What’s in a Short Story Title?

Working title

That’s the name I give to my stories or snippets when saving them with a word processor. I also add either a number or the name of the protagonist to distinguish one file from another. This is because coming up with a suitable title usually takes me as much time as writing down the story. Finding suitable titles can be a real pain so I’ve been looking for ways that could help me tackle this problem.

Title before story

A tip I once got was to come up with a title before writing the story. Once the title was on paper, the next step would be to develop the story. Although this worked for a while, the stories felt more like an assignment than something I had in mind. Normally, I have a vague concept or a specific scene that I develop into a short story. If I put down a title first, then I feel I’m writing my story so it suits the title since most of the time, the idea I have doesn’t fit the title.

Be free

The title-before-story method isn’t one that works for me, so I went on the Internet looking for ideas that might work. And I found all kinds of advice: keep your title short; use the name of the protagonist; make it appealing enough so people pick up your book. Another advice was ‘be free’. It comes down to this: you’re the author so you know when you’ve got the right title. It comes from your heart. (Honestly, might there something be wrong with me then? Should I check with my GP?)

Help

Most of the other tips I found repeated the same things I mentioned above. I eventually found a promising tip on http://www.rachellegardner.com/2010/03/how-to-title-your-book/. I haven’t tried it yet, so I can’t say whether it works or not. But I’m curious.

I keep looking for other techniques to tackle my titling problem. So I’d love to hear from you: How do you title your stories?

Cecile

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10 thoughts on “What’s in a Short Story Title?

  1. I’ve gotten better with titles, but still struggle. Usually they come to me somewhere near the end of the story, or in the middle of the night. I’m enjoying this trip to your blog.

  2. I have just written my first short story and submitted it. The title changed because the story changed. When the story changed. As I could not think of an imaginative title I called it Agoraphobia because one of the characters suffered from this. This made it easy for me to find in the filing system. In the end I left it with that title as it does not give the story line away and introduces the illness in the title.
    I will let you know if it comes to anything. I used a completely different voice for the story which was interesting and difficult.
    Kerry

    1. Thanks, you’re right titles change as the story develops and is adjusted. I’m curious what the outcome will be of your first submitted story. Did you submit it to a magazine or to a writers’ group? Either way it must be exciting! What kind of voice did you use? I like to experiment with different voices and I’m curious how others make use of it.

      Cecile

      1. I submitted it to a magazine. I fully expect to receive a rejection because it is my very first submission of a short story. But there is always that little hope. My previous writing has all been in my own voice. The short story is told in the first person. That person is very different from me. She is older and uses asides like ‘you see’ a lot. I based it on someone I know who talks like that. It was difficult to be consistent and not to over use it or be condescending. I hope this makes sense.
        Kerry

  3. I brainstorm my titles, I write down any words that come to mind, any phrases, anything and everything, creating a list and the title will either come from one of those already formed, or an amalgam of them by going back and looking at them in a more reflective mood rather than when I am in a brainstorming mood.

    Occasionally a title will come on its own, but if not, I just continue this process until something comes that fits.

  4. Good thoughts.

    I find that when I write, a title is a helpful reminder of where I want the story to go. Still, once the story is complete, it can often not be as good as another would be, so I leave myself time and opportunity to consider it careful when the story is done. Sometimes a specific market need is a factor, but often the working title was far too precious to be used.

    Of course, I can wind up with several versions of a story on my disc, each under a different title, and that means cleanup work.

  5. I’d go nuts if I didn’t have actual working names for my stories. Maybe if you don’t have too many stories, “working title and/or numbers would work, but right now I have something like twenty story ideas and partially developed stories. The working title is usually just a short statement of the basic idea. Sometimes it turns out to be the right one and sometimes I have to sweat over finding the right one.

    1. I know that feeling. I’ve got plenty of ideas and partly written stories and numbering doesn’t work very well anymore. Perhaps using a short statement will work for me too. Thanks for the tip.

  6. I like to tie my title in with the last line of my story, so that the title seems ambiguous until the story’s been read.

    For example, my latest title is, “I’m Coming.” This could mean many things. No one is sure where the main character is going until the last line, but then everybody knows of his intentions and why his final words, “I’m coming,” are so injurious.

    I like the full-circle feeling this method give a short piece.

    Great post! I’ll be watching for the next one.

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