Story Title: How to choose, what to include and how to improve?

Seeing how a title is one of the first things a reader sees of the game (and I’ve read somewhere people sometimes click or don’t click on a WIP purely because of its title; I know I do it sometimes …), I’m curious what kind of story names people find interesting/captivating. I think @samuel_H_young has written a little about choosing his titles and how it affected his stories and I remember @Avery_Moore having a poll for their story about villains. There are probably more polls out there, so maybe authors who used them would be willing to share their experiences :slight_smile:

My questions are as follows: what makes a good title? Should the focus be on conveying the theme of the story or on creating an eye-catching name? How do you come up with your titles? And finally, what are some best title examples on this site? Should a WIP topic title also include the genre, word count and/or the date of last update?

The titles I like (not counting the story, not that the stories themselves aren’t fantastic): Fallen Hero: Rebirth (and Retribution) by @malinryden, SoS: The Mortal Coil by @Dae-kalina, Beggar’s Luck by @MeltingPenguins, Horse: Foal Throttle by @Emzan, Model Citizen: Unmasked by @RenaB, The Enchanter’s Misery by @Samuel_H_Young, The Operative: Fires of Revolution by @spytim.

Maybe this thread can also be used to garnet opinions, if someone has trouble coming up with ideas or is unsure of their existing WIP title like me.

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For those who didn’t see my previous post about making titles, these are the guidelines I set for myself. A title should ideally be (in no particular order of importance):

  • Creative and interesting. You want to catch readers’ interest and titillate their senses. Yes, I said titillate.
  • Searchable. People should be able to search your title up on Google and see it on the very first result. It also helps if someone can search up something general like wizards/demons/etc and maybe see your title pop up somewhere in the results.
  • Relevant. The reader should get a general idea of what your book is about just from the title.

So, over the 6+ years that I’ve been writing HGs, I’ve learned a lot about making good titles and I think I’ve honed this practice pretty well by now. I might be tooting my own horn, but feel free to comment on this if you have any thoughts as well. Let’s look at a few examples from my own works:

Captive of Fortune: u fucking wot m8? 0.o
Foundation of Nightmares: u fucking wot m8? o.0

The Magician’s Burden: good! If you search this up on Google, my book will be the first result. It also conveys right from the start that the story is about magic and hardship. Lastly, I think it’s an interesting title that draws the reader in.

Mass Mother Murderer: Good! This will almost certainly be the first result if you search it up on google. Plus, I could likely get a lot of hits from random people on the internet searching up “mass murderer.” In my opinion, this also might be the most interesting title I’ve made yet. First of all, it’s controversial and edgy enough that it’s likely able to catch your interest right away. Second of all, it has some nice harmony to it that I’m rather proud of. Not only is it an alliteration, but it also has a sort of cadence, with the first word being one syllable, the second word being two syllables, and the third word being three syllables.

Finally, this title conveys right off the bat that it’s a story about a mass murderer who presumably has a penchant for killing mothers.

I believe that my other titles; Trial of the Demon Hunter, Winter of the Bovine, and The Enchanter’s Misery, fit these 3 criteria well enough as well, but you get the point. :slight_smile:

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There are two types of story titles. One is Foal Throttle, and the other is story titles that suck by comparison.

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What’s interesting to me is that almost all of the titles you put in your list follow the pattern of Thing: Expansion of Thing. (SoS: The Mortal Coil, Model Citizen: Unmasked, etc.) Genuinely curious: why do you think that is? Do those titles tend to be more memorable? Do they allow for more specificity than other titles? Are they usually indicative of one entry in a larger series, and does that make them more appealing? Maybe examining the traits in the titles you like will help you create your own. :slight_smile:

I’m currently judging for a fiction novel contest, and one thing I can give optional feedback on is the title of the manuscript. Generally my criteria for a good title tends to be: 1) the title in some way indicates the genre or central themes of the piece, 2) it’s unique and memorable, and 3) it rolls off the tongue (and is neither too long nor too short).

For example (these are hypothetical), a novel about a weather-mage fleeing a disastrous prophecy entitled The Storm Queen is pretty good. It is most probably a fantasy title, it’s simple and easy to remember, it catches the eye, and it gives the reader an idea of what the book is about in some capacity. A science fiction novel about a mercenary befriending a wounded alien called “The Slippery Slope” probably could go for a better title, even if the plot of the book is about the slippery slope their actions lead them down. It’s too generic and could apply to many different stories in many different genres. And a title that’s too specific—a historical piece called 1899: The Year The Whole Town Turned Against Anna Marie May and Her Daughter—also works against itself. Not only is it harder to remember, but it tells the readers that the writer may not be too concise in choosing their words from the get-go.

