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How to Title Your Book, Novel or Screenplay

Why Finding a Good Book Title Is So Hard

The idea for this article started after finishing the latest draft of a story I was working on.

After changing some of the major parts of the story, I realized that the title I had originally chosen was no longer a good fit. It needed to be changed to better represent the story it had now become.

But no matter how long I thought about it, nothing good came to mind! I had spent hours, days, and weeks of my time honing and refining my story… only to be completely out of “creative juice” when it came time to choose a book title.

After browsing around and coming up with a few ideas, I quizzed a couple wordsmiths at my local writer’s group… and I realized that they were running into the exact same problem!

I wasn’t the only one who had a hard time coming up with unique and interesting titles for my books, other writers were having trouble too… and sometimes even the best guys at character and plot struggled to come up with a cool title.

Despite there being a ton of information available on plot, character, and outlines, there really wasn’t any good information on coming up with spectacular book titles. Most of those other books don’t even mention anything about titling your story!

That’s because your story’s title is so unique to your story. It’s hard for most people to offer solid advice on the title for your book without knowing anything about the story it tells.

Why Your Book Title Is So Important

So what’s in a title? Is it really that important?

You bet your by-golly it is. Titles carry meaning for what they are representing. Imagine you worked in the back of a restaurant. Would you rather be called a “dishwasher” or a “Dish Machine Operator” — which one sounds better to you?

There’s a reason Subway calls their employees sandwich “artists” and not sandwich makers. One sounds commonplace, while the other sounds impressive.

Every year tons of scripts and novels have their title changed to better represent the story. Here are some famous movies you might be familiar with that got re-named last minute:

Alien (1979) was originally called – Star Beast

Dodgeball (2004) was supposed to be called – Underdog

Pretty Woman (1990) almost hit the screens as – 3000. Why? Because that’s how much her character charged for one night alone with her.

Yeah… I think they made the right choice on that one…

Those original titles weren’t that good and didn’t make it clear what the story was about. Your title is the first thing the reader will see when he picks up your book. And you only get one chance to make a first impression. So make it a good one!

Remember that a poor title usually indicates a poor story. Titles aren’t window dressing… They are hooks to get people interested in reading your story. A catchy title can make a great first impression on readers, publishers, and agents alike.

But a stupid, silly, or boring title can do just the opposite. It can turn the reader off before they even know what your story is about. So it’s important you choose a solid, original and creative title for your work.

How do you do it?

Here are a few rules of thumb to keep in mind when thinking of possible titles for your book.

Three Rules For Good Book Titles

Rule #1: Book Titles Shouldn't Be Boring

Imagine you’re in a Hollywood mall waiting on the elevator, when suddenly, the doors slide open and… BOOM! Steven Spielberg is standing there right in front of you!

After a moment of complete shock, you stumble into the elevator. Your heart is racing because you’ve just completed your final draft of a story that you’ve worked so long and hard on. You can’t wait to tell him about it! Here’s your chance to pitch it to the biggest director in Hollywood history!

You ramble on for a few minutes that it’s about a sacred tree that whispers to people as they walk by and tells them the secrets of life.

He says it sounds like an interesting idea, and asks you what it’s called. You tell him that’s the best part! It’s already got a killer title! It’s called “The Tree.”

Do I even need to tell you what happens next?

When you browse Netflix looking for a movie to watch, would you watch a movie called “The Tree”? Wouldn’t you agree there are at least a million better names for that story?

Not that “The Tree” wouldn’t be well written. But stories with more interesting titles stand a better chance of getting read.

Rule #2: Book Titles Should Be Easy To Remember

Not only do you want your book’s title to stand out in the reader’s mind, you want it to stay there too. The shorter the better. So don’t include a bunch of long, hard-to-pronounce words with a ton of syllables in it.

“The Pusillanimous Case of My Unencumbered Spirit” may be the best damn thing you’ve ever written… but no one is going to want to read it.

If you story’s title makes it sound unappealing, it probably is.

Rule #3: Book Titles Should Be Appropriate

Let’s say you’ve got a story about a bunch of snakes a plane. Think of all the possibilities there were for a great title.

“Snakes on a Plane” was a little obvious and uncreative, but it’s quite fitting for a story about snakes on a plane. Think of all the other terrible names it could have ended up with…

“Anaconda Airlines”…

That might work, but it’s too close to the Anaconda movie from 1997.

“The Flight That’s Got Bite”…

Yep, another wack title. Let’s try something else:

“Ssssssss” (Don’t say it, hiss it!)

Ok, well that’s a little overboard, but I hope you get the point. Don’t name your story something stupid or silly like those above. With a little creativity and the tips I’m about to share, you’re sure to come up with something better.

10 Mistakes Writers Make When Choosing A Book Title

I recommend you avoid these mistakes at all costs. While they might turn out a good title every now and then, most often you’ll just get garbage. And no one wants their work tossed in the trash bin. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Book Title Mistake #1: Being Too Direct or Unimaginative

Sometimes it’s like the writer was completely out of creative juice when it came time to title their story.

They take the lazy way out and slap on the most direct and obvious title they can think of. And the sales often suffer because of it.

