History That Never Was

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Writing to a Title

Many authors find that coming up with a title is considerably harder than writing the story (or book, or poem) that needs the title. However, some authors start with a title and write their story to fit that title.

But first, you need a title.

The good news is that there are random title generators out there. Your mileage may vary on how useful they will be for you, but they might, at the very least, spark an idea of combining a piece from one title with a piece from another title, and voila, now you’ve got a title to write to.

Some of my favorite random title generators/sources include:

  • Magatsu Generator Central, which has different generators depending on what genre you want to write.
  • AutoShouju: Anime and Manga Title and Tagline Generator, which tends to lend itself best to anime and manga, of course, but sometimes gives some dreamy fantasy titles.
  • Book Title Generator, which offers a variety of genres AND allows you to add a couple of words that you would like the titles to contain.
  • You could take a look at my monthly writing prompts, which are lists of words. Take three from a particular day, or just three that catch your eye, and put them together with any necessary articles, prepositions, or conjunctions you need to make something sensible.
  • And finally, a Google image search for story title ideas, which turns up some of the funny Electric Literature-style generators based on your name/birthday/etc., as well as just some lists of titles that people have offered up to the internet.

Okay, so once you’ve got your title picked, now what?

Well, hopefully you selected a title because the words there gave you some potential ideas. Let’s take an example of “Shadow Dragon War.” To me, this either implies that there are shadow dragons (in which case I’d start by thinking about what shadow dragons can and can’t do, and how they might fit into a world), or maybe there’s a shadow war against dragons (in which case, I might start by switching the order of the words to “Dragon Shadow War”, and then start thinking about who is waging this shadow war and why). You could also expand this three word title to “In the Shadow of the Dragon War,” and then maybe it’s about people surviving while the dragons of their world are warring.

Give yourself maybe ten minutes to just scribble down ideas and possibilities, and then take a step back and see what you’ve got that you could turn into a story. You may not see anything at first, which might mean you should rearrange the words, or brainstorm something that the words make you think of, that perhaps isn’t directly in those words. Maybe you like the idea of dragons, but want to make them mist dragons or light dragons instead of shadow dragons. Maybe you don’t want to write about a war, in which case you could swap that out for peace or some other related concept.

Once you’ve got some ideas churning, you can start working on your story, whether that begins with outlining, research, or just starting to put words onto paper. And you’ve got your title to guide you throughout the process. (Though you shouldn’t be afraid to continue tweaking the title if the story dictates that the title no longer works.)

I generally find that starting with a title and writing a story to fit it works best when I want to write something, but I can’t figure out what I want to write, necessarily. Much like starting with a generalized writing prompt, you might use a title as a prompt. And maybe you won’t wind up writing to the title you find, but you might get a different inspiration!

Next week, I’ll talk about the thing that I feel like more authors are looking for: coming up with a title for a story you’ve already written.


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