Edit: And to answer some of your other questions, some WIP titles I really enjoy (and which meet my above criteria) are titles like Winter of the Bovine and Reports from Philomena. Not only do they perfectly convey the genre/general concept of their stories, they also (in my opinion) just sound lovely and satisfying in a vacuum. :slight_smile: I don’t think it’s necessary for a WIP thread title to have its genre (the title and tags should do that), but a word count and date never hurts. In general, though, I think the title should do the bulk of the drawing in when it comes to new readers. :slight_smile:

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Yep, I’d never guess it’s sci-fi from that title and probably think it’s more of a slice of life mundane malodrama (and probably avoid it.). The 1899 one is probably a bit long TBH, could be condensed to make it more memorable. It makes me think that the book is possibly going to be overly wordy in it’s descriptions and the title is hard to remember. The Storm Queen is very good description wise, but a bit generic and might get lost among the other book titles published under the same name. Short answer: Good titles are hard :slight_smile:

What’s wrong with that? That’s actually my fav title from your games :slight_smile:

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I appreciate it. :slight_smile: I don’t think it’s bad necessarily. I still think it’s interesting, it’s just not searchable or as outwardly relevant as my other titles. So, as an author trying to build a readership, it’s not quite as effective.

@rinari

That, and it’s also the title of a Series of Unfortunate Events book, and you don’t wanna compete with that. :wink:

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Ooh, this’ll be an interesting topic.
Ihavemyownsharesofexperience,butI’vepromisedmyselftonotsharemytitle,ohwhatever


Anyway, uh.
In my writing, I never considered the title as something that must be established first before writing. Quite the opposite, a title should be able to give people a glance at the book content, IMO.


I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Mostly it’s to establish that a certain story-title will be written as a series or something.

I think I remembered a thread that talks about titling your WIP, and some of the mentioned patterns are:

  1. Thing: Expansion of Thing.
  2. Thing 1. Thing 2. Thing 3.
  3. Thing and a Thing’s Thing. Thing and Another Thing’s Thing. The Thing’s Thing.

I’m not against any of the styles. It’s just something that can provoke a lot of thoughts when discussed, and I like it.

I guess I’m going to go with “Thing2: Expansion of Thing” style (combination between the first and second).

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Sorry, I’m confused by all the things! XD Could you give an example of what you mean when you say you’d like to do Thing2: Expansion of Thing? A combination of both? I’ll try to write down what I interpret as your patterns:

  1. Flowers: A Green Story
  2. Flowers. Rocks. Grass. (???)
  3. (???)

I can’t recall any WIP titles that follow the pattern of the latter two, unless I’m just very tired and something’s going over my head! :joy:

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I’m not even sure whether we’re joking or being sarcastic or being honestly dumbfounded :laughing:

I’ll give some examples from some books and games.

  1. Model Citizens: Unmasked; Fallen Hero: Rebirth (and Retribution as the WIP sequel). (It’s actually quite hard to find the examples for this first style. Oh welp)
  2. Final Fantasy I; Final Fantasy II; Ace Combat 2.
  3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone; HP and the Goblet of Fire; Guns of Infinity; Saber of Infinity.

As for my combination:

  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
  • Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies (Yep, it’s 04 on the title, not 4)
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I thought that personally my own story Horse: Foal Throttle sounded more interesting than something like “The Tales and Misadventures of Horsey McHorse” or something. the colon ( : ) adds a little more excitement, suspense… it separates the “Horse” from “Foal Throttle”

There’s a reason a lot of action movies with longer titles (as in more than just two words) use that format. There seems to be a lot of articles condemning the use of colons which i find hilarious :rofl:
It can help quite a bit in sequels obviously, like with Star Wars (and other big blockbusters) because the extra stuff after the colon helps to remember what exactly is in that movie. I would have a harder time remembering what happens in them if it wasn’t for “The Force Awakens” or “The Empire Strikes Back.” It’s simple, to the point, and doesn’t take up an obscene amount of space… well, typically. If it’s LOTR those guys have just gone crazy with it.