Take a look at some of these naming blunders:

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (1977)
Fat Guy Goes Nutzoid!! (1986)
Snakes on a Plane (2006)
Surfer, Dude (2008)
We Bought a Zoo (2011)

These titles are too literal about the content of the story the represent. They all could’ve done a better job. Snakes on a plane only worked because it was poking fun at itself and had Samuel Jackson in it. Without him it probably would’ve bombed.

Book Title Mistake #2: Using Too Much Punctuation

Some titles use too many periods, commas, and colons in their titles. It makes the “flow” of the title sound too jerky and interrupted.

Often the premise could’ve been communicated with a much simpler title. Try to resist the temptation if it strikes you.

Here are some examples:

The Goods: Live Hard. Sell Hard. (2009)
To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995)

These stories could’ve got the idea across with much shorter titles. “Deal Hard” and “Drag Kings” would’ve been much better.

Book Title Mistake #3: Using Odd Spelling of Common Words

This blunder plagued anyone who had a childhood in the 90’s. Tons of toy companies started replacing S’s with Z’s in an attempt to look cool and hip to the kids of that generation. And actually, it was a huge hit in that decade.

But if you do it today, it’ll look outdated and childish. People will start rolling their eyes before they ever turn to page one.

Here are some quite ridiculous examples:

Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)
Kuffs (1992)
eXistenZ (1999)
Zyzzyx Rd (2006)
Biutiful (2011)

Still think Zyzzyx Road is a cool title? Audiences didn’t. It’s one of the lowest grossing movies of all time: $30… that’s right… 30. Not $30 million. Ouch.

Book Title Mistake #4: Using Words That Paint An Unpleasant Picture

Some writers must have been asleep at the wheel when they came up with their story’s title. Didn’t they run it by anyone before releasing it to the public? Surely someone would have stopped them.

Some of these are absolutely horrendous! They paint all kinds of unpleasant pictures in your mind, even if they’re exactly what the movie is about!

Here are some of the worst:

I Dismember Mama (1972)
Teenage Catgirls in Heat (1994)
Step Into Liquid (2003)
The Human Stain (2003)
The Constant Gardener (2005)

“I Dismember Mama?” All that title does is make me think of killing MY Mama! No Bueno!

Throw Momma From The Train (1987) is a much better way to get an idea like that across.

Step Into Liquid (2003) is a documentary about secret surfing spots from around the world. But it makes me think of stepping in a muddy pool of cold water when I’m out grabbing the morning paper. Eww! Yucky!

What would’ve been a much better title? Get Wet. But let’s face it, that could’ve gone just as wrong too.

And “The Constant Gardener?” Can he not stop gardening? Always pruning and shearing, keeping the grass as green as possible?!

Your title will paint a picture in the audience’s mind when they hear it. So make sure it’s not a bad one.

Book Title Mistake #5: Using Sound Effects

Ok but seriously… this is not as cool as it seems.

Unless you’re creating a comic book back in the 1960’s, you should avoid this type of title at all costs.

Please, oh please, don’t do this to your story.

Phffft! (1954)
Eegah (1962)
Sssssss (1973)

I mean, c’mon… really? Is that the best they could come up with?

Book Title Mistake #6: Using Weird Words That Make No Sense

Some stories aim to stand out from the crowd by using titles that are unique and unusual. But not in a good way.

Fun? Yes. Cheeky? Absolutely. Good idea? Not at all.

Here are some examples to show you what I mean:

The Perils of Gwendoline In the Land of the Yik-Yak (1984)
Fertilize the Blaspheming Bombshell (1990)
Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever (2002)
Quantum of Solace (2008)
The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009)

This is a trend for a lot of new children’s movies. Writers hope to attract child audiences by naming their characters and settings like they’re something out of a Dr. Seuss book.

And for the most part, they will. But if your story isn’t aimed at an audience that eats chicken nuggets and chocolate milk for lunch, stay away from using this type of strategy.

Book Title Mistake #7: Making Your Title Too Long

People in today’s fast paced world have shorter attention spans than ever. It’s estimated that the average attention span is eight seconds.

EIGHT SECONDS!!! That’s it! That’s all the time you have to catch someone’s attention and keep them interested.

In fact, it’s often said that the best-selling novels have titles with three words or less. Less is more.

Here are some terribly long titles that are also terribly ridiculous:

Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? (1969)

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and became Mixed-Up Zombies (1963)

The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain (1995)

There’s no way in hell you can tell me the writer couldn’t have come up something shorter. Love Sucks, Zombies Attack, and The Englishman… bing, bang, boom.

Book Title Mistake #8: Being Too Over The Top

These stories suffer from their premise being too over the top more than anything else. But sometimes when you go all the way with your premise, there’s little wiggle room left for a good title.

On that note, having a great title for your story won’t help you if the premise actually sucks. If your story stinks, it doesn’t matter what you call it.

And if your story has you headed that way, steer clear in another direction! You’re headed right over a cliff!

Here are some laughable silly ones:

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter (1966)
A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell (1990)

Book Title Mistake #9: Using Unknown Acronyms

If you ask me, titles like this are L.A.M.E.

And I’m not talking about Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineers either!

