Even if you haven’t finished writing a novel yet, it’s never too early to think about how to title the book. The right title can even inform your writing and help you come up with new ideas for your book as you draft. And, as someone famously said, the title may be the only words of your writing than anyone ever reads—so choose wisely!
In short, brainstorming book titles can be a fun and worthwhile exercise, and give you something to call your book beyond “WIP” or “this novel is totally going to be awesome.” Here are ten strategies you can use to start brainstorming.
1. Your protagonist’s name
This approach to titling a novel is straightforward and even a bit old-fashioned: think of Jane Eyre, Tristram Shandy, or Ethan Frome. But you can also find a fresh new spin on your protagonist’s name by adding an object or an action, like Bridget Jones’s Diary or Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. These titles work well if you’re writing a character-driven book, because, well, they put the character front and center. If your book spans several years of the character’s life, or is even an entire fictional biography or family saga, this may be a good approach for you.
2. An important place in the book
Although this method for titling a book is also a bit vintage-sounding (think Wuthering Heights), it’s also cropping up in more contemporary works (think Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children or The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls). A place-name title implies a kind of class and caché, so it’s a good choice for books that are either literary or high-concept. (Writing a fantasy novel? Fantasy language is important, and so are place names, so give this one a try.)
3. A resonant, unusual phrase from your book
This kind of title works well for literary works that have exquisite and precise language use. The phrase you use as the title should grow in meaning and resonance throughout the book—think of Tell the Wolves I’m Home—so don’t necessarily go fishing for it; if your book is suited to this kind of title, you probably already have a phrase leaping out to use.
4. The title of a song that inspires you
Generally speaking, song titles aren’t copyrightable (but song lyrics are, so don’t put those in the book). Kristan Higgins’s book Fools Rush In, for example, is named after a song that is both a romantic classic and suggests the content of the book: it’s funny, but romantic. If a particular song has inspired your book, consider snagging the title and sharing it.
5. A line from Shakespeare, an epic poem, a religious text, etc. that evokes the sense of your book
If you’re writing a literary fiction novel, this title method could lend your book an elevated status by association with one of the greats. All kinds of novels use snippets of well-known texts as titles: Brave New World, The Sound and the Fury, Band of Brothers, The Grapes of Wrath, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Sun Also Rises…the list goes on. You can search the internet for phrases that fit with your book—just make sure it isn’t already a book title!
6. X & Y titles
Two elements united with a simple “and” can make a lovely title: think Pride & Prejudice or Sense & Sensibility. The two words don’t have to start with the same letter or sound, of course, but it does add another level of poetry to the phrase. Don’t pick two words for your title that are similar; go with two that are linked, but different, to create contrast and intrigue in the mind of the reader.
7. Three-Element Title
The next step up from the two-word title is the three-word title. Often called “the rule of threes” in copywriting, this structure uses two ordinary list items, then one unexpected and/or longer list item that breaks the pattern: look at Eat, Pray, Love; Love, Lies, and Lemon Pies; The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; Sex, Lies, and Videotape; and Guns, Germs, and Steel.
8. The _________’s Daughter
It’s well-documented that “wife” and “daughter” titles are not only cliché, but downright sexist. However! They still trend, and they still create titles for women’s fiction that promise the reader a certain kind of reader experience. You can swap in “apprentice” or “assistant” for “daughter” for a stronger option: think The Beekeeper’s Apprentice or The Magician’s Assistant.
9. A pun about the content of your book
Pun titles work especially well if you’re titling a mystery novel: think High Strung or Knot What You Think. If you’re writing a cozy mystery series, your setting or protagonist will probably lend themselves to great puns that you can use to title a whole host of books.
10. A single word title
Single word titles are evocative and spare in the way that only a single word can be. Because of their relative brevity, they work well if you’re wondering how to title a thriller novel, mystery novel, or literary fiction novel. Try an adjective, a noun, and a verb that all sum up the action, feeling, or character of your book, and play around to find the one that’s most appropriate. One caveat: since it’s just a single word, the odds that someone’s already snagged that title are pretty high (of course, two books can have the same title, but it will hurt your book’s SEO and searchability).
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