Dear Writer Revisited: Letter Ten

Baby's Name

Finding a Title for your Story

Hooray!  This couldn't come a moment too soon because I am stupendously, bizarrely, terribly, horribly bad at naming things.

And, as Virginia says, titles must be interesting and must provide an open invitation to read on.  Who is going to buy a book that seems duller than their taxes?  Not me!  The title is key in marketing your book, and if you have a great title, customers will remember it and maybe you when they go to the bookshop.  This prevents horrible situations where your bookseller looks at you down her stylish glasses with a polite mixture of confusion and fatigue when you enter and say "I'm looking for a book but I don't remember the title or the author's name, only that they talked about it on ABC's Books and Arts Daily sometime during May to October."  (Seriously, don't do that.  Booksellers are excellent people but we are not genies.)

2 word titles have a nice rhythm to them and are often quite fun to say.  Take Helen Garner's title Monkey Grip which is emotionally evocative and provides a neat metaphor for the story itself.  Long titles will often present themselves during the body of the story, and are more common in short fiction.

Also responsible for the wonderful but enigmatic title "The Children's Bach"

Writing Exercise 11

A list of some of the best titles I can see whilst sitting at my desk

Whisky Charlie Foxtrot
What Is Left Over, After
Elsewhere in Success
The Wonderbread Summer
The Shining Girls
Burial Rites

Character names can also be quite tricky.  Virginia suggests the following approaches

* telephone books
* baby name books
* google

I would like to add to this list

* people on Twitter
* people who turn up as "people you may know" on Facebook (obviously don't use their full name, gosh.)

This was a great chapter full of the classic "Keep it Simple" approach to deep writing.


  1. Thanks Emily! I always liked the title of my first book too, if I'm allowed to say that. I thought the publisher would change it, as it is a bit long winded, but they didn't, much to my surprise. Given that both of my book titles have been long ones, I'm thinking of going short for my next book.

  2. Glen Hunting9/20/2013 6:43 am

    Ms. Garner actually didn't come up with 'The Children's Bach.' She took it from a music book i.e. a book with Bach pieces in it intended to be learnt and played by children.

    In the same way, Eliot Perlman's wonderful 'Seven Types of Ambiguity' gets its name from a seminal work of literary theory by William Empson, which figures heavily in the story. But it's such a great title, and so evocative (for me) of Perlman's tragic tale.

    PS Recheck Natasha's last blog comments if you haven't already ;)


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