This generally only works if the acronym is already well known by the public. Or, it will EASILY become apparent early into the story.

If it’s not, it’ll confuse everyone. They’ll spend the entire time wondering what the hell you meant instead of enjoying the story.

Here are some of the worst:

C.H.U.D. (1984) = Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller
BAPS (1997) = Black American Princess (what about the S?)
F.A.R.T.: The Movie (1991) = ???

…I still have no idea what F.A.R.T. is supposed to stand for.

Book Title Mistake #10: Making Unintended Word Associations

This one is similar to Mistake #4: Using Words That Paint An Unpleasant Picture.

Our subconscious mind is at work at all times. It can’t help but take us to the deep, dark recesses of our mind when certain words are uttered.

If you’re not careful, you might unwittingly force people to think of something that’s completely unrelated.

Sometimes it’s a little dirty, and sometimes it’s just outright crazy.

Three of the films below should be pretty self-explainable:

Octopussy (1983)
xXx (2002)
Freddy Got Fingered (2001)
Avenging Disco Vampires (2001)

When I hear a title like “Avenging Disco Vampires”, my mind can’t help but bring up images of the cast from Twilight wearing bell bottoms and glittered sunglasses, kickin’ it to the 70’s with John Travolta.

That’s not the kind of picture you want someone imagining when they’re deciding whether to read your story. So be careful with your word choices when choosing a title.

For the most part, you can avoid a lot of these mistakes by running your title by a friend before you finish the story. That’s all it takes to avoid a major mishap in the writing process.

8 Steps To Finding The Perfect Book Title

What follows is a process for using these methods to help you come up with an original, fitting title for your book.

Step #1: Gain Some Inspiration From Good Book Titles

A good place to start is by browsing movie and book titles and looking for something that catches your attention. What titles piqued your interest?

Was it a turn on a common phrase? (Idea #10)

Was it a metaphor or analogy that intrigued you to figure out what it means? (Idea #5)

Did it use alliteration or rhyming that made it catchy and easy to remember? (Idea #18)

By browsing other stories that are already filmed or published, you can easily draw some inspiration for your own title.

And all the information is readily available online. Just check out Amazon or IMDb to browse thousands of titles for stories already made.

Step #2: Write Out All Your Book Title Ideas

You probably have a few ideas for a title, and might have given the story a working title when you started writing. Is that name still fitting? Are any of the names that come off the top of your head a good fit?

Try seeing if you can modify any of them using the 25 Book Title Ideas and turn it into something that fits your story.

Chances are something you’ve already been marinating on is pretty good. Write down as many of those ideas as you can and see which one works best for you.

Think of a couple adjectives, nouns and verbs that describe your story or your favorite parts of it. Write them all down on and combine them into different phrases. See if any of them help you come up with some new title ideas.

Step #3: Use The Book Title Generator

If you’re still stuck, go through the list of the 25 Book Title Ideas one at a time and come up with five story titles for each method. By the time you’re done, you’ll have over one hundred different titles to choose from!

If more than five ideas come to you for a certain method, great! Keep on going. Lists of 300+ unique and original titles are not uncommon. The more the better. You’ll eventually find the perfect one.

Step #4: Use A Thesaurus

Use a thesaurus and see if you can find better adjectives, verbs and nouns to use in your title. The punchier and more direct they are, the better. This will help you brainstorm thousands of more ideas for variations.

This is hands down the best thesaurus you will find… EVER!

For example, “death” and “demise” are two additional ways for saying “murder.” You could also potentially use “end”, “ruin”, or “downfall” as well. 

The possibilities with this strategy are endless.

Step #5: Narrow Down Your List Of Ideas

You’ve probably already got a top ten list for titles in mind. Maybe even a top five or top three. Certain titles are going to stick out to you more than others. 

Narrow your list down as much as you can. Start by eliminating the ones that have no connection to the story. And then get rid of the ones that you know aren’t the best fit.

If you have a lot to choose from, start with a top 50 and then narrow it down by the following increments.

Top 50…
Top 25…
Top 10…
Top 5…
Top 3…
Top 2…

And… Finally #1! You’ve found it!

This process of elimination will help you identify your favorites for your story. By eliminating a few at a time, you’ll get closer and closer to finding out the perfect title for your book.

Step #6: Ask For Feedback

If you’ve narrowed the list down and still can’t choose, try asking your friends which one they like best.

Give them a list of options, tell them what the story is about. When they give you feedback, be sure to ask them why they choose a certain title over another. The reasons why they liked or disliked a certain title to be quite unexpected and surprising.

Once you’ve gotten the opinions of several friends, there might be a clear favorite among them. That’s probably a good choice for a title, so you should strongly consider it.

Step #7: Take Some Time Off

You’ve done the hard work, now relax. Forget about it. You’ve spent enough time thinking about it for now. Give it some time for the answer to become clear to you.

Imagine what the movie poster or book jacket would look like with the various titles you’ve chosen. Does one stick out to you? Does one seem better than the others?

Over the next few days, you’ll form a gut feeling of which title sounds best. You might have had this feeling about it all along, but now you’ll know it’s the best one.

Trust your intuition and choose the title that feels right to you. It may be the title that you’ve been working with all along. And it may be something you never would have expected. But whatever it is, it’ll feel right to you.

Step #8: Remain Flexible

Be open to changing your book title if later on you realize something else would fit better. You might rewrite a major part of your story and discover that the title you went with is no longer a good fit.

In that case, just start the process over again. In no time you’ll have another unique, original and interesting title for your story.

Also realize that the publishing company or movie studio that buys your story might decide to change the name anyway. It’s always a marketing decision based on the belief that a certain title title will lead to more sales.

So don’t take it personally. Your story is still out there moving audiences around the world. After all, isn’t that what’s most important? The story is still the same the same no matter what it’s called, so don’t worry about it.

What If Your Book Title Is Already Taken?

Well, in that case it gets a little tricky. Generally the best advice is to avoid using an identical or similar title to one that’s already out there.

BUT, the law isn’t so cut-and-dried.

(I am not an attorney. So make sure to seek your own legal advice!)

As far as I know, titles aren’t protected by copyright law. Some titles are protected by Trademark and Unfair Competition law though. But not every title gets that kind of protection.

These laws deal with protecting the public against confusion. For example, let’s say you titled your story “Halloween”. It’s reasonable to expect that the public might consider your story be another release in the series of films that make up the “Halloween” horror franchise.

But, if you were to choose a title of a very old, very obscure film, that kind of confusion is much less likely. So it depends on the particular title on question. And whether people will be confused into believing that it’s a remake, sequel, or related to the project in any way.

In general, It’s better to just use one of the other methods I’ve shown you to come up with something original.

If the movie studio or publisher that buys your story thinks there will be any potential legal conflict, they’re going to change the name anyway. So be original in the first place and don’t let some goof name your script something terrible!

And don’t worry, I’ve already shown you a process for creating hundreds of possible titles for your story. So you’ll surely be able to come up with something unique and original.

Book Title Generator: 25 Ideas To Title Your Novel

Book Title Generator

You’ve done it! After weeks and months of nonstop writing you’ve finally finished your book.

But now a new challenge confronts you… what’s the perfect book title?

And this step is important too. In fact, it’s everything.

It’s one of the first things reader see before opening to page one. Next to cover art, this is the most important marketing decision you can make.

Why Most Book Title Generators Suck

Let’s face it… most book title generators out there are completely useless.

What’s the point in generating random titles for your book if the titles have nothing to do with your story?

I’m currently working on a fantasy project right now. Here are the first ten book titles suggested to me by one of these random generators:

  • The Splintered Bow
  • The Ember in the Fog
  • The Oracle in the Winter
  • The Creed of the Raven
  • Dragon’s Return
  • The Masked Axe
  • The Shadow Warrior
  • The Tangled Oracle
  • North of Light
  • The Tomb in the Dust

While those might actually sound like real book titles, they’re all worthless. None fit my story. You can’t pull random titles out of a hat and think one is going to work for your unique story.

My novel doesn’t revolve around anyone with a bow or who can see the future. Dragon’s Return is way too generic. Shadow Warrior sounds like a bad action flick. And I have no idea what the hell a masked axe is even supposed to mean.

Title generators are pointless if they don't generate a good title for YOUR story.

Not just any story… YOUR unique, individual, one-of-a-kind story.

This article shares every single method, trick and tip for creating book titles as I could think of. They’re the result of many all-day brainstorming sessions with some of my writer buds. We researched thousands of story titles in the process for both movies and novels.

The result is 25 time-tested techniques for creating unique, original, and interesting titles for your stories. I’ve also included dozens of examples to draw inspiration from.

Whether it’s a book, screenplay, or short story… this process works.

25 Book Title Ideas To Title Your Novel

Below you’ll find 25 unique and distinct book title ideas. Try using each one to come up with at least 5 titles for your novel. By the time you’re done you’ll have over 100 potential titles for your book!

Book Title Idea #1: Use Three Words or Less

The shorter your title is, the better. If a brief and direct title fits your story, go for it. There’s nothing stopping you from using a one word title either.

There are plenty of examples:

Lolita (1962 / 1997)
The Swimmer (1968)
Airport (1970)
Deliverance (1972)
The Godfather (1972)
The Exorcist (1973)
Roots (1977)
Jaws (1978)
Centennial (1978)
Shogun (1980)
Ragtime (1981)
Gladiator (2000)
The Bourne Identity (2002)

It’s said that stories with titles of three words or less have a better chance of becoming a bestseller. Less is more.

As you try some of the following methods, aim for shorter titles if possible. Try to keep your title as brief and easy to remember.

But if a longer title suits your story better, go for it. There are plenty of lengthier titles out there that still grab the attention of readers.

Just be aware that the longer your story’s title is, the more trouble you potentially run into. So choose wisely.

Book Title Idea #2: Use The Name or Title of The Main Character

Who is the story always about, no matter what?

The main character of course!

If your main character’s name or position would also double as a catchy story title, go ahead and give it a shot.

Titles such as “The Boxer” or “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” promise intimate character study that will attract readers.

There are thousands of stories out there that use this method. To list them all would be redundant.

But here are some popular ones from the past century:

Rebecca (1940)
Hondo (1953)
Shane (1953)
Spartacus (1960)
Goldfinger (1964)
Doctor Zhivago (1965 / 2002)
The Godfather (1972)
Carrie (1976)
Forrest Gump (1994)
Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Gladiator (2000)
Hannibal (2001)
Coach Carter (2005)

Book Title Idea #3: Use The Story's Setting

If your story is set in one prominent place, consider using it as the title. You can also describe the location rather than naming it directly.

Stories often take place in a sub-culture of some sort. And those different “story worlds” come with a distinct set of characters, plots, and themes.

For example, if the story is titled “New York, New York!” we know that it isn’t going to be about the country roots of southern Georgia.

A big trend in children’s fantasy is to use both the main character and setting and give them silly names.

Take “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” for instance. It’s uses big, silly sounding words and names for its characters and setting. It instantly gets the attention of the target audience — young children.

But your story doesn’t have to be a child’s tale to include the setting in the story’s title.

Here are a few more “serious” films that also use this technique:

Cimarron (1931)
Peyton Place (1957 / 1964)
Lonesome Dove (1989)
Jurassic Park (1993)
Cold Mountain (2003)
Mystic River (2003)
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
The Town (2010)

Book Title Idea #4: Possessives

Possessives are story titles where one object is in the possession of another.

For example, if your story is about stealing your best friend Jesse’s girlfriend, you could title you story “Jessie’s Girl.”

In fact, that might make for a pretty damn good song too!

The possibilities with this method are endless. Every story has several characters in relation to one another. As well as several items or places of importance.

Here are a couple possibilities off the top of my head:

The Junkyard Dog
Prospector’s Gamble
Helen of Troy

You can also rearrange the words too for different variations. “Helen of Troy” could also be “The Troy Helen” or “Troy’s Helen”. Play around with it a bit and see which one works best for you.

Here are some classic examples of type of title:

Portnoy’s Complaint (1969)
The Optimist’s Daughter (1969)
Charlotte’s Web (1973 / 2006)
Angela’s Ashes (1999)
My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997)
My Sister’s Keeper (2009)

Book Title Idea #5: Use Symbolism, Metaphors and Analogies

These types of titles often have a double meaning. They may refer to more than one thing in the story. Or they may describe the entire story as a whole.

For example, let’s say your story is about a young widow who leaves her home in the country for the big city of Miami, Florida. There, she meets a her soul mate in the middle of a hurricane.

A fitting title for this story could be “Eye of the Storm”. An eye of the storm is a region of calm weather found at the center of strong tropical cyclones.

The title would have two meanings. One, the main character meets her love in the eye of an actual storm. And two, she meets her lover in the “eye of the storm” of her life.

Her husband died a tragic death, which could be viewed as the beginning of the storm. Then she meets her lover in the calm middle, the eye of the storm. What comes next is the other side of the storm when the new lovers face some obstacle to true love.

Will their love be strong enough to “weather the storm” of a chaotic relationship?!? Stay tuned to find out!

Pretty cool, huh? And the possibilities are endless.

If you put your mind to it, you’ll likely come up with a good analogy or metaphor to title your story.

Here are some popular movies that have used this method:

The Eye of the Needle (1978)
The Dead Zone (1983)
Silver Bullet (1985)
Lie Down with Lions (1985)
Misery (1990)

Book Title Idea #6: Use a Line of Dialogue

A key line of dialogue from your story can sum up what the theme is all about.

These are often called “tag lines”. They’re often used in business as slogans that get the main benefits of the product across.

These can work well as a title as well. We’ve all had that experience when one of the character’s suddenly says the title in a line of dialogue. Then we say to ourselves “Ahhhh, so that’s what it means.”

Dialogue is a huge part of your story. Often one of your characters will mutter something brilliant that perfectly sums up what your story is all about.

Plus, it’ll create a cool moment for the audience when they finally hear the character say the words. They’ll make the connection behind the meaning of the story’s title.

Here’s a few famous movies to have a character speak the title:

To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They (1969)
The Eagle Has Landed (1976)
Back To The Future (1985)
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Born on The Fourth of July (1989)
Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004)
Tell No One (2006)

Book Title Idea #7: Use an Event or Activity from the Story

What do all good stories have?

Action! There are tons of events, twists, and turns within a story. Often the story revolves around one central incident that can be used to describe the story as a whole.

These types of titles often use a verb at the beginning of their title, ending in ING. That’s the instance of an action or process.

For example, right now you are read-ing this article and hav-ing a good time learn-ing lots of cool ways to come up with story titles.

Here are some prime examples of how to do it:

Flying Misfits (1976)
Romancing the Stone (1984)
Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
Swimming With Sharks (1994)
Waiting to Exhale (1995)
Finding Nemo (2003)
Riding the Bullet (2004)
Raising Helen (2004)
Running Scared (2006)
Pleading Guilty (2011)

Book Title Idea #8: Use a Hidden Meaning

Sometimes your title can have a hidden meaning that will be revealed at some point in the story.

For example, in the movie Dances with Wolves (1990), “Dances with Wolves” is the Indian nickname Kevin Costner is given by a local Indian tribe after they watch him playfully interact with a wolf.

