Why I Suck At Coming Up With Titles

by Stefan Slater

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It’s an issue that’s plagued me since my days at the college paper–coming up with headlines and titles that don’t suck.

The opener is so very important–I mean, it’s the first thing people see when they check out your writing. The headline and that first sentence are like the initial punches in a boxing match; you can’t start off tip-tap-tapping away at your opponent, you really have to knock them flat right from the get go.

Nonfiction is a little easier–all you really have to do is convey the most important info (a why-does-this-even-matter sort of thing, e.g. Dog Takes To The Sky After Accidentally Turning On Jet Pack). Once that’s done, I usually just try tweaking things accordingly until I have something that sounds halfway decent, e.g. “See Spot Fly” or “Jet Packs and Dogs Don’t Mix” or “Ground Control To Major Fido”. Ok, that’s the best I could do on such short notice, please don’t judge.

But it’s completely different with fiction. If I don’t have something set aside right from the beginning (and, come on, when does that ever happen?), then I usually flounder, or I wait until I have the whole thing done before settling on a title (i.e. stick with a “working title” and then come up with something better).

Oftentimes, I like the “noun and noun” title, as in “The Dog and the Jetpack.” Or, I like to go with the title-in-the-text approach, where I say a certain phrase in the text that ends up being the title, like, for instance, in Game of Thrones–I remember the first time that I heard a character say, “play the Game of Thrones,” I practically giggled like an eight-year-old hyped up on pixy sticks.

Any way, do you have any tips for crafting awesome headlines or story titles? Bonus if you somehow tie it back to jet packs and dogs… that seems to be somewhat of a running theme today. And with that said: