Candice has a piece on the importance of titles on her blog, and on the difficulty of finding good ones. I enjoy a good title very much myself, and though I’m unlikely to buy a book by its cover there is no doubt that a provocative title draws me in like the moths who come at night to circle our deck light. I agree that titles are critical.
I also enjoy just making up titles, and quite often an evocative title that I’ve come up with has “triggered” the basic idea for a story that follows. At other times the story and idea seem to come together as a pair. Sort of like, if you order now you’ll also receive… But there are plenty of times when the perfect (or at least decent) title doesn’t strike me and then I have to work for it. Here are some of the things I do, although I don’t know if these will help Candice at all.
1). I love poetic sounding titles, Nightmare with Angel (Stephen Gallagher), She is the Darkness (Glen Cook), and where is the best place to find poetic titles? From reading poetry. (Apologies to Stewart Sternberg.) I read a lot of poetry, and write it. Most of my favorite titles from my own work have come from poems I’ve written, or were jotted down first as possible lines in poems. “A Cold of Snow and Ghosts” and “Wanting the Mouth of a Lover” are examples of this, both titles for vampire related stuff. I’ve sold a poem with the line in it, “The Language of Scorpions,” and I’m still waiting for the story that should go with that title. Reading poetry also, for me at least, seems to shift my brain into the mode that allows me to string words together in something approximating pretty. Maybe the process will be the same for you.
2). I’ve also found quite often that if I can’t discover a title from outside a story I can discover one within. What I mean by this is that the perfect title, or at least a good workable one, often lurks in the prose that you’ve used to actually construct a tale. My story “Splatter of Black” was originally titled “Turnabout is Fair Play,” which is both awkward and cliché. The editor wanted a title change so I went through the story line by line until I found the phrase “splatter of black.” “Thief of Eyes” came about in much the same way. You might be able to speed up the process of finding such lines in your own tales by using the computer’s search capabilities. If you’ve written a horror story, search for words like “black,” “night,” “fear,” “shadow,” “hate,” etc, and see what phrases pop out at you from your own piece. If it’s a romance, how about searching for “love,” “kiss,” “embrace,” “sunrise,” “dream,” etc. If you write romance you probably have a better idea of good words than I do. If it’s a mystery, what about “clue,” “murder,” “weapon,” “blood,” etc.
3). Some people borrow titles from the classics. Hemingway did this all the time. The Bible seems a good place to find possible titles, especially the psalms and proverbs. The King James version is actually quite poetic, which is fitting since parts of it seem to have been written by Shakespeare. (Speaking of Shakespeare, he has a great line that I want to use as a title or in a poem somewhere, sometime. It’s “We mourn in black. Why mourn we not in blood?”) But classics such as The Arabian Nights, or The Odyssey can be great sources for possible titles.
Anyway, there are my suggestions for finding titles. They work for me. Maybe they’ll work for others.