But yeah it seems more like there’s action and adventure in it if it includes a colon, probably because of Hollywood… which is the main reason i included it (in my own title).

But that’s just my own opinion, feel free to disagree with me

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Oh, okay! Duh. I was just being a damn idiot lol, ignore me—that makes perfect sense! I like your approach to it, as well—it’s often hard to remember which titles go in what order when it comes to titled series entries, so having the number as well as a more specific title is extremely helpful. (The Hobbit: There and Back Again seems like it could have been the last entry in the series as well as the first. Or was that even its title?? See, I don’t even remember.)

to be fair if you actually put Tales and misadventures of Horsey Mchorse i wouldve died laughing XD and that wouldnt be conducive for me to play the game if im dead lol

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I know, right? It’s like my entire life peaked at the moment I first read that title—peaked, I say.


@kirakana

Here are the rules of thumb I go by when titling anything fanfiction doesn’t count, that’s another plane of existence.

A good title is:

  • small and simple
  • will tell the reader what genre it is
  • will tell the reader what the story is about

Now, to expand upon this.

Please Note: In my view, a good title is a successful title. Whether or not they appeal to everyone’s sensibilities, they have appealed to enough people to be make :money_with_wings: :money_with_wings: :money_with_wings: a return on their investment.

Small and Simple

Generally, you want 3-4 words maximum for your story. That's the sweet spot. 5 words is possible, but not advised.

Think about movies, any movies, it doesn’t have to be your favorite, it just has to be the ones that pop in mind first. They’re the ones with memorable titles, and will most likely be the ones with the least amount of words.

  • Jaws
  • The Godfather
  • Saving Private Ryan
  • Gone with the Wind

Even franchises tend to have four words or less in their umbrella titles:

  • Harry Potter
  • Star Wars
  • Indiana Jones
  • Lord of the Rings

I would just like to point out, even though the full title for the franchise is technically The Lord of the Rings, the ‘the’ is functionally nonexistent. Why? Well, consider its shortened form, LotR. Adding the ‘T’ from the ‘the’ would just be…useless. In casual discussion, people will shorten it down to Lord of the Rings, a more manageable size.
A similar thing occurs with the Harry Potter franchise. The ‘and’ portion of the full title function identically to a colon. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban may as well be written Harry Potter: The Prisoner of Azkaban for all the ‘and’ does to the title.

Further, in franchises, even the subtitle follows the same rules:

  • The Prisoner of Azkaban
  • The Deathly Hallows
  • A New Hope
  • Revenge of the Sith
  • The Force Awakens
  • Temple of Doom
  • The Last Crusade
  • The Two Towers
  • The Return of the King

Again, the ‘the’ in the beginning of most title is functionally useless. Consider, when you’re talking about your favorite Harry Potter movie, you don’t say “The Prisoner of Azkaban” or “The Deathly Hallows” you say, “Prisoner of Azkaban” or “Deathly Hallows.”
The only exception to this is The Force Awakens, and that’s because the determiner is actually part of a proper noun. It’s the Force, not Force, therefore, this is one of those cases where the determiner, ‘the’ is essential, but for the most part…consider the determiner dead.


So…3-4 words.

Like I said, five words is possible, but in many cases, they begin with a determiner (‘the’, ‘a’, or ‘an’) which are functionally useless, so it’s actually less than you might think.

Humans don’t like remembering too many words, so consider that when titling things.

The Genre

A good title will tell you what kind of genre, and therefore what world and rules, to expect. Lean on stereotypes and preconceived notions---they may be detrimental to social progress, but they're actually super helpful when coming up with titles. A reader who expects one thing and receives another is more likely to be an unhappy reader, and unhappy readers mean unsuccessful stories.

We may not appreciate stereotypes, but they’re actually quite useful.

@Samuel_H_Young’s The Magician’s Burden is a title that tells you exactly what to expect to expect with a single word: magician.
Going in, a reader will know that there will be magic, possible even different races. They will come into the story, already willing to suspend disbelief and the laws of physics in order to enjoy this story.

A reader is not a blank slate, they come with preconceived notions and expectations. They choose your story for a variety of reasons, but most don’t go in wanting to hate the story they’ll read. They want to be entertained.

But humans are…fickle, in some respects. If our expectations and the reality of the situation are contradictory, that will actually create cognitive dissonance (mental discomfort), which makes it harder for the reader to enjoy.

