Tuesday, February 19, 2019

TITLES and Working Titles


In one of the funniest episodes of the TV series Seinfeld, Elaine wants to impress a famous Russian novelist with her inside knowledge. “Did you know that War and Peace was not Tolstoy’s original title? The original was War—WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?”

She was half-right. The working title was The Year 1805.


Stories abound, which I cannot vouch for, that many famous titles almost weren’t.
The Great Gatsby’s working title was The High Bouncing Lover.
To Kill a Mocking Bird’s working title was Atticus.
Of Mice and Men’s working title was Something that Happened.


Titles are an art all its own. If you ever marveled at a beautifully wrapped gift only to find that the content was less impressive, you got a glimpse as to what great titles can do. They are an enticing invitation to look inside without revealing the content. Fiction titles are evocative, not informative.

Titles cannot be copyrighted. They are often the brainchild of the publisher, not the author. Most publishing contracts don’t even give the author the right to veto a title they don’t care for.



For myself, I consider all my titles to be working-titles only. The title serves as a lamppost to remind me where or what or even why I’m telling this story, and sometimes whose story it is. But once the last line of the first draft materializes, all bets are off. I got to the finish line in one piece, and renaming the journey is wide open.

13 comments:

Vijaya said...

Sometimes, the story will begin with the Title :) I'm great at beginnings. lol.

Mirka Breen said...

I'm good at endings ;)

Evelyn said...

An interesting topic. With my puzzle books I tended to go with alliteration for many of them. I haven't had much experience with published pbs.

ikmar said...

I'd heard other names for The Great Gatsby before but not that one. Then I found this: http://mentalfloss.com/article/26044/what-10-classic-books-were-almost-called

Fun post :)

Kelly Hashway said...

Titles are so tough to come up with. Ugh.

Tyrean Martinson said...

That's a good way to view titles and one that gives me a sense of relief. I struggle with titling my books. My current WIP has had at least three different working titles and not only do I hope I can get a traditional contract for it, but I hope they do come up with a better title for it than I can. :)

Sue said...

Nice post.

Barbara Etlin said...

Sometimes I have a lot of trouble with titles. For my current WIP, the title came easily and I still like it. But I know that titles are very important and that they almost always change. Your attitude is a good one; it's best to be open to change.

Mirka Breen said...

"...it's best to be open to change."

Maybe a good attitude toward more than titles. How about most everything? ;)

Jan Coates said...

Have to say most of my titles so far have been chosen by me, not the publisher, but I spend A LOT of time, and go through dozens of title ideas. researching relevant quotes, etc., before landing on THE one. Occasionally my working title actually has become the real title. As a reader, titles are important to me, and I love when the title suits a book perfectly.

Sherry Ellis said...

I didn't know the working titles of those famous works. I think the end titles work much better than the starting ones.

Cadence McManimon said...

A nice post on the art of titles! Do you mind if I link to this in a future post on my blog? Also, congratulations on winning a copy of my book "Name Unspoken"! (incidentally, what do you think of that title? ;) I'll have it in the mail for you soon.

Mirka Breen said...

I welcome any linking, thank you Candace. I'll also be welcoming your book when it arrives. The title evokes mystery for me. I'm composing another post for tomorrow, also about titles and title changes.