What’s in a title?

Last week, during a virtual reading of my novel, someone asked, “Did you come up with the title first or after you finished writing?” My reply was, that in this particular case, I had the title long before I put pen to paper. However, this is not always the case. Often, the title for a piece can be elusive and can require quite a lot of thought. I’ve experienced both scenarios. Needless to say, I prefer the former.

When I was fourteen, I wrote a story simply for my own enjoyment. The title popped into my head at the very beginning of my endeavor. I submitted the piece for my senior high English class three years later. During my Freshman year of college, I revamped the story and used it again for an English class. In my Junior year, I submitted it again for a creative writing course I was taking. Most recently, I dragged it out once more, dusted it off and updated it for a Halloween anthology submittal. The editor liked the story and made a few suggestions that I readily accepted. Then came the surprise.

“You need to think about changing the title.”

“Really?” I replied. The title was something that I had never considered changing. “Why?” I asked.

“It gives away too much of the story.”

I had never thought of that, but he was right. The title did divulge more than it should. Now, the question was, “What was a good alternative?”

I was at a loss. I was so comfortable to the existing title that I could not see beyond it. I finally tossed the ball back into the editor’s court. With his help, I finally arrived at a more suitable title, and the story was published in the anthology.

Titles can be tricky, and I don’t really have a pat formula for choosing one. If one of you does, please let me know.

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