You don’t find this out until well into the story. Suddenly the title of the movie becomes relevant. The story is about the main character, Lieutenant Dunbar, A.K.A.“Dances with Wolves”.

The sources for hidden meanings are endless. There’s all kinds of information you could use. A character’s nickname, his favorite song, how he feels about himself, the possibilities are endless.

Try thinking up a few that could work for your story. Trust me, you won’t have to think long.

Here are some major Hollywood movies that used this strategy:

Cool Hand Luke (1967)
Catch-22 (1970)
Rain Man (1988)
Dances with Wolves (1990)
Unforgiven (1992)
The Green Mile (1999)
Hearts in Atlantis (2001)
The Shipping News (2001)
Red Dragon (2002)

Book Title Idea #9: Use Catch Phrases, Idioms & Popular Expressions

Some story titles use a catch phrase or popular expression from American culture.

They’re easy to remember, seeing as we already use some of them on almost a daily basis. Or we’ve at least heard of them before.

But if you can’t think of something off hand that would fit perfectly, don’t make the mistake of using some phrase no one’s ever heard of. The whole point of this method is the familiarity of the phrase. And if not familiar, don’t use it.

Here are some movies that use common catchphrases for titles:

The Horse’s Mouth (1958)
The Grass is Greener (1960)
All That Jazz (1979)
The Usual Suspects (1995)
The Whole Nine Yards (2000)
Something for Nothing (2012)

Book Title Idea #10: Use a Pun or Play on Words

This method has a certain “cute” factor to it like the previous one. If you can find a fitting title that uses a pun or a play on words, it can be a real hit.

A pun is a form of word play which suggests two or more meanings. It does this by exploiting multiple meanings of words or similar sounding words. It always has an intended comical effect.

Take the following joke for example:

I bet the butcher the other day he couldn’t reach the meat that was on the top shelf. He refused to take the bet, saying that the steaks were too high!

Steaks… not stakes… get it? Hardy har har.

You can also take a popular phrase or expression and put a little bit of a twist on it.

It will still be memorable and familiar to people reading it. Plus it will stick out when they say “Hey! Wait a minute… that’s kinda like _____!”

There are plenty of sources for puns and plays on words all over the internet. So if you want to look for one, they’re not hard to find. The challenging part is finding one that’s the right fit for your story.

Here are movies that used puns or a play on words in their title:

You Only Live Twice (1967)
Burglars Can Be Choosers (1971)
Live and Let Die (1973)
Tongue Fu! (1997)
A Hearse of a Different Color (2001)
The Cancelled Czech (2007)

Book Title Idea #11: Hint at Suspense or Conflict

What do all good stories have?

Conflict!

Conflict between two or more opposing forces is integral to a good story. And the central conflict can also work for a title to your story.

A title is a lot like the premise. It makes a promise to the reader about what they can expect in your story.

For example, if your story title has the word “shark” in it, there’s a good chance there’s gonna be a shark somewhere .

And if not a shark, at least a lawyer or car salesman 😉

But another thing to hint at in your title is the inherent conflict or suspense within a story.

Good words to use are ones like Fight, Danger, War, Secret, Hidden, Battle, Mystery, Angry, Spy, etc.

All those words have power and emotion behind them. They convey an emotional tone of suspense and conflict.

If the main conflict can be summed up with a few concise words, try giving this method a shot.

All these titles are perfect examples of how to do it:

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935 / 1962)
Strangers on a Train (1951)
War of the Worlds (1953 / 2005)
Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
Battle Los Angeles (2011)

Book Title Idea #12: Convey Emotion or Mood

All stories have conflict and suspense. But sometimes they’re much more about softer emotions like love and joy.

Your story’s title can intrigue your readers or communicate a certain mood. They will have a rough idea of what your story is about by the association with their feelings and emotions.

This method can be a little tricky. If you choose the wrong words you’ll convey an emotion that you didn’t mean to.

For example, let’s go with a story about two people who fall in love, break up, and then fall back in love again.

If you title it something like “Angry Love” it paints and entirely different picture than a title like “Romantic Love” or “Easy Love”.

See how the tone of these stories shifts just by changing a single word?

Dangerous Love
Funny Love
Sarcastic Love
Undiscovered Love

It’s easy it to change the emotional tone about it just by choosing a different word. Pretty powerful stuff.

Here are some examples of how to do this:

Unforgiven (1992)
Speed (1994)
Waiting to Exhale (1995)
Trainspotting (1996)
Shakespeare in Love (1998)

Book Title Idea #13: Pick a Color

Sometimes a color might help you get your story idea across to an audience.

There have been studies into the psychology of colors. They explain which emotions, moods, and meanings are most commonly associated with each color. You can find free resources for this information on the internet.

But don’t just pick any color at random. You want to make sure that the color properly matches the emotional tone of the story you’re attaching it to.

For example, imagine how silly it would sound if you decided to give your love story a title like:

“Brown Hot Love”

What? That make me think of brownies with melted chocolate if anything! Not a tender love story!

Here are some examples of stories with a color in their title:

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
Purple Rain (1984)
Pretty In Pink (1986)
Men in Black (1997)
The Thin Red Line (1998)
Brown Sugar (2002)

Book Title Idea #14: Take a Number

Pretty self-explanatory. Numbers are often used in combination with some of the other methods of titling a story.

