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Pick a winning title for your novel, memoir or screenplay

How often are you attracted to a book by its title? Your title is a chance to capture a reader’s attention (not to mention an agent’s or editor’s).

Consider this guide as you settle on a title for your novel, memoir, or short story.

Double meanings can work. But look out for clichés, and make sure the meaning is what you intend and not too obscure or clever. The title of the movie, “The King’s Speech,” could mean the publicly important speech that King George delivers at the end or his speech — his way of speaking. It works.

Think about the tone and voice of your book. A powerful title will match the style of writing readers find on the pages of your book.

Be memorable. The title needs to be descriptive enough to give readers a sense of what the book is about or pique their curiosity. A good title will echo your story’s meaning or theme. Avoid being too generic. Will the title hold even deeper meaning when the reader turns the last page? Some writers pick a phrase from their manuscript or draw fragments of a quotation or snippets from other literature.

J.D. Salinger pulled the title, The Catcher in the Rye, from a scene in which protagonist Holden Caulfield is talking to his sister Phoebe about the poem “Comin Thro the Rye,” by Robert Burns. Holden has misinterpreted the poem and thinks it reads, “catcher in the rye.” Holden has formed a mental picture of himself saving children, who are playing in a field of rye, and inadvertently run over the edge of a cliff. He tells Phoebe that this is the only job in which he can imagine himself finding happiness.

Once you’ve finished revising your manuscript, double-check that your title still works. Your story may have evolved to the point where the title needs to change. Also, Google your title idea and check Amazon to see if your title would be confused with another book.

Check out these book titles for inspiration:

“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’ Brien –The first chapter describes objects soldiers carried and explores the literal and figurative weight of war, in this case, the Vietnam War.

“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” by Hunter S. Thompson – an autobiographical novel in which the author and his attorney experience Las Vegas in a drug-induced haze.

“Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert – a memoir about a woman who sets out for a year to study three different aspects of her nature in three different cultures.

“Blindness” by Jose Saramago – Residents of a city are struck by an epidemic of blindness.

“Things Not Seen” by Andrew Clements – a young adult novel about a boy who wakes up to find he has become invisible.

“Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters” by Mark Dunn – The story of one girl’s fight for freedom of expression.

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