Why Good Titles Are Important

In honor of me having to turn a Shakespeare paper in pretty soon, along with turning in several different papers by the end of the semester, I am going to stress the importance of a good title and why “Untitled” or “No Title” or no indication that you haven’t come up with a title is ineffective.

This has all just recently stemmed from my psyche. I took two writing workshop classes this semester, and I was floored at how many people did not title their work! These writing workshops weren’t anything entirely stressful – that I thought, anyway – as they stemmed from each student’s imagination. Everyone had full writing rights, there were no boundaries that the teacher set, and yet with some of these really cool ideas, these students did not have titles on their stories. Is it so difficult to think of a title for something you wrote without any restrictions?

Conversely, there are students who turned in their stories and their titles were entirely pointless. Titles that don’t offer anything to the reader are as bad as a limp noodle. No one wants that. So how does one decide what to title their story? Many of my critiques in the courses were geared to how the title – or lack thereof – wasn’t representing the story well or gave away too much.

I am unsure if anyone in the classes I took will check this, so I’ll leave names anonymously. I am not trying to rustle any feathers, but just trying to use some examples of a good title, ineffective title, or lack of title.

For a good title, you want it to be striking, yet elusive all at the same time. You do not want to give away what will happen in your story – or paper – right from the beginning. Well thought out titles can grab a reader, and entice them to know what you are writing about. For instance, one of the best titled stories in the classes was “Slaughtering the Hog.” It sounds morbid, you’re interested, it’s not too lengthy, and when the content is read, it aligns perfectly with this title. I will spare the details of the story, but it was a very effective title that was very referential within the story, but not too much to where it was overbearing.

I have a few examples of ineffective titles. At the top of my list is “A Torturous Diary”, it is too blatantly obvious that this is not only a diary, but that it is apparently “torturous.” Well, it did prove to be torturous…torturous to read! The format of the story flowed strangely and the set up of a diary fell short for me. I was anticipating a diary format when I began reading, and there was nothing surprising or exciting within the story. A more elusive title would have been more effective, especially omitting the word diary from the title. Another ineffective title I found was “Hopeless Innocence.” Now, it sounds like it’s a pretty decent title, right? Wrong! In summation, her story is about a girl who was raped and kills herself. This title is a dead giveaway for what has happened in the story and what will occur at the end. Subtlety would work well here with a very low-key title.

Then there are the people who didn’t add a title at all! After reading the story, I am sometimes grasping for straws at what the author intended for me to get out of their story. I can think of several things to title their story! This is just a poor reflection back on the author, that they couldn’t take the time to come up with a title at all. Even a meager title is better than no title. What was worse for me was that some of the stories that had no titles were the best ones. One was about a serial killer and he had an interesting way of keeping track of the people he killed by numbering them. A simple title the author could have added could be, “Numbers” and it is effective and shows a character trait of the narrator. Without a title, the reader is left to wonder. Is there something more to be getting from the story? Are there any messages that need to be conveyed?

As far as an effective title, I’d like to point out the titles I used for my short stories. The first one is called, “Airplanes” because it is about a kid going on an airplane for a visit from his dad. The visit proves how much the kid hates airplanes and their whole concept. The second title I used is called, “Revelry,” because it is a coming of age party for the people on the planet Farnyn and well, I won’t spoil it! Finally, my third story was an extension from the first and the title is “Dweller” because it is about what happens to Schuyler (my main character in my book I am writing), but yet again from a different perspective.

I do hope my advice isn’t too blunt, but these issues I noted – of good, poor, and no title – barely crack the surface. Need help titling your story? Want someone to do line edits for you? Would you like to be given a full on critique of your story, constructive criticisms that tell you where to improve what is working for you, and even throw in some grammar corrections.

If you have anywhere between 10-25 pages of a story, please contact me and if I have time, I’ll give it a critique and line edits! harperj@me.com

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One thought on “Why Good Titles Are Important

  1. Pingback: Discovering the names of novels « Write on the World

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