This is a lot like the pick a color method. But you don’t have to be as discerning about the number you choose in most cases.

For example, take the movie 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag (1997). Why eight? Why not seven? Or nine? Doesn’t really matter.

The only time it would matter is when the number already has some meaning associated with it.

Take the numbers “3” and “7” for instance. They are already commonly considered lucky numbers, while number “13” is considered unlucky.

So it would be a little odd to title your story “Lucky Number 2” when three would be a much better number. But you may catch some attention by the juxtaposition of something like “Lucky Number 13”.

Here are some movies that use numbers in their titles:

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Two for the Money (2005)
Three Kings (1999)
Fantastic Four (2005)
The Fifth Element (1997)
The Sixth Sense (1999)
Seven Samurai (1954)
8 Mile (2002)
District 9 (2009)
10 Things I Hate About You (1997)
Ocean’s Eleven (1960 / 2001)
Twelve Angry Men (1957)

I could go on for days, but you get the idea…

Book Title Idea #15: L is for Letters

Not so common in film, but author Sue Grafton has made a habit of using letters to begin her book titles.

A is for Alibi (1982)
B is for Burglar (1985)
C is for Corspe (1986)
D is for Deadbeat (1987)
E is for Evidence (1988)

This could be used for practically any letter. So as long as the word it stands for clearly communicates what the story is about or hints at its theme or genre.

If you wanted to take this idea a step further, you could base your premise on exploring the “ABC’s” of something.

For example, two producers once released an anthology horror film containing 26 short films about different ways to die. Each way to die began with a different letter of the alphabet:

A is for Apocalypse
B is for Bigfoot
C is for Cycle
D is for Dogfight
E is for Extermination

And so on, and so on…

In fact, this is a pretty damn cool idea now that I think about it. I’d love to see a movie about the “ABC’s” of things like love, or money.

Feel free to take this idea to a new level.

Book Title Idea #16: References to Time

If the time period that your story takes place in is critical to the story line, you can title your story after it.

This is a lot like titling your story after a character or a setting. Except that the time period in which the story takes place is more important than the setting or characters.

Maybe it takes place during a key historical period like the dark ages or pre-historic times.

Or maybe it happens in the summer of ’69, or cold winter alone in Iceland.

Or maybe your characters are “gone in sixty seconds”, but sometimes they drag it out for over “500 days of Summer”.

Like most of my other methods, the possibilities are endless.

Here are a few stories that successfully use this strategy:

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
1984 (1984)
The Spirit of ’76 (1990)
Legends of the Fall (1994)
Nine ½ Weeks (1996)
Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000)
Summer Catch (2001)
28 Days Later (2002)
Ice Age (2002)
Prehistoric Park (2006)
88 Minutes (2007)
10,000 B.C. (2008)
2012 (2009)
Winter’s Bone (2010)

Book Title Idea #17: Rhyming

Don’t think that because this method is used in children’s literature that it won’t work for your story title as well.

Rhyming titles have that same “cute” factor to them and will instantly grab a reader’s attention.

Rhyming is used in song lyrics & business slogans for a reason: it’s catchy and makes them easy to remember.

Here are some prime examples of rhyming story titles:

The Cat in The Hat (1957)
Drop Dead Fred (1991)
Jeepers Creepers (2001)
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
Into the Blue (2005)
You, Me, and Dupree (2006)
Good Luck Chuck (2007)

Book Title Idea #18: Repetition and Alliteration

Alliteration is using the repetition of a particular sound in the stressed syllables within a group of words.

And repetition is using the same word over and over for added emphasis.

Used together, they are pretty powerful.

This is used all over the place: business names, commercial products, song lyrics… you name it.

It’s an easy way to make something catchy and easy to remember.

Here are “Major Movies” that “Make Mad” use of this method:

King Kong (1933 / 2005)
It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963)
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)
Jeremiah Johnson (1972)
Mad Max (1979)
Blues Brothers (1980)
Dirty Dancing (1987)
What Women Want (2000)
Coach Carter (2005)
Fantastic Four (2005)
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005)
Revolutionary Road (2008)

Book Title Idea #19: Feel the Rhythm

Some titles become catchy because they have a certain rhythm and cadence to them when spoken. Sort of like a song lyric.

These work well with longer story title because it’s hard to get some rhythm going with only three words.

You’ll also notice that story titles like this often use rhyming, repetition and alliteration to help give a certain “flow” to the words.

While there’s no scientific formula, the best way to test this method is to say the title out loud and see how it sounds.

You’ll just know when one sounds right or if it sounds a little off.

Here are some good examples of story titles that have rhythm:

The Sins of Rachel Cade (1961)
The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (1965)
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)
At Play in the Fields of the Lord (1991)
The Bridge of Madison County (1995)
The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2002)
Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium (2007)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
Anna Karenina (2012)

Book Title Idea #20: Reference Something Well Known

Sometimes your title may already be chosen for you if it’s a remake.

Or if it is a derivative work and uses some of the same settings or characters from something already well known. It would be a good idea to include something recognizable in the title. That way readers can make the association and get the hint.

