When it comes to titles, most writers fall into two camps: those who seem to effortless come up with extremely cool titles like “Pistol Packing Paleontologist” (an article by Kelly Milner Halls) and those who struggle and strive to come up with something that doesn’t make an editor nod off in mid read. If you’re in the first group, excellent. If you’re in the second group, there is hope. It’ll take a little more effort but you can learn to whip up some tempting titles with the right recipe.

When you’re labeling things, you choose the most information in the shortest form. The Ziploc bags in your freezer probably say “hamburger” and “chicken,” not “tempting treat” or “future yum.” The problem with labeling an article or story is that a good label leaves little to the imagination. A good label for the story would tell the most important part and basically spoil the surprise. For example, Very Hungry Caterpillar might be labeled “A Caterpillar Turns into a Butterfly,” and Harry Potter might be labeled “Wizard Boy Saves the Day.” A label gives away the surprise.

You never want to give away the surprise. Not in a story or article. John Green named his first novel Looking For Alaska, not “Accepting There are Some Things You Can Never Know About Another Person.” One tempts with mystery and the other gives the mystery away. That’s why Scooby Doo isn’t called “The Ghosts are Just Bad Guys in Costumes.” 

And yet, I’ve often seen folks label stories as if they are packages of meat in the freezer. “Joey Learns to Share” for example is not a title; it’s a label for a story that is probably designed to teach the reader to share. Any fun or life in the story is deadened by the fact that the reader already knows where the story is going. Even with this article, a label would have said, “How to Write Good Titles,” but a title needs a bit more. A title has oomph.

To find out how to give your title some “oomph”, click the button above to the listen to the full episode.

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