I haven’t talked all that much about titles on my blog, and they are so important for writers! They make that all-important first impression on agents, editors, and readers.

Coming up with a good title for your novel can be a challenge, and some of us change titles several times before landing on the right one. This is the first in a series about how to come up with a title for your story.

Catchy titles roll off your tongue when someone asks, “What’s it called?” They make people want to read the book.

There are a few formulas out there that are overdone and not particularly versatile. For instance, I’m getting very tired of The ________’s Wife/Daughter: The Time Traveler’s Wife (fun book), The Tiger’s Wife, Galileo’s Daughter (not fiction), The Witch’s Daughter, The Hummingbird’s Daughter (I heard this author speak once and he was very nice), and so on. Enough.

However, I’m going to be sharing basic setups for good book titles that can be taken in countless different ways.

The first in a series of formulas for catchy titles. #writing advice

This first formula says to potential readers, “Hi! You know those stories you really love? This is one of those!” Conveying this message, through the title and/or the cover design, can make a big difference in sales. (If you’re not sure about your genre, you probably need to figure that out. This post might help!)

This particular approach probably isn’t appropriate for mainstream or literary fiction, but other genres, it’s great.

Here’s the basic idea for this title formula:

  1. Choose a word that signals your genre in a clear way.
  1. Add another word or a few words to round it out.

Here are some examples of this type of title:

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, by John Le Carré.

Formulas for Catchy Titles, #1: Scream Your Genre!

It’s a spy novel, and it has “spy” right in the cover.

The Bollywood Bride, Sonali Dev.

Formulas for Catchy Titles, #1: Scream Your Genre

“Bride” is a classic signifier of the romance genre. (Although this is in fact a romance, the type treatment here signals “literary fiction”… maybe the publisher wanted to straddle both?)

A Dance with Dragons, George R.R. Martin.

Formulas for Catchy Titles, #1: Scream Your Genre

“Dragons” screams “fantasy novel.”

Okay, so you get the idea.

Note that if you’re doing a subgenre, the title may address just one part of the subgenre. A lot of paranormal romance titles, for instance, have paranormal-sounding titles and signal the romance part with the cover design.

You may worry about using an “expected” word in your title, but using it with an unexpected word or phrase will turn it all around.

Are you wondering what some of the words are that signify your genre? How about I give you a few sample lists for fantasy, romance, and mystery/thriller? These lists aren’t comprehensive by a long shot, but they might help you think of other “genre words.”

WORDS THAT SCREAM “FANTASY”

blade

sword

shield

stone

quest

adventure

spell

curse

prophecy

fate

destiny

tale

chronicle

legend

saga

age

magic

dragon

beast

land

earth

realm

fire

light

wind

mist

sea

battle

king

queen

knight

crown

castle

tower

cave

god

goddess

hero

witch

wizard

sorcerer

mage

priestess

maiden

warrior

elf/elves

immortal

mortal

any mysterious occupation name: “keeper,” “seeker,” “rider,” etc.

 

WORDS THAT SCREAM “ROMANCE”

A few of these are specific to historical romance, and some of them are most appropriate for steamy romance.

love

heart

kiss

embrace

fall/falling

date/dating

affair

tryst

fling

scandal/scandalous

passion

pleasure(s)

sex/sexy

wicked

sin/sinful

wild

hot/heat

tempt/temptation

seduce/seduction

courting/courtship

devoted/devotion

obsessed/obsession

promise

lover

bride

groom

wife

husband

lady

gentleman

man

woman

wedding

marriage

beauty/beautiful

lovely

sweet

night/tonight/midnight

always

forever

his

hers

my/mine

yours

you

me

two

together

any name that identifies a main character and the romance subgenre: cowboy, vampire, duke, etc.

(For a steamy romance, my list of words for love scenes also contains some words that can scream the genre.)

 

WORDS THAT SCREAM “MYSTERY” and/or ‘THRILLER”

kill/killer

murder

fatal

die

death

dead/deadly

grave

blood

bone

clue

evidence

proof

suspect/suspicion

profile

files

justice/injustice

law

guilt/guilty

innocent/innocence

crime

victim

trial

case

jury

lies

deception

hide/hidden

underground

false

true/truth

danger/dangerous

trouble

extreme

total

final

beyond

target

prey

revenge

pursuit

chase

hunt

escape

fire

burn/burning

again, any name that identifies a character and the mystery or thriller subgenre, such as lawyer, detective, enemy, or agent

(You might find more words that scream “thriller” in my list of words for action scenes in Master Lists for Writers.)

~

Don’t like this particular way of coming up with a title? No worries! I’ve got several more on their way. If you’re not following the blog, you should do that so you won’t miss the others – there’s a place you can sign up on the lefthand side of the page.

Do you ever change your title a lot? Or does the perfect title come naturally to you? I’d love to hear in the comments! Happy writing!