This is known as a “spin-off” – a derivative work that “spins off” a character, theme or setting of an established story.

This happens all the time in television. A minor character gains so much popularity with the audience that they end up with their own show after a few seasons.

When writing derivative works, it’s important to include something in the title so people can say “Hey! I know that guy! I love his character on _____!”

This also works well for stories about famous celebrities, historical figures and politicians.

When the titles are named after something or someone people recognize, readers will get a clear idea what the story will be about.

Here are some examples of referencing something well known:

JFK (1991)
Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Shakespeare in Love (1999)
The Scorpion King (2002)
Chronicles of Riddick (2004)
Evan Almighty (2007)
G.I. Joe: Rise of The Cobra (2009)
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

Book Title Idea #21: Use Common Acronyms

In a few special cases you might find that an acronym works well for a fitting story title.

But be very careful here!

This generally only works if the acronym is already well known by the public. Or, it will easily become apparent early into the story.

If it’s not, it’ll confuse everyone. They’ll spend the entire time wondering what the hell you meant instead of enjoying the story.

If you decide to create your own, it’s best if the acronym can be easily pronounced as a word

For example, the acronym “S.W.A.T.” is commonly pronounced “swat”.

But if you make up some hard-to-say acronym like “R.S.L.T.N.E.” because you’re a big fan of Wheel of Fortune, you’re just gonna piss everyone off.

Here are some examples of good use of acronyms for story titles:

D.O.A. (1950 / 1988) = Dead on Arrival
M*A*S*H (1970) = Mobile Army Surgical Hospital
JFK (1991) = John Fitzgerald Kennedy
S.W.A.T. (2003) = Special Weapons and Tactics
RV (2006) = Recreational Vehicle

Book Title Idea #22: Nursery Rhymes and Folk Tales

Many children’s nursery rhymes have some pretty strange and dark origins behind them.

For example, did you know that the folk song “Ring Around the Rosie” is actually in reference to the Black Plague?

A “pocket full of posies” was used as protection against catching the plague. It also helped ward off the smell of rotting flesh!

If a nursery rhyme fits the theme of your story, or you can make a play on words to give it an alternate meaning, give this a try.

This technique is also frequently used in fiction literature. Author James Patterson has used nursery rhymes to title some of his books.

Roses are Red (2000)
Jack and Jill (1997)
Four Blind Mice (2002) (see how it also uses a play on words?)
Along Came a Spider (2001)

Here are some movies that derive their title from nursery rhymes:

The Cat and The Fiddle (1934)
All the King’s Men (1949)
There Was a Crooked Man (1970)
Pretty Maids All In A Row (1979)
Red Riding Hood (2011)
Jack and Jill (2011)
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)

Book Title Idea #23: Target Audience Word Association

If you have a story that will target a specific group of people — whether by occupation, association, or specific interest — titling your story to get their attention may be a good idea.

Here are some examples of titling a movie targeting a specific type of audience or group of people:

Interest: War Movies
Occupation: Military Personnel

D-Day The Sixth of June (1956)
Universal Soldier (1992)
We Were Soldiers (2002)
Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
Stop Loss (2008)

Occupation: Farmers

The Farmer’s Wife (1930)
Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Field of Dreams (1989)
The Real Dirt on Farmer John (2005)
Promised Land (2012)

See how those titles directly target people that may be interested in seeing those types of movies? As well as fit the theme and tone of the story?

But like all other methods, make sure you’re using the right words. Paint the proper picture with your title and don’t mislead.

Don’t drag a bunch of action seekers to some sappy love drama. They’ll hate you for it!

Book Title Idea #24: Famous Quotes or Song Lyrics

You could search an online database for related lyrics or quotes to your story. You might be able find something that inspires your title.

For example, if you had a story about peace and war, you could title it something like…

An Eye for An Eye (Mahatma Gandhi)
Peace Begins with a Smile (Mother Teresa)
The High Price of Peace (Benjamin Franklin)
The Colored Ribbon (Napoleon Bonaparte)
Fond of War (Robert E. Lee)
Casualties of War (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
Good War, Bad Peace (Benjamin Franklin)

Or you could take the lyrics from one of your favorite songs and go all kinds of directions with it.

For Example: Take the Rolling Stones song, “Brown Sugar”…

This could be a fitting title for all sorts of stories. From tales of the slave trade, to heroin usage, to a story about, well… actual brown sugar!

The ideas are endless, and so are the resources. There are millions of quotes out there waiting for writers like you to give a new meaning.

Book Title Idea #25: Combinations of the Above Ideas

As you may have noticed, many of the titles listed above fit into multiple categories. That’s because they’re using a combination of several different methods to create a catchy title.

While combining methods doesn’t always guarantee success, it can help you create an original, one-of-a-kind title.

But what’s most important is that the story title fits the story. Not how many different methods it uses. Don’t do it just to do it.

Here are some examples of story’s that do it correctly:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
(alliteration + character name + event + suspense)

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
(character + setting + alliteration)

Murder at 1600 (1997)
(suspense + event + setting)

Try combining a few methods above to see if that helps you come up with a better title for your story.