Well, I sometimes come up with something that, despite my best efforts, sticks with the story to the bitter end. Right now, one of my stories has the title "Guardian of the Gates" on it. I don't like it---for some reason, it reminds me of one of Leigh Brackett's Martian adventure stories. I wouldn't mind if I'd'a written something as good as any of Leigh Brackett's stories, or even if it was something like one of those stories...but it's not. I'll cast around for something else if it goes beyond this stage.
One horrid problem I have with coming up with or changing titles is filing them. A couple of years pass, my memories fade, and I think...which one of these is the most recent file? Which file did I print out and submit? Are these files the same story or different stories?
But to title an untitled story...well, look within the story, see if anybody or anything is saying or doing something that's strong enough to stand up as a good guide to what's within the story.
Of course I'm also drawn to titles that mean two or three different things...preferably based on something within the story, of course. (Application of this: less than successful.)
(One side project I've had from time to time is taking favorite (or not-so-favorite) books, thumbing through them, poking a finger in at random, and writing down the phrase or sentence as a possible title. I've gotten some pretty good titles out of this---but the idea usually came from the title, not the other way 'round. Useless for a situation like this...but fun to do.)
Working titles will often be the first name of the main character for me (if multiple, the one I like best when writing the file). Actual titles though, they come later often. My WOTF story for last quarter had a title change right before I printed it out (and then I realized I changed the title in 2 out of 3 places and had to print out again). Another title that I am ashamed of was the prompt for the writing challenge. I really liked the prompt and it made sense as a working title and I couldn't think of anything better. For my novel, I have several titles in the back of my head, one that seems to be the contender but I am doing everything until then under a name I just picked out because I was doing nano and wanted my page to have a real title. Look over books within your genre and get a feel for what is typical and then think of variations off that. I had considered titling something Faithful once, but it screamed romance novel and mine is not so I dropped that.
I don't know about short stories, but editors will sometimes pick a different title than that of the author for publishing a book. This is something the author has no control over, and from what I've read deals with picking the best title to sell the book... promotion.
There's been times when a title will pop right into my head, and other times I just can't come up with anything that sounds appropriate. Frustrating, I know. I have a trilogy I've left on the back burner that I started in high school, and I still have no idea what to call it... or the individual books for that matter. I haven't abandoned it, but I just have other projects I'm working on right now.
Sometimes I think writers pick titles out of the blue. Just look at some of the titles for movies over the last few years. Some of them don't make much sense at all, and yet they were chosen to promote the movie to the public. Sure makes you wonder how some were chosen, that's for sure.
When I'm trying to come up with a title, I ask myself these four questions,
What's my favorite thing about the story? What is the genre? Which of the character's own the story? What is the best moment in the story?
Once I've asked myself these questions, I try to notice any overlap. That should be the title, or what the title is about.
For example, say you were trying to come up with the title for Ender's Game. The best moment in the story is when Ender finds out that the games are real. IMO The character that owns the story is Ender, and since he is a child, the title both tells us who is important, but it also gives the age of the character. Also the double meaning of end game, and Ender's Game, gives a feel for the genre. You get the gist of war, and the seriousness of the consequences.
The title tells the story.
Usually, titles feel weird to me because they always seems too simple.
I think that for titles, the simpler in words, but the deeper in meaning, the better. ~Sheena
[This message has been edited by shimiqua (edited August 25, 2010).]
Mine usually remain "untitled" until a suitable title jumps out at me, normally right at the very end. I do like to have them named by the time I reach the end of the first draft though, no good having a pile of untitled novels to edit
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If you want to sell a story/have it read, then a title aim to hook as well as clue people into the genre of the the story. Basically it should do as much as you can make it do, after all it may be your only opportunity to talk to the reader.