• Post-NaPoWriMo Talk: Dubs Rewatcher on Titles

    Little known fact: Cadance actually learned most of what she knows about shipping from Twilight.

    In the first of our Post-NaPoWriMo Articles, we’re going to look at the very first thing people see when they look at your stories: the title. 

    With an average of 35-40 stories posted per day on FimFiction, it’s a struggle to get your story noticed. People have done year-long studies to develop statistical data on the best day to publish a story. They’ve even narrowed it down to the best time of day, factoring in timezones, holidays, concurrent populations and a whole heck of a lot of math that goes way over my head. You’re welcome to research that data if you like. 

    Today, though, we’re going to focus on one of the key elements which you have much more control over. 

    Most people know a good title when they hear one. But when it comes to creating one, many hesitate, because… well, how do you even know this is any good? The goal of this article is to spell out some of the fundamentals to help point you in the right direction.

    Please note that these are opinions of Dubs Rewatcher and myself. You can ask a dozen different authors for suggestions and you’ll get two dozen different answers on the topic of titles. They are not hard-and-fast rules. They’re guidelines. Don’t take them as set in stone! 

    Field Notes: Data indicates cuteness level increases dramatically if I'm upside down. Must apply this immediately!

    Your story will often live or die based on the title alone. If it’s not enough to grab a reader’s attention, they’ll move on quickly to the next story on the list. Now, I’m starting with the most basic, because folks forget it way too often!

    #1: Check the Spelling, Grammar and Capitalization

    This is what your reader is going to see first. The spellcheck is obvious so I won’t dive into it. Grammar is equally as obvious (watch for it’s vs. its). However, there are a bunch of different styles on capitalization. Personally, I recommend the Associated Press style, because it’s simple: 
    Capitalize the first word of the title, the last word of the title, and all “principal” words (that’s essentially the same parts of speech I just listed—nouns, verbs and so on), and all words longer than three letters.
    No matter what you choose, there are two things I recommend avoiding:
    • No capitalization: While this is fanfiction, you should try to give your story a professional shine. Unless it’s a specific design decision, have at least some of your title capitalized.
    • Unnecessary Punctuation: The most common I’ve seen is a period at the end of a title. This is usually caused by your hands just automatically adding it. I’ve done this a few times.
    • Inconsistent Punctuation or Capitalization: No matter what you end up choosing, stick with it, be it with colons, dashes or the capitalization of the word “for.”
    Making sure your title has proper capitalization and spelling is just basic presentation. 

    Equestria Daily pre-reader (and owner of supremely epic hair) Dubs Rewatcher did an excellent post on Titles in early November. You can find the original post with some fantastic examples right here. You can find what he had to say below!

    "Moon Dancer? Why are all these called Bookhorses in Love?"

    #2: The Title Should be Related to the Piece

    This is the most obvious and basic one. Your title should bear some relation to the content of your work. Whether that's using the name of the MacGuffin (The Maltese Falcon), the setting (The Office), the main character (Harry Potter), or just using the infamous "Character Name verbs a noun" construction (Princess Luna Picks Up Hitchhikers)—it's up to you.
    Everypony loves a shipfic! Twilight even has graphs on why! (She won't let anyone see them though)

    #3: The Title Should be Meaningful

    It's hard to explain what I mean here in a few words, so let me offer some examples instead.

    Let's look at Lord of the Rings. That's a pretty good title. It's related to the story, obviously, since it's referring to Sauron. And it's meaningful, since Sauron is the main antagonist, and the creator of the iconic One Ring that the story revolves around. Now consider if, instead, Tolkien had decided to title the series Tom Bombadil. He's a minor character in the books, which means that the title would still be related. Yet, since he is so comparatively unimportant, all the significance of the title is lost. It's not meaningful.

    Any author on this site could title their story The, and it would be related to the story, since every author uses that word. But that word alone has no meaning, carries no real weight within the story. It doesn't work as a title for the piece as a whole.

    It's also a bonus if a title is able to resonate with meaning even to someone who hasn't read the story. Consider Reese Roper's 2014 poem, "On Day Number Six." Without even knowing what the poem entails, his title invites a whole host of thoughts. It demands comparison to the Book of Genesis, and its opening, in which God forms the universe bit by bit, day by day. It carries the implication that this poem is not bringing us to the beginning of Roper's story, but to some point along the path—six days in, to be specific.

    The best titles carry meaning and significance on a number of levels.

    "I wonder why Rarity was blushing when she gave me this mug..."

    #4: The Title Should Act as a Hook

    This is the one that authors forget about/ignore the most, and it's to their detriment. While the inherent purpose of a title is, in its most basic sense, to be the "name" or identifier of your work, the best titles actively attract readers. Titles do this in much the same way a traditional first-line hook does; they provoke interest and wonder, paint conflict, create a discrepancy, even shock the reader. The meaning and significance I wrote about in the last rule can go a long way towards hooking a reader, too.

    It helps to think of your title like this: in many ways, your title is the actual first line of your story. It's likely to be the first thing the audience reads, and is likely to sit above your story. In both formatting and execution, it comes before the first line of the story. So if we're crafting hooks with the idea in mind that we need to grab the reader from the start, why not apply that same logic to our titles, the real start?

    Or, as fellow EqD pre-reader Pascoite simply says: “If you saw your story title as part of a long list of them, is it one you’d want to check out?”

    The best titles aren't just there for show—they pull their weight by engaging readers just as much as the story itself.

    "Finally! A book that really understands me!"

    A special thank you for Dubs Rewatcher for sharing his insights! He has some great additional thoughts on his blog and you should really go and check it out. You can see his blog and the rest of his works here!

    In our next post, we’ll explore the second most important aspect of your story presentation (and what is probably the hardest of all), the synopsis.