Whether you're writing non-fiction, or fiction, titles are important. Yes, an editor can change a title to one they think is better, but the one you choose is the one the editor sees - and he/she is the person whose attention you want to grab! So, time invested in a title isn't wasted.
Take a Break's Fiction Feast magazine has stories that it classifies as Tale with a Twist, Put Your Feet Up, Spine Chiller, One from the Heart, and Love Story. Here are the titles (in italics) for the stories for each section of the March 2012 issue:
- Tale with a Twist: I Can See The Future, Mummy; Drama on the Balcony; My Secret Valentine; The Baby Problem; Who Needs Taking Care Of?; One Night At the Movies
- Put Your Feet Up: Tumbling out of love;
- Spine Chiller: Destination Terror; You Belong To Me Now;
- Put Your Feet Up: Not A Happy Shopper; Smile, Smile, Smile; What Goes Around;
- One from the Heart: A Shed full of Secrets; On the Seashore
- Love Story: A Good Judge of Character; The Love Spell
Look at how the titles emphasize the story's theme. Destination Terror and You Belong To Me Now clearly suggest they deal with some quite terrifying situations or characters. Whereas Smile, Smile, Smile puts a smile on your face and tells you that this is a story you can relax with.
The style and tone of a publication is frequently reflected in the titles it chooses for its features, or stories, so it's useful to try to emulate this in your own title. In the weekly Take a Break magazine, (issue 26th January 2012), the following titles appeared:
- I'm putting you up for sale, Aaron!
- He showed me NO MERCY.
- Sue's big FAT bucket list
- The baby who bounced.
- My face is ON FIRE!
- My kitten was COOKED
The sensational style comes across in many of these, and the use of capital letters for emphasis is interesting too: NO MERCY, FAT, ON FIRE and COOKED.
Whereas, Country Living magazine (March 2012) has the following titles:
- The Otter
- Patterns and Pins
- AHEAD of the HERD
- Fleeting Visions
- A Sense of Style
- In the midst of magnolias
- Rustic rewards in Cornwall
Notice how these titles are calming and relaxing, compared to Take a Break's.
However, despite the difference in style and tone between the two publications, there are also several similarities the two magazine's titles share. For example, for some titles, simply tell the reader what the article is about is enough: The baby who bounced (TaB), The Otter (CL).
Alliteration, the repetition of a particular sound, or first letter, is popular title choice too. My kitten was cooked (kitten, cooked) My face is on fire (face, fire) The baby who bounced (baby, bounced) - all in TaB, and Patterns and Pins (patterns, pins), A Sense of Style (Sense, Style), Rustic rewards in Cornwall (rustic, rewards), In the midst of magnolias (midst, magnolias) all in CL.
Quotes can make great titles, especially if they encapsulate the essence of your piece. An article I wrote about the Royal Yacht Britannia I decided to title as A Country House at Sea because that's the phrase Queen Elizabeth used when she was involved in designing its interior.
Song titles, proverbs, sayings, can all provide inspiration for possible titles. In fact, you might find playing about with other people's titles as a useful way of generating a new title, and a new idea. At a short story workshop, we were asked to change film titles, replacing one word with a similar sounding word. So, instead of Judgment Day we came up with Judgment Drey. As a group, we plotted a story about a small brewery who were going to replace their Shire horse and cart with a white van, unless the staff could come up with a reason why the Shire horse shouldn't be retired. On the day the judgment was going to be taken, heavy rain flooded the local village, which meant no cars and vans could get through ... but a Shire horse and cart could! And all that came about from simply playing around with the words in the title.
Titles are your sales banners. They need to catch your reader's attention and encourage them to read the first paragraph of your piece (so that your excellent writing in your first paragraph will hook them into the rest of your piece). They won't reach that fist paragraph, if the title doesn't grab their attention. If you've put a lot of effort into your work, remember that it's worth putting the same amount of effort into your title too. That first reader, the editor, is your most important reader.