No matter how fantastic the short story you have written may be, without a catchy title the chances are good that an editor will not read it. The title is the most important part of the story as this is what first captures the reader’s attention.
A good title should grab the reader and make them wonder what the story is about. A bad title will probably cause the reader to skip the story altogether. This holds true when submitting your stories for publication. Editors are busy people and will pass on the story, often without reading the first sentence, if your title doesn’t capture their interest.
The title of your story will tell the editor a lot about your creativity. If your title is strong, an editor will be more likely to look at your story with a positive attitude.
So how do you come up with a good title? Below is a small list of tips to help you come up with an attention grabbing title.
1. Keep it short, no more than four or five words. Even two or three word titles are generally more than enough. If you can come up with a single word that conveys something about your story, even better.
2. Avoid boring titles. Don’t name your story something like ‘The Monster’ or ‘The Sea’ as these are dull and boring, and too generalized. Instead, try for something that evokes emotion. ‘Under the Bed’ would be a good title for a scary story and ‘High Tides’ works better for a story based on the ocean.
3. Make sure your title fits your genre. Don’t name a whodunit with a title that could be confused with a romance story.
4. Make your title easy to remember. This is another reason to keep the title short. Use your creativity to come up with something catchy that relates to the theme, the action, or the characters of the story. A memorable title allows your readers to recommend your story to others.
5. Research the title you come up with. Although titles are not copyrighted, you don’t want your story confused with another story of the same name. They can be similar without being exact.
So how do you spark your creativity to come up with the perfect title for your story? The following are a handful of ways to awaken your muse.
a. A short line of dialogue or a memorable sentence from your story can sometimes be the right choice.
b. A common phrase or expression can often be found that sums up the theme of your story. Or use a play on words, where only one element of the phrase is changed.
c. Borrow a line from an established work. Look at Shakespeare, the Bible or other well known book, song or movie.
d. Use one your main characters’ names. Think along the lines of ‘Tom Sawyer’ or Stephen King’s ‘Christine’.
e. Likewise, your title can be your setting. Think of Brokeback Mountain, Lost in Space, etc…
f. A good title can convey the main idea of your story. ‘Misery’ or ‘Legends of the Fall’ are good examples.
g. Use word association to link together elements of the story.
h. Allow the action to determine the name. By adding an ‘ing’ to the first word, you can come up with a catchy title. Some examples of this could be Chasing Rainbows or Dreaming Life Away.
Often, you can spend hours coming up with a title only to have the editor change it after accepting the story for publication. Sometimes the new title will make little sense to you. While you may think your title is perfect, the editor knows the publication’s readers well and may think the alternative is a better choice. And while this may irk your ego, knowing the story will be published is its own reward.
However you come up with the title to your short story, remember it is the first impression the editor will have about your writing abilities. Like the logline to a screenplay or the first paragraph of a novel, the title should represent the story they are about to read. At the end of the day, you want the editor to remember your story and place it in the ‘accepted for publication’ stack on their desk.