Don’t title your work something steampunk-y if it’s only going to contain one single steampunk-like item. There is an expectation from the reader of the type of world the story will be set in depending on the title.
A reader who’s expecting a fantasy novel and gets an action oriented spy thriller will have a tougher time getting through the first few pages, which are crucial. You can make or break success within the first page. If your readers are confused within the first page, then something is incredibly wrong.

It is your job as a writer to deliver what you claim. If you don’t, the reader will be disappointed and not want to read from you again. It’s a harsh truth, but one that must be understood.


Now, time for some genre conventions:

Fantasy and Sci-Fi, more than any other genre, have made up words in their titles. This is not to say that made up words can’t appear in other genres, but keep that fact in mind when you title something with a made up word.
Also note, if you are going to use a made up word, make it easy to read. If your readers trip over the title because of a word, change it. Most readers don’t enjoy the title to be a challenge in and of itself.

This is not to say that Sci-Fi fantasy novels must have made-up words, only that you be careful about using them in your title, because the sterotype will work against you if you’re not writing a Fantasy or Sci-Fi story.

Many spy, thriller, and speculative fiction novels follow a specific formula in their titles:

  • The…
  • Noun or person’s/place’s name, often something esoteric and classical that sounds like it could be code for something (often Gratuitous Greek).
  • Noun with political or symbolic undertones. Also, often some type of document.

Credit to TV Tropes who wrote the above section better than I could after a half hour of trying).

Dramas, by comparison, have relatively few genre conventions, and as a result, are usually only distinguished by being blatantly labelled as dramas.

Examples (under a cut because there's a lot)

  • Sci-Fi/Fantasy titles with made up words:
    • The Prisoner of Azkaban
    • The Chronicles of Narnia
    • Revenge of the Sith
  • Thriller titles that follow the aforementioned formula:
    • The Da Vinci Code
    • The Bourne Identity
    • The Manchurian Candidate
  • Titles that follow no naming convention, but will tell you exactly what kind of genre to expect:
    • Sci-Fi:
      • Jurassic Park
      • Neuromancer
      • Starship Troopers
    • Thrillers
      • Gone Girl
      • The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
      • Clear and Present Danger

There’s so many more examples, but this is already getting overly long, and there’s still a third part to get to.

A Hint of Story

Finally, a good title will give an idea of what the story will be about. It's that simple. Barring a cover, the title is first thing that a reader will take from your story. It must concisely inform them of what to expect, perhaps even what themes will be explored, all while still being interesting enough to draw you in.

Fallen Hero: Rebirth is one of the best examples of a title that tells you a story. With three words, you know the backstory and the trajectory of the first book.

Firstly, we know it’s about a hero, a former hero. Right off the bat, we know it’s about superheroes.
Next, we know that this hero undergoes some sort of metamorphosis within the story because of the Rebirth.
Lastly (and this gets rather long because I think I’m reading into it more than @malinryden intended), fallen refers to at least three different aspects within the story, 1. the MC’s literal fall out of a window which leads to 2. the MC’s supposed death in the line of duty, and 3. their moral/sinful fall into villainy. With a single word, Malin has described three plot points.

Altogether, these three word title tells you everything you need to know about the game. You don’t go in blind, you already know at least 3/5ths of the game’s plot. The rest is then up to Malin’s writing to keep you entertained and boy, does it.

Other examples include:

  • Gone with the Wind
    • You go in know it will be about great change, in a melancholy sort of fashion.
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
    • I mean…come on.
  • Things Fall Apart
    • It’s in the title. It’s about change and destruction, a specific kind that cannot be helped despite all that you do.

Honestly? That’s it.


The rest is really up to you, just make sure to: make it short, make it obvious what genre you’re writing in, and make it informative.

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I initially thought that short easy to remember titles were the way to go but, as in all things, it depends who you are. If you’re an established author with a large dedicated readership you can get away with a lot of things the rest of us can’t.

If I was to turn up at a publisher with a 400k word document I’d be laughed out of the place but if Stephen King or JK Rowling turned up with the same manuscript, the publishers would be fighting each other to get hold of it.

Same with titles, six words too long? Not if your name’s Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest).

I do struggle with titles. Descriptive ones are either longer than I want or, when shortened, make little sense. I’m working on a sci-fi CS script at the moment with a placeholder title, it’s just the name of one of the ships. Mainly because I’m having trouble coming up with a better one.

