The (Second) Hardest Part of Your Story Writing Process

I feel your pain.
I feel your pain.

You know, writing your 80,000 word story is easy. It’s fun, too. We author types love doing the writing, the creation, the tale spinning.

Writing your blurb? Now, that’s  hard work.

And coming up with a good title? That’s practically impossible!

Readers don’t know this, but authors sure do. I was reading a post by my author friend Jessica Marie Baumgertner – she’ll be featured here soon – and she was lamenting the same thing!

How do you come up with a title for your book? Usually, when I’m plowing through, some word or phrase jumps out at me. At least I sure hope it does, because if it doesn’t I’m really screwed. I think that’s where a lot of you end up, too. Pantsers, beware!

Something will come to me. Probably.
Something will come to me. Probably.

The more I talk to authors, the more I find out it’s almost luck of the draw; they’re hoping something inspires them. Meanwhile, they just call their WIP… something.

Have you seen the names people give their works in progress? They’re awful!

Hopefully, something will jump out at them as they write. That’s a BIG hope!

 

WHY is coming up with a title so hard?

Actually, I think I know.

When you write your 80,000 words (or 100,000 in my case), you have 80,000 words to make your point. It’s a different skill set to create a blurb that’s 500 or 250 words designed to get a shopper to become a buyer, and we struggle with picking which of the 80,000 get to be in the blurb. They all deserve it, after all. But only a few will make the cut. Just the best, the most important ideas are blurbworthy.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaauuugh!!!
Aaaaaaaaaaaaauuugh!!!

That means the pressure is really on if a title is only going to have three or four words. We can always change a blurb. A title is pretty much permanent.

Oh, the pressure, of a name…

I’ve talked about this before, but here’s how I came up with a few of my titles.

Savvy Stories” was basically stories about a little girl whose nickname is Savvy. That sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? It wasn’t at the time, though. “The Daddy Diaries” was in the running (it was taken, and the word “diaries” was way too overused at the time). Another horrible name was “My Awful Three Years Without Sleep.” I like to think that wasn’t really a possible title.

Plus it has bright colors!
Plus it has bright colors!

The Navigators” was a little harder. College students find a time machine and they realize they don’t actually pilot it anywhere, they just set the coordinates – and one character says “We’re the navigators.” That works on two levels, because they had yet to really set a direction for their lives until events in the story force them to. Prior to that, the working title was The Fantastic Five. Because there were five characters. Shudder.

Poggibonsi” is a horse of a different color. It’s the city in Italy where a large portion of the story takes place in this romantic comedy. I had the name about five minutes after I had the story idea, which came to me on the way home from our vacation in Italy in March 2015. That’s all fine, but nobody knows what the heck a Poggibonsi is. It’s hard to pronounce (in the story, the assistant has to tell the MC how to say it).

The sexy legs may indicate a little about what's inside, too...
The sexy legs may indicate a little about what’s inside, too…

But once you hear it, you pretty much can’t forget it.

I hope.

(Check out two sample chapters of Poggibonsi, HERE)

I learned that from Arnold Schwarzenegger (among other things). He was doing an interview and they asked him why he didn’t use an acting name. He gave that as the reason. Once you hear it, you pretty much can’t forget it. Poggibonsi. You sure don’t confuse it with a book of a similar name because there are none.

It also has a helpful subtitle. The full name is Poggibonsi: an Italian misadventure. That is there solely to explain what the word “Poggibonsi” doesn’t – which is what the story’s about. In fact, if it wasn’t called Poggibonsi, it would have been called “The Italian Assistant.”

Yawn.

So, Poggibonsi it is.

I don't love it.
I don’t love it.

I asked my critique partners and some beta readers about the name Poggibonsi, and they all said basically the same thing: it didn’t sound like a great name at first, but it grew on them. They have since nicknamed it Poggi, which is cute. (Note to self: add that to the key words and metadata for the SEOs.)

So while every author is challenged with this titling dilemma, there ought to be a simple way to come up with great titles. After all, there are formulas to come up with your blurb; why not your title?

The title needs to sum up the story, right? If it can?

The Water Castle, a fantasy romance, takes place in and around a castle on a river. The MC as a child calls it that after seeing an old stone water tower out the window of the car one day, and she asks if it’s a castle. Her father plays along and says it is. As a teenager, she is drawn to it on the 10th anniversary of his death, and her fantasy story begins. It seems sweet to use the name she called it as a child, and what her deceased father let her think it was.

Not good
Not good

But honestly, it sounds a lot like The Water Closet, and that’s not good. Totally different meaning.  Sales may be weak in Great Britain. But for that one, I also had the title about five minutes into writing the story.

And while The Water Castle and Poggibonsi may not immediately let you know what the stories are about, what title really does?

What did Harry Potter mean before there was a book called Harry Potter?

Nothing.

What did Jurassic Park mean before there was a book called Jurassic Park?

Nothing.

What did Jaws mean before there was a book called Jaws?

Nothing.

Maybe a trip to the orthodontist, but that’s about it.

The list goes on.

Schindler’s List? Tells you nothing.

Rocky? Nothing.

Star Wars? Less than nothing, because you actually wonder what stars are fighting. Could be a paparazzi dustup. Alec Baldwin going, well, Alec Baldwin on somebody.

You had to get an explanation about a wizard boy or a shark or whatever. THEN, the title changed the meaning of the words. And the explanation of the story was what made that happen.

Simplicity = GOOD
Simplicity = GOOD

A short, simple, easy to say explanation.

So, when you encapsulate your story down to its essence for your blurb, and try to make the diamond out of that lump of coal to become its title, take a deep breath and think up a sentence that the story’s about. That’s really what you need to do.

