What are good short story titles?
Before I can answer that question, allow me to digress and answer this one first:
When should you choose a title for your story?
In my early days of writing stories, I used to write down the title first, and then afterwards, I would start writing the story. It used to work quite well for me, this method.
However, I want to bring to your attention this maxim:
“Rigidity takes you nowhere, flexibility takes you everywhere.”
Do you see what I see in the choosing of the title first? Yes, rigidity.
Choosing a title first puts you in a situation where you have to fight to stay within the boundaries that the title dictates.
For example, suppose you choose the following title:
The Little Monkey
This title implies that the story would have to be about a little monkey. Whatever you do, ensure that the story does not stray from the topic, namely, “the little monkey”.
Suppose that as you write, a sudden idea hits you: the story could be nicer if it is about a gold fish who befriends a monkey.
However, you toss the great idea aside. Why? Because your story should be about a little monkey, and not about a gold fish!
See the rigidity that you would put yourself in by choosing a title first?
So I’d rather you do what I do nowadays. When I have an idea, I create a mental outline, and then simply start writing on the spot. After I am all done, I then sweat on choosing a perfect title.
It is a perfectly good idea to choose the title afterwards. This affords you freedom and flexibility to allow your imagination to flow. It is not hampered by any rigid title definitions.
Good, now let me return to the initial question:
What are good short story titles?
Imagine that you receive a present from a close friend with a big label on it saying:
But suppose you do not like cheese. What are the odds that you are going to open the present? Obviously none!
Now imagine that your friend brings you the same present, but with a different label:
Something Wonderful Inside
Ah! What is going to prevent you from opening it now? Nothing! I can imagine the way you’d voraciously tear off the wrapping!
A short story title is, in essence, the same thing—a label that describes what is inside the story; and as you have seen, your title can induce interest in your readers, or it can water it down outright.
A good short story title is one which seems to scream:
There is something wonderful in it for you!
It does not state directly what the story is about, but, rather, it implies. Titles that reveal almost everything about a story may erode the reader’s interest. Why should she read it if she knows exactly how it will go?
However, it must be mentioned that if you are writing for a targeted audience that you know very well, you may choose a very revealing title. Since you know what they like, you might as well dish it out to them—give them what they like!
Let’s us say for instance that you are writing a story for a group of children that you know so well, and from your interactions with them, you know that they like stories of princesses and princes. So you write a story just about that. Now, what title will you choose?
A title like:“The Mean Giant”, may not send the children into a frenzy of excitement because it states nothing of princesses nor princes—that which they have passion for. However, rewriting the title like this will certainly send them into a frenzy of excitement:
The Giant and the Princess
I have noticed, in fact, that writers who write for children tend to have titles that are not only revealing but also appeal to that which children like. Here are a few examples:
Alice in Wonderland
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
The Prince and the Pauper.
The Idle King
Take Note: These titles are not necessarily those of short stories, but the principles are the same.
Choosing titles for children’s short stories is probably quite easy to do. Apart from employing words that appeal to children, sometimes, though, names suffice. Take a look at these titles, for instance:
Hansel and Gretel
Children tend to like stories about other young children; so, the mere name of a child will build their interest.
And of course, they love stories of animals. So titles like these are sure to captivate them:
The Wise little Hen
The Three little Pigs
However, when it comes to choosing titles for the adult world, things become a bit tricky. The world of children is fun-filled and predictable; that of adults, however, is full of grouchy beings battered black and blue by the hustle and bustle of trying to make a living. Choosing titles that will convince them that your story is worth reading is quite a challenge. If you target a particular audience within this realm, you can still choose one that is revealing. But in any case, whatever title you choose should give them the promise that what you have is worth considering. Take a note of the following title of one of PG Wodehouse’s stories:
A Sea of Troubles
The adult wallowing in the misery that toil wrecks on his being will certainly feel:
“That is precisely what my life is—a sea of troubles.”
And he will read this short story. Notice that PG Wodehouse did not choose a title like: The Man Who Chose to Die, or The Man Who Wanted to Commit Suicide, even though that is what his story is basically about. Rather, he chooses one which subtly entices the reader, telling her that this there is something in it for her. Think about it: would a person who hates stories of dismal suicides choose to read the story had it been more revealing?
Remember the example I gave earlier? Yes, you don’t like cheese, but the label your friend has put has prompted you to open the present. Good titles can do the same, they may make your reader read your story, even though it is about something they don’t have interest in. But of course, for it to do that, it must not be too revealing.
So what constitutes a good title?
A good title is:
The whole purpose of short story titles, or any title for that matter, is to capture attention. All that you want is to get the reader reading the first sentence, and considering how juicy you’ve made your introductory paragraph, they will read on.
A title that is exotic—something that is not off the shelf—is also certain to capture attention. The reader will be like:
“What the heck is this?”
And they will start reading. In fact, most of us, when we scan through a list of short story titles, look for something new, something unfamiliar, something a bit out of the ordinary. Who wants to read something they already know about? So care to avoid titles that sound too ordinary. Make yours extraordinary. So instead of simply saying: “The Beautiful Princess” try something likeThe Deadly Beautiful Princess.
Golly! Who wouldn’t be enticed to read that?
Let us assume that you have finished writing your story, and you now want to choose a title. How can you go about choosing that enticing short story title?
The most obvious way is to consider the story’s theme, or the motif—that idea which recurs throughout the story. Once you identify it, you may choose to incorporate it into your title. For instance, in the story Hedged In, the motif is that of a girl who is hemmed in by her guardians strict boundaries. Hence, appropriately, LJ Kundananji chooses this title. Notice that it does not give away too much. Instead of saying: “The Girl Who was Hedged In” he simply says, ” Hedged In”.
Therefore, a thought, image or idea that recurs throughout the story may save well as a title. However, if you feel that it would be too revealing, cleverly alter it.
For example, the story Option C by LJ Kundananji, the title refers to the act of committing suicide. But instead of saying “Suicide”, he camouflages it by borrowing from the nomenclature of the characters and titles it thus: Option C.
If things get too hard, a name of a character or characters, a place or a thing may suffice, as long as it does not sound too dull and boring.
Hey, as long as the title you choose captivates the interest of the readers, it is a good title and has served its purpose.
And here is one more thing: when you are writing a title, you may choose to write all of it in uppercase letters. However, if you choose lowercase letters, capitalize the first letters of the words in the title, except for the prepositions, conjunctions, and articles that occur in the midst of it. Some of the words that need not be capitalized are: and, in, to, the, of, for, if, a, an, etc.
Here are examples:
John and Sarah
Crush, Clash and Crush
Everything Will be Alright
The Hare and the Lion
You’ve got it, eh?
Now, take a look at these short story titles and see which one captivates you:
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