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Thank you for naming my thing as example.

As for titles, i personally am keen on elements from the story or alliterations and name my things accordingly. (Beggar’s Luck, Curious Cuisine, Curious Cuisine: Edible Escapades, Murder Most Magical)

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Hang on. How can you do the drop-down that shows the few first lines?
I can’t do it. I want it. Gimme!


friggin auto-enter

Small and Simple **asdfsadf**

Dis da content Gah
Do not worry young padawan...

I shall teach you the ways of the Force.

<details><summary><big><b>Do not worry young padawan...</b></big>
<p>I shall teach you the ways of the Force...</p></summary>

CONTENT. PEW PEW.

</details>

Absolutely. If you’re already an established author, then go right ahead and make your entire title a short story for all that it will matter. It’s up to your publisher to figure out that issue. So long as you have a significant amount of people who will buy your stuff, you can get away with nearly anything.

But us fledgling authors, we must submit to and carefully consider these rules of thumb. Only when we are successful can we can thumb our noses at these rules of thumb. so many thumbs

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Obviously everyone has different things they look for in a title, but my ideals are:

  • Distinct - “Unique” is asking for too much considering how saturated the literary market is, but you ideally want a title to stand out.
  • Compact - More than four words and you’re edging into “Japanese light novel” territory. Ideally you should be able to communicate all you need to say in a title that doesn’t need to be truncated by Google Search, and is easy enough for someone to type out as a way of sharing it with their friends (as well as being able to actually say the title in one breath for things like word-of-mouth sharing and the rare video review).
  • Relevant - Your title should have something relevant to say about the work in question. Choice of the Dragon, a game that centers around choosing things and stars a dragon as the protagonist, is a good example of the “Exactly What It Says On The Tin” philosophy of titles. It could be an offhand reference to things relevant to the story, such as Tin Star using the eponymous symbol of a US Marshall’s authority as shorthand for what the story’s about. It could also be an ironic title that is still relevant to the story, such as (to use a non-COG example) Samurai Jack. The title character is not a samurai (he’s an imperial heir) and is not named Jack (it’s just a moniker given to him by the people of the future), but the title of the series still manages to be relevant because the title character acts like a (stereotypical) samurai, and his real name is fairly irrelevant compared to his actions.

That was way too wordy, but you get my point.

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eye-catching name are often…not 100% great or safe . I mean , it could be catchy but also confusing . So…you know…not always a good idea lol .

I…wrote (never published) 3 stories so far . 2 of them I based the title on stuff that pissed me off . Most often when I sit there and think for a title , I grasp at the emotions that will populate my story . And like a hand in a jar filled with paper lol I pick one emotion and it goes from there .

'heart of the house ’ for exemple…great title . It hint at what kind of story it gonna be , yet not too long . And once you read the story…it was there and not at the same time . The title make you think it will be this…but it was…but at the same time it wasn’t .

no . I mean , that kinda make the title area filled with traffic and can kill a wip right there and then . Stuff like words count and chapter number should always be down below the Summary . So it’s a 'read this stuff if you want ’ Not shoved into you from the get go .

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Different things need different sort of titles. If I were titling a TV show or YouTube serial, I would 100% go for something short, maybe one word. Something that can be turned into a splash logo with a cool font. Lost. Killjoys. Bitten. Just off the top of my head.

Short stories often do well with longer, more ornate titles. It helps convay more about the sub-genre, as well as the subject matter, tone, and style of prose. Good titles I can recall seeing include “The Need for Overwhelming Sensation”, “The First Blood of Poppy Dupree”, and “Excerpt From a Letter by a Social-Realist Aswang”. I have stories sitting in my submissions pile titled things like “The Fourth Phase of the Moon” and “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier”.

Novels have needs that vary by genre. Modern fantasy genre has titles so predictable, a neural network could be trained on them. Still, many of these titles are extremely effective in conveying both style and substance of the books they advertise. You read “The Star Oracle and the Obsidian Temple” and you know exactly what you’re getting into. Romance novels seem to have even stricter standards which, sadly for me, usually include groan-worthy puns.

Games and IF are where I’m unusually forgiving. Usually colon-riddled titles make me tear out my optic nerve from rolling my eyes so hard. For games, for some reason, they seem to work.

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