Got a title for your story yet? This is probably one of the hardest things for us writers, trying to capture everything in our books so we can smoosh it down to one name. One word or phrase that not only has to fit the story, but has to interest the reader.
Stress. That’s what this is all about. But once you find that perfect title, the one that totally makes sense and is makes your story feel whole, then it just gives you a label. Not even just for your readers. Instead of thinking in your mind of what you are writing as “My current story” or “That book I’m writing”, it will have a name. Things with names are important.
It’s kind of like your characters. If you have a fully developed character, you’d better be calling them by something. With the exception of The Road, characters that are important get their own labels. Your book is important, so it should have a label.
Yeah, let’s talk about labels. Along with a title, we always come into the problem of labeling our stories. Not just by name, but also by genre and target audience and length. As a writer, I understand the feeling of aggravation when someone asks for labels like that. I know, I know, they just want an idea of what I’m writing, but it’s hard to think about that.
For some stories it is clear. The story is young adult romance. It’s 376 pages long. Then there are stories where I could put it into crime or horror or romance or even tragedy. It’s young adult, but it’s mature enough to be adult. As far as length goes, you don’t really know until you have it formatted for book page sizes. I mean, when someone asks me how long my book is and I say, “Oh, it’s about 118,000 words,” they look at me like I’m crazy. Then they follow up with a reply of either “How many pages is that?” or “Um, yeah… okay.”
So how do we come up with titles and labels for our story? More importantly, we need to remember why. Why label and title? Not only for ourselves, so we can carve out the name of our stories into our own hearts, but for the readers.
Readers are a huge part in the book. More than you think right now, when it’s just you and your book, sitting in a dark room with dirty dishes piling up like a barricade around you. After that stage of writing, you get to toss the thing you poured you heart into out for the world to see. And then it’s not only yours. It’s every single person’s who reads it. Because even though you wrote it, it’s a different kind of story for everyone. A different picture in every pair of eyes.
So let’s start with the title. If you’ve already got one, great. If you don’t, try this: Get a pencil and paper. Draw four columns. Title the first one “Theme”, the second “Plot” and the third one whatever makes your story unique and interesting. The hook. For the fourth, put “Etc.”
Now don’t think about titles. Just go into each column and write down key words or phrases that go with the column. Ideas that are important. Anything that doesn’t fit a column, put in “Etc.” For my book, I had written “Drowning,” under the plot, because it happens in the book. It’s a huge part of the story, physically and metaphorically. Under theme, I wrote “Waiting to see what happens next.” That’s only part of the theme. It’s really only a baby theme… I wouldn’t tell you the main one. You need to read it to find out;)
After this, try to connect these key words. These are the words that will help you find a title that encompasses the entire essence of your story. It frames the story perfectly. If they don’t work for you, find more words. Make more columns. Now that you’ve found some words, don’t worry about thinking up new ideas. Take these words, and now focus on a title that will hook the reader.
I connected two of my bullet points: Drowning and waiting to see what happens next. “Holding My Breath” is what I came up with. I made a huge list. A really, really long one. Holding My Breath was my favorite. I went through this entire process again when I picked up writing this story in NaNoWriMo, or rather rewriting it. I ended up coming back to this title because it was the title I had for the story in my mind, and everyone else thought it was perfect too. The perfect title for my story. It was the label I already had etched in my heart, so to speak, so as I wrote I ended up following it more than I thought.
Unless you are following a title, however, I recommend giving it a title afterwards. That way you can be sure it fits. That’s why I looked for another title after writing the story, even if I ended back up with my original.
Once you’ve gotten down to a small list, take a poll. Go up to people from your target audience and ask them which story they would pick up off a shelf. Narrow it down.
Now for the labels.
Target audience: Honestly, most books are the kind that more than just the target audience reads. If you think your book is one of them, don’t worry. Just think about who will mostly read it, and label it like that. When a reader wants to read a story, they only look at the target audience to get an idea of the maturity of the book.
Graphic sexual or violent scenes? Probably going to end up in Adult. Not adult but has a strong romantic subplot? Probably young adult. Not young adult, but is a chapter book without pictures and deals with real problems (usually sugar coated a bit)? Middle grade. Those are just the common tell-tales of your story, but of course these will vary. If you get an idea of where your book should go, then try to narrow it down.
Genre: Nobody likes pushing their story towards a specific genre. Especially if it seems like your story is kind of half and half. Generally, even though we don’t like it, we go with the genre of the main plot. Even if the subplot is strong. Really strong. And if you think about labeling your story as the genre of the main plot and get angry and think “But there’s so much more to it than just that!”, then you’re headed in the right direction.
The fact that our stories are more than just that one genre means that we are doing something right. We also tend to catch the right readers by aiming our summaries towards the genre of the main plot. By describing the main story but also adding in hints towards the subplot(s) to give the story the illusion of depth. Of course, it isn’t an illusion once you start reading it.
Length: Unless you are in your final draft, and self-publishing so that you need to format it yourself, you don’t need to know the page count. The word count, yes, but not the page count. If someone asks before you are done, just say “I’m not sure yet”. That is, if you don’t feel like explaining the whole word-count thing. Or you can estimate it. The average novel page has 250-300 words, so you can do some math.
Me? No. I’m a writer and for me, words trump division.
But agents and publishers don’t ask for that. They want the word count. So don’t stress about page count just yet. Don’t stress about it ever. Think about your word count instead.
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Thank you for reading, and don’t stop writing!