Most writers don’t understand the roles played by a good title. So I will start by enumerating the functions of a title.
Functions of a title
1) It predicts content.
2) It reflects the slant of the literary work.
3)It catches the readers’ interest.
So a typical title should perform all the functions listed above.
Now, the real issue with titling is how to choose titles that suit our literary work.
It’s quite a task for writers to pick a title for their works. This may pose a great problem to the writer, since most times the titles of literary works don’t seem to do justice to the theme of the work.
But I am happy to announce to writers that there are ways to avoid the frustration that accompanies picking a title.
There are two ways a writer can pick titles:
1) Getting inspiration from the literary work.
2) Getting inspiration from external sources.
1) Drawing inspiration from the literary work: This actually involves the writer selecting the title from central parts of his work. This involves four different methods.
a) Drawing inspiration from central theme: The writer uses the central/ major theme of a story as a source for his title. If the central theme of a story is war, he can title his work “Blood and Gore”, “Point Action”, “Code of Honour”. If the theme is corruption, you can title your book “Citizens of the Hill”, “Anarchy”.
B) Picking inspiration from a line, sentence or even a word in the book: You may pick a catchy phrase or word from your short story as your title. For example, Things fall apart by Chinua Achebe, ” Sizwe Bansi is dead”( can’t remember the author), ” the beautiful ones are not yet born”, Half of a yellow sun by Chimamanda Adichie.
C) Picking titles from major settings in the story: Many writers pick titles from the major settings/ locations featured in their stories. Examples are; “On Bear Mountain” by Deborah Smith, “Gray Mountain” by John Grisham, “London Bridge is falling down” by James Patterson.
D) Based on a pivotal moment in the story: Writers tend to derive their titles from pivotal moments in the story. Examples; “About Last Night” and so on.
E) Using the name of Main characters: You can make the name of your main character the title of your story, especially when you are dealing with superheroes and greek heroes. Eg: ” Hercules”, ” Sherlock Holmes” etc.
2) Inspiration from external sources
A) Research: it involves taking inventory of every detail of the story, making research on places and locations mentioned. Objects are not also left out. The peculiarities about such things may serve as a title for your story.
B) Checking the titles of other books with a similar storyline and picking out the best.
C) Using allusion: Take a phrase from an external source that speaks along the same line as your write-up. Most times you have to get permission from the creator of the former literary work.
RULES FOR TITLING
We have studied how writers get titles for their stories. Today, we will be looking at the pros and cons of titling. There are several factors that influence the act of titling. These factors are the foundation upon which the rules for titling are built on. So we will highlight these determining factors. They are;
A) The target audience: When writing a book, there is always a particular group in the society that is targeted. Publications are titled based on how suitable it is for the audience. The target audience could be age group, ethnic group, religious groups or even professions. A psychology book that is written for psychologists might be titled with a psychological jargon. Also, a medical journal for cystic fibrosis may be titled “Aetiology of Cystic Fibrosis”. For the age group audience, a children’s book is expected to have a simple and captivating title. Imagine, an adventure book for children titled “iceberg”? Most Nigerian kids won’t flow with it. For the youths, an author/ writer can apply deep titles. Like, “Wish You Well” by David Baldacci, “Life Expectancy” by Dean Koontz, “Watchers” by Dean Koontz, “A Man Of The People” by Chinua Achebe, “The New Man”.
B. Literacy level of the Society: This matters a lot. If a society has a low literacy level, then titles of stories for all age groups have to be in simple unambiguous words. The title of a book tells you a lot about the book. If you need a dictionary just to understand the title of a book, then reading the book will be a torture.
C) The Genre of the Story: Now, you have to consider the genre of the story. A tragic novel shouldn’t have a funny title, otherwise the reader might consider the story depressing. A passive love novel shouldn’t have a really hot title, like “Fire of Passion” because the content of the story will be like downhill ride into anticlimax. A comedy novel shouldn’t have a tragic title like “Streams of Blood” A melodrama most likely always have the name of the melodramatic character as title.
So from here, I will move into the rules of titling.
1) Create a genre-appropriate title. If you choose a title that sounds like it belongs in one genre while the actual content of the story belongs in another, you’ll not potential readers, you may alienate them.
For example, if your title sounds distinctly fantasy-esque, like “The Dragon of the Old Tower,” but the story is in fact about stockbrokers on Wall Street, you’ll alienate those who pick up your story looking for fantasy and you’ll miss entirely those looking for a story about something modern or about the world of elite finance, etc.
Limit the length. In the majority of cases, titles that are brief but impactful are more successful than those that are long and difficult to remember.
For example, “A Man Travels Around The World” is likely less compelling to potential readers than “Worldwide trips” which is shorter and more imaginative.
Make it interesting. Titles that use poetic language, vivid imagery, or a bit of mystery tend to be alluring to potential readers.
Poetic language in a title, like “A Rose for Emily” or “A Morning For The Flamingos” draws readers with an elegant turn of phrase that promises an equally poetic writing style.
Titles that evoke vivid imagery appeal to readers because they conjure something tangible and meaningful.
Use alliteration sparingly and with caution. Though alliteration–the repetition of successive sounds at the beginning of words–can make a title catchier or more memorable, it can also make it sound trite or hokey if not done well.
Subtle alliteration,like The Count of Monte Cristo, can add appeal to a title.
Obvious or forced alliteration, on the other hand–like “The Guileless Guide of Gullible Gus”–can easily dissuade a potential reader from picking up your story.
Tutorials by Instructor Kolawole Ayodele.