As I’m working on the rewrite of my WIP, I’m reminded that I have yet to decide a title. With my first novel, The Children’s Field, the title came to me before I had even finished the first draft. And while that story revolves around and even takes place in the field, I was amazed that it felt so right so early into the writing process.
I’ve really struggled with a title for my current WIP, a novelization of my third great grandmother’s life. A few months ago, I sat down with a thesaurus and searched theme keywords and phrases with all intentions of coming up with a title. And then, it happened. I came up with one that I loved, and was appropriate for my themes of regret, death, and redemption: The Wake of Forgiveness.
It was perfect…that is, until I went to Amazon to check against other books. And then I realized why I liked it so much. It was already a title. And it was a title that I had added to my Goodreads account to read. Well, then. Back to square one and a Google search. Below are some helpful tips I found when searching for the best ways to come up with a great title.
1. Read Your Novel
It’s time to turn off your writing mind and read your book. You’ll want to read it as if it’s for the first time. You might catch a phrase or sentence that declares your novel’s intent that you may have missed when writing or editing because you were focused on the specific details. Bonus: by reading your novel, you can check that everything makes sense, that it flows well and catch any little errors that might remain.
2. Ask Others for Help
Is your novel ready to be devoured by others? If your friends and family are willing to be your test readers, let them know that it’s still nameless. Maybe they can help you to see something you may have missed. You’ve been so caught up in all the little details of writing, perhaps the title lies within the bigger picture that a fresh set of eyes will uncover.
3. Look to Other Titles
This is one I do regularly. I mainly read historical fiction novels, so their titles always intrigue me. Whether the titles are one word or names or a set of keywords or phrases, I enjoy trying to figure out how or why the author chose the titles that they did. Make a list of titles that you like from your bookshelf of Amazon or Goodreads. What draws you to those titles? I find I like simple, short titles, generally no more than four words. I also like an adjective or two. Take “The Forgotten Garden”: why was it forgotten? And by who? Instantly, I want to know more.
4. Brainstorm / Create Lists
Lastly, get yourself a large cup of coffee or tea, turn on some soothing music, and sit down with a notebook. Think about your novel. Think about titles that have resonated with you. Create a list of keywords or ideas. Here is a sample list of my WIP. Forgive me if it sounds a little repetitive, (sometimes you have to go around and around only to run into the answer staring you in the face) but this list was literally one I copied when coming up with the title:
Genre: Historical Fiction
Main Characters: Mary Morton (grandmother) | Lillian Hendrickson (granddaughter)
Relationships: Parents, Siblings, Lovers, Husbands, Children
Themes: Death | Dying | Cancer
Repeating Cycles | Breaking Cycles
Regret | Mistakes | Redemption
Kate Morton’s | The Forgotten Garden | The Distant Hours | The Secret Keeper
Susanna Kearsley’s | The Winter Sea | The Shadowy Horses
Laura Moriarty | The Chaperone
Paula Wall | The Wilde Women | The Rock Orchard
Michelle Hoover | The Quickening
From the titles I’ve listed, it’s pretty obvious I like simple titles, ones with three or four, and ones that usually begin with “the”. I’m big on symmetry and since my first novel begins with “the” I would like my WIP to follow suit.
Ultimately, what I want the title to reflect are family secrets creating damaging generational cycles and the bravery required to break free from the cycle. I put a few of these keywords into a thesaurus. Brave: Grit, courage, determination, mettle, heart, resolution. Cycle: circle, revolution.
So i thought about the words I had written.
I love the word grit. It probably has something to do with one of my favorite movies being True Grit
(the original version with John Wayne is the only one, thank you very much!). One of the things I love is that the word can mean so many things: an abrasive material, a firmness of character, to grind or grate together, to make a scratching or grating sound. It’s a word that come to mind when I think about the Mary that lives in my novel created. After searching for words that would work with grit, and putting different words into the thesaurus, this is what I came up with:
The Grit of a Woman
I love it. The words are such contradictions: grit being tough as nails and woman being feminine and delicate. And while the majority of the story is Mary telling Lillian of their family’s past, I feel that the title could fit either woman. They both have strength and determination, it’s just that they show it in different ways. So until I’m told otherwise by any possible agents or editors, or until (if!) someone suggests something I may love more, my WIP is no longer nameless.