We’ve covered various aspects of storytelling. Now let’s use this information to develop writing skills. The first step to writing a simple story is to choose a title. Here are ideas to help a student choose an interesting title.
The Importance of a Title
Titles are more important than one might think. The purpose of a title is to grab someone’s attention. But not only must it be interesting, it must also convey what the readers will encounter if they choose to continue.
In addition, the title is also important to the writer. Choosing a title makes us think. It forces us to narrow what we are going to say. It provides a focus.
Titles that Capture Attention
Ask your student to reflect back on titles of books that may have captured his attention. If possible, stick to fictional stories. Have him spend time pulling books off of the shelf, consulting reading lists to refresh his memory, and making a written list of three titles. For each title have him answer the questions:
- What did he like about the title?
- What did he think the book might be about based only on the title?
- What type of story did he assume he would be reading?
Titles that Work
Sometimes students will take the easy way out when choosing a title. If asked to write about their pet they might title their work: My Cat.
The problem in letting a writer get by with this is that the title is not reflective of the work. What about the cat? Why are you telling me about the cat? Will I even care to read about your cat?
But let’s say the writer has a very interesting cat. Maybe it is an expert mouser. Or perhaps it had an interesting introduction into the world. Perhaps it has had so many close scrapes that it has to be near the end of its nine lives. What makes this cat unique? The answer to that question will provide a more interesting title.
Based on the above ideas, possible titles about the cat could include:
- Mighty Mouser.
- The Cat that Almost Wasn’t.
- Life Number Eight.
You get the idea. These titles do several things:
- Force the story to be focused.
- Provide the fodder that will drive an interesting story.
- Help the reader understand what the story is about.
Exercises for Writing an Interesting Title
1. Ask your student to choose one of the three titles from the list he created above, substituting his own subject matter. For example, if one of his favorite titles is Alice in Wonderland, and the subject is his cat, the new title might be one of the following:
- Cat in Wonderland.
- Alice with a Cat.
- The Cat Who Fell Down a Hole.
- The Shrinking Cat.
- The Mad Catter.
- The Cheshire Cat.
Provide time for your student to play around with the titles, no matter how silly. This brainstorming session will be helpful in creating that attention-capturing title.
2. Here is a list of Caldecott winners:
- Chanticleer and the Fox.
- Time of Wonder.
- A Tree is Nice.
- Frog Went A-Courtin’.
- Madeline’s Rescue.
- The Biggest Bear.
- Finders Keepers.
- The Egg Tree.
- Song of the Swallows.
Ask your student to change the titles to those that include his subject matter. For example:
- Chanticleer and the Cat.
- Cat of Wonder.
- A Cat is Nice.
- Cat Went A-courtin’.
- Cat’s Rescue.
- The Biggest Cat.
- Cat Keepers.
- The Cat Tree.
- Song of the Cat.
Be sure your child notices how the image in his head changes with each new title. Each story would be quite different.
3. Use the ideas from an older summer reading challenge. Imagine a suitable title featuring your subject matter for each category on the list.
4. Use storytelling prompts to create titles (scroll down to Storytelling Ideas).
5. Use a story starter to create the idea for practicing writing titles. This can be surprisingly challenging. Our starter:
Write about a camping trip with a sick horse who rides zebras.
Yes. Well. How about: Barfy, the Zebra-riding Horse Camper. You must admit, that might be an interesting book….
Writing an Effective Title
Includes a writing exercise where the writer creates 20 titles. Very effective!
14 Forms of Writing for the Older Student: The Short Story
More tips here.