be action. It's going to be about teenagers experiencing action and what they'll make of it. Oh... and they have superpowers :D What do you think?

:arrow: Is The Janitors: Superhumans, Faulty iPods, Death and Other Teenage Problems sound interesting. Let's see, I've taken a whole bunch of totally unrelated topics (iPods, Superhumans and Janitors) and brought them together with a colon and a few commas. I'd say it's pretty interesting. How many superhumans do you know that carry iPods? It shows this won't be tacky (I'm sorry to say this - Animorphs) and the characters won't be all, "We have to do this... for the good of humanity." but rather "Hey! What's it? You messed my iPod! *Teleport* *Attack*"

Finally, let's tweak this with word order and word choice. We'll take this word by word and than get to the order. This is the current title - The Janitors: Superhumans, Faulty iPods, Death and other Teenage Problems. Thesaurus time (Don't pick out any word, make sure you know when it is most often used!)!

The Janitors: Some synonyms are Custodian, Keeper, Steward, Cleaner etc. However, none of these roll off (except for Cleaner) quite so easily as Janitors and (Cleaner included) they just don't set the story as it is. The Custodians/Keeper - Too... fantasy/drama, The Steward - Aren't those also flight attendants? The Cleaner - No. No. No. So we're down with the Janitors!

:arrow: Superhumans: This seems a bit bulky to me. But it gets the job done with the 'super' pre-fix and had I said, "Mutants" or "Evolutionaries" it would sound too sci-fi. Using Adjectives like "Specials, Supers, Ultras would make it sound too kiddy. Superhumans is a good description as it is not biased towards heroes or villains. I think I scored there.

:arrow: Faulty: Not happy with this at all. Faulty iPods sounds bulky. Also, you need to read the story a bit to know what I'm talking about. Faulty means to not work. Let's use a more interesting word and maybe some that gives away a theme in the story? Forged. It gives off mystery. Who the heck would forge an iPod? But it's mroe than that in the story. There's a reason the iPod is forged and forged just makes it sound criminal. The iPod is tweaked into actually being an incredibly dangerous weapon. Tweaked. It's informal enough... but doesn't work with the rest of the title. All these things you have to consider. Finally, let's get to Modified vs. Customized. Modified sounds Dangeorus, Customized sounds cool. Death is just gloomy, not dangerous. Superhumans is just the basic content of the story. Janitors is there for humor. What's more important: Cool or Danger? Is Danger Cool? Is it cool to be dangerous? Dangerous is cool, cool is not necessarily dangerous. This needs to be able to fit in Act/Adv. 'iPods made to kill' sound childish. But it's better than just describing the iPod with an adjective. So let's make it better: Doomsday iPods.

:arrow: iPod is a good word because it shows that this is pretty recent (Unless you're reading this when iPods are old). I can't really think of a better word.

:arrow: Death: Very strong, simple. As the rest of the title carries a lot of mystery and info, you can interperet death as you wish. There will be death. Also, it's less violent than 'kill'. This story won't be gory.

:arrow: And Other Teenage Problems:
:arrow: And is pretty straightforward. But if I really wanted, I could replace it with a dash and change the rest of the sentence accordingly.
:arrow: Other could be changed to More. And More Teenage Problems. See how important word choice is here?

The Janitors: Superhumans, Doomsday iPods, Death and Other Teenage Problems
The Janitors: Superhumans, Doomsday iPods, Death and More Teenage Problems

'More' could make it sound like a documentary type of story. But it also makes it sound like the book is going to be chop full of teenage problems instead of concentrating on the action. I'm going with Other.

:arrow: Teenage: This is really important - it shows my target audience. As a general rule, if you are writing for a certain age group, your main characters could be two years or so older than the age group. It keeps enough action and cool but somewhat relatibility. Especially when writing for teens. But it's sometimes okay to write the main characters as adults. Whatever the case, teenage is a period of time in one's life. It's often referred to as "The Wonder Years" and what not. But referring to it as such would make it seem like a trip down memory lane.

:arrow: Problems - Synonyms include: Troubles, Matters, Complications, Dilemmas, Issues, Stuff nearly all of them are acceptable. Matters, Issues and Problems are the best options because they are simple (unlike Dilemmas and Complications) and give off a hint that the characters will actually try to solve these problems, maters, issues. Ever heard someone say solve these troubles. How often? Between those three, it is a matter of rythym. Matters doesn't work for me - it just isn't my story. Issues is okay, but Problems is better. Whereas issues says, "There are certain things in our life we're going to solve", problems say "There are things in our life that are obstructing general living! And we're gonna solve 'em!". So, Problem.

Okay, so the title so far is: The Janitors: Superhumans, Doomsday iPods, Death and Other Teenage Problems.

Word Order: Rythym is what matters most here. Of course, changing the word order links to changing the word. Currently, the 'iPods, Death' thing isn't working. A good way to prioritize is to simply prioritize. What's the most dominant in your book? Superhumans in my case, then Death (Emotions) and Modified iPods is just a gimmick. Let's prioritize:

The Janitors: Superhumans, Death, Doomsday iPods and Other Teenage Problems. Sounds much better. Of course we could invert it...
Superhumans, Death, Doomsday iPods and Other Teenage Problems: The Janitors
But that isn't as cool. Now you may be wondering, But Hero, that's so long. So Maybe it is, but it gives a good backdrop of the book. If your title is going to be long (Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) then readers should be able to automatically pick out a nick-name (The Lightning Thief, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe). There is so much I could do. You just need to play around with your title. Whatever the case, here are my final five. Keep 'Book One' ion the back of your mind:

:arrow: The Janitors: Superhumans, Death, Doomsday iPods and Other Teenage Problems
:arrow: The Janitors: Superhumans, Death, Doomsday iPods and Other Teenage Problems - Doomsday iPods
:arrow: The Janitors: Doomsday iPods
:arrow: The Janitors: Doomsday iPods, Superhumans and Death - Teenage Problems
:arrow: The Janitors Book One: Doomsday iPods at Five Bucks and your Life - In Stores Now

So which ones your favourite? PM me guessing what the entire thing is about. And remember, keep it interesting! I'd love to read some interesting titles!

Age was respected among his people, but achievement was revered. As the elders said, if a child washed his hands he could eat with kings.
— Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart