By Any Other Name

by Kay Springsteen

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

~Juliet/Romeo and Juliet (William Shakespeare)

When do you choose the title for your fiction? Does it come first and then you build the story around the words on the cover? Does it come to you partway through what you’re writing? Do you sometimes find yourself worrying that title to death? According to Juliet, a rose is a rose no matter what it’s called. But when it comes to the title of your book, you have a handful of words to capture someone’s interest. Frankly, if someone had named a rose “crap,” I’m not sure I’d be as inclined to press my nose into those pretty petals and inhale deeply.

The title of the book has to be engaging, informative, and, ah…original? But…there are only so many “pretty” words out there! I’m lucky to have a writing partner who is a title genius. So even on the things we do NOT co-author, I can go to her and hit the button for automatic title generator and soon out pops the perfect title. For my October 2011 release, Heartsent, which is about a surprise miracle, I wanted a title that would fit in with my Heart Stories – which is a series I’m constructing that may or may not have related characters but always there will be love and some sort of miraculous type occurrence. Heartsight is about a blind man who “saw” a young mother and her mentally challenged child a little differently. I wanted a title that would tell in one word what the book was about – something that the readers would “get” once they got into the story. I originally had Heartcries – thinking heart, sadness, baby. And that would have been just as descriptive. But something didn’t feel quite ritht. Bbecause the baby comes to this girl in a particularly special way and at a special time, my writing partner, Kim Bowman, said “It’s like the baby was sent…Heartsight…Heartsent.” As soon as she said this, I knew that was the title.

Other titles have come to us in different ways. Now, finding the perfect title that’s original and not cliche has become a challenge for many since we can’t all write Pride and Prejudice or the next Old Man and the Sea. Once a title is taken, is it fair to write your own story and use the same title? Do you really want to? So how do YOU choose the titles for your books?


10 responses to “By Any Other Name

  1. Honestly? 🙂 I think up a few and then I do an amazon search to see if they’ve been used. If so, I pick one that hasn’t or that has only been used once… I learned this trick 8 months or so into writing, I think.

  2. Often I will come up with a story theme then from those ideas the title just comes to me.

  3. The only one of the seven completed novel ms. titles which I knew on at or near the beginning of the writing process … was my second novel. Hid Wounded Reb. Part of that story was based on a real-life incident which happened to my wife’s ancestors during the Civil War … right here, about 500 ft from where we’re living now.
    My first novel has two titles: one for the first (rather awful) version and another for the completely overhauled story. Both came to me as the writing was pretty far along. My other five novel ms. had titles which popped into my head sometime during the writing journey. Most began with ‘working titles’ that were quite different.

  4. Interesting questions. As a writer, I’m never fully at home with a work in progress until it has a title that captures the theme’s essence. The title of my contemporary mystery, “Trophies,” refers to the little items taken by a criminal as souvenirs from the victim; it’s amazing how many murderers take jewelry and give it to their significant other, for example. That title came to me about halfway through the first rough draft, when the theme was already set. But the title of “Deal with the Devil,” my World War II mystery, was chosen before the rough draft began, when the theme and plotline were still fluid. The original plot became a subplot and an entirely new and different plotline developed to enlarge on the title’s suggested theme.

    So Kim’s that good with titles, huh? Thanks for the tip. Oh, Ki-im. . . .

  5. Calle J. Brookes

    It really depends on the book. I have a romantic suspense trilogy that the titles all one word and begin with the same letter and end in -ing. But each word fits the specific events in the book. I also have a paranormal series and the titles sort of sprung up from the plot. Some from the very beginning chapter others from the ending. I’m not real consistent in titling…

  6. J G Grey took the words right out of my mouth. Now that we know Kim Bowman is the ‘go to’ person for titles, she’ll be innundated with requests.

  7. Sometimes I come up with a title first and then the plot follows. Sometimes I start a story with a working title and change it halfway through when the title doesn’t really fit anymore (That happened with The Parting Gift — it used to be All is Fair).
    I like to be original, so I would much rather have a title which hasn’t been used, but I don’t have a problem using lines from poems which would be well known if it fits right.

  8. Sometimes the title comes to me before the story does and sometimes it’s like pulling teeth. I have a great critique group and we bounce ideas off one another. Occasionally we get a little silly. One of the suggestions for Hauntings of the Heart was Cluck, Cluck, Boo.

  9. LOL! Thanks, Kay. And I’m like Gunnar, I don’t feel like the MS is “real” until I have a title. I always (ok, 99% of the time – KAY!) have the idea/title first. Now, interestingly enough, the title to my first novella is not even close to what I started with. Once the cover was created by our own Elaina Lee, she wasn’t crazy about the title and so a whole new one evolved:) And, honestly, I find it easier to help others with titles rather than my own:)

  10. Writing a story without having a title is not easy for me, either. My most recent one had no title until the end and I found it difficult to remain centered during the writing. In most cases the characters provide the title, including my WIP, which does have a well known title else-where. Not something I normally approve of.

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