That’s my process. What’s yours?

How do you come up with your titles?

Feel free to share your title-birthing experience AND your horrible Work-In-Process name!

.

Your humble host.
Your humble host.

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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.” Check out his other works HERE

25 thoughts on “The (Second) Hardest Part of Your Story Writing Process

  1. Great article, Dan! Been struggling a bit with the title of my WIP. Hopefully when it is complete I’ll be able to come up with the perfect title for it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We should probably let people post their synopsis here and let other people suggest titles or something. There’s gotta be a better way.

      I have two friends who have WIPs with just awful titles. They’ll come up with something good by the end of the story but the working titles are ugly and I’m always afraid they’ll stick!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I like titles that sound different and aren’t overused in their genre. Won’t believe how many books I have come across about vampires that had the word “Bitten” or “Blood” somewhere in the title lol

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Coming up with a title was rough. Every time I thought of something “great,” it was already taken. frown, grimace, keep working on it. When I finally got a title, I was so paranoid someone would use it before I could that I wouldn’t tell anyone until it was registered with it’s own ISBN to me. Laughing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is a great point!

      Lots of authors think they can’t use a title if it has already been used (and let’s face it, you may end up selling a lot of books for somebody else, so be careful), but in movies they do it all the time. The Rock has been used like 3 or 4 times! They just put The Rock 1978 or The Rock 1985 next to it.

      I feel if a title is (A) more than a few years old or (B) didn’t sell well, doesn’t have a lot of reviews, isn’t by somebody famous, then it’s fair game to be used again – and YOUR name will be on it instead of Jane Doe, so readers will know what they’re buying.

      The Water Castle was already used a few years ago. I’m thinking it’s full official name will be “Dan Alatorre’s The Water Castle.” It sounds like an ego trip but it’s really just a way to distinguish my book from the other one.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I realize this piece is about coming up with a title, but your comment about a 250-500-word blurb surprised me. When you say “blurb,” I assume you’re talking about the book description? Richard Ridley recommends a 150-word description: https://www.createspace.com/en/community/docs/DOC-1462

    Either way it’s not easy because you want to talk about all those subplots!

    As for my title, it just came to me one day. The WIP is another story! The Word doc. name for my first book (before changing it to the real title) was just the female protagonist’s name, Catherine. Now my current WIP, a sequel, is “Catherine 2,” lol. Still no clue on what to call it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hear ya, DM. We did an exercise here trying to get a blurb down to 100 words because so many of the ones on Amazon Scout were only 100. It was tough. Fun, but tough. And when you actually know the story and read its 100 word blurb, you are in awe over what’s not represented, but it’s a few very BIG strokes. We did it, though.

      Lots of authors out there hoping that a good title just comes to them! Glad to see your worked out! “The Religion Of The Heart” isn’t exactly “Catherine” though, is it! Big leap.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I spent hours, days, weeks, months agonizing over titles that are highly symbolic and full of double meanings only to find out that they sound ridiculous as soon as I say them out loud. In both cases, my final titles just sort of popped out of my mouth while I was practice pitching my elevator message.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My working title is “This Story Needs a Damn Title.” 😛 That’s seriously what’s on page 1 of my manuscript, haha.

    I’ve been hoping a phrase from the story would jump out at me, as “We are the navigators” did you. I’m not too worried – once I have the book all laid out start to finish I’ll probably have an easier time finding something.

    My first novel’s title is the names of the 2 main characters. Not wildly original, but there’s a ring to it, and I’ve also heard that publishers often change the title anyway so I didn’t want to be too attached.

    Enjoyable post! Thanks for sharing your methods 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “This Story Needs a Damn Title.”

    Awesome. We may need a screen shot.

    I agree, if somebody came up with a better title, I wouldn’t be too hard pressed to go with it – with a few exceptions. Certain stories are near and dear to my heart. I’d have trouble being objective enough about them to actually see the suggested new title as better.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Writing is definitely the EASIEST part of the process. The title THE hardest and even the blurb – a nightmare! My second book is practically all done but I still can’t find a title!!! I have tried and tried but nothing seems to fit. Nightmare! As for the blurb for the story – even bigger nightmare. So here I was planning on releasing my new book early next year, but at this rate, may have to wait till 2020!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Reblogged this on Cassandra Piat and commented:
    Still on a writing lull, so here’s another great article from Dan Alatorre that I’m sharing with you. It’s about finding the title and blurb for a book. For me it’s a complete nightmare! My second book is practically completed but I still can’t find a title. Nightmare. And when I tried to think of a blurb for the book, even bigger nightmare. Anyway, will try to be inspired by Dan’s advice and see how it goes.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh, please. First, you’re sending people here every time you reblog me, so I’m benefitting big time. Second, DO A GUEST POST. One of two things will happen. You will (A) actually write a guest blog post or (B) hate writing it so much that lots of things sound like a good idea for a book. That’s pretty much what happens when I get ready to do my daily run. SO MANY ideas come to me right when I’m supposed to run. It’s amazing. Magic, really.

    People wonder how I’m so prolific. Take up running, mystery solved. “Oh, I hate running.” Me, too. See how that works?

    Check out he interview questions. They’re pretty good. You could get ideas – maybe a good one, but definitely lots of bad ones – there.

    In fact, you were checking them out already, so GET TO ANSWERING THEM and let’s post a fun interview. It’ll be easier to follow than this witty banter between posts. Not more interesting, necessarily, but easier to follow.

    BTW, I’m completely serious about that synopsis/blurb/title thing. We did one or two here and it was extremely helpful.

    Like

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