Do you have any advice for writing villain motivations, especially making them relatable?
A while ago, I made a realization that was life changing:
Villains can – and frequently do – have exactly the same motivations as heroes. Think of them as the shadows, the inverted versions, of benevolent desires.
I’ll show you what I mean:
The hero wants love and validation, and earns it through their actions – namely, treating those they care about with support and value.
Examples: Megamind, Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, Quasimodo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
The villain wants love and validation, and believes others owe it to them. They’ll frequently get enraged and violent when the objects of their affection deny them.
Examples: Tighten from Megamind, Severus Snape from Harry Potter, Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Ross from Friends.
The hero wants power in order to gain agency and autonomy for themselves and/or promote justice and improve the lives of others.
Examples: T’Challa from Black Panther, Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones.
The villain wants power in order to dominate others and to do what they want without consequence.
Examples: Killgrave from Jessica Jones.
The hero will do whatever it takes to protect their family, while abiding by a code of underlying morals that they will not violate.
Examples: Dean Winchester from Supernatural, Joyce Byers from Stranger Things, Marlon from Finding Nemo, the man and the boy from The Road.
The villain will do whatever it takes to protect their family, including taking away their freedom, abusing them, or hurting and killing other innocent families.
Examples: Eddie’s mom from IT, John Winchester from Supernatural, Mother Gothel from Tangled, whoever Bruce Willis’ character in Looper was.
The hero was raised in an abusive, violent environment. They’ll do whatever it takes to never have to experience that again, and to make sure others never have to suffer in the same way.
Examples: Finn and Rey from Star Wars, Katniss from Hunger Games.
The villain was raised in an abusive, violent environment. They’ll do whatever it takes to never experience that again, including doing the exact same thing to other people.
Examples: That one dude from A Series of Unfortunate Events,Severus Snape (again.)
The hero wants a remedy for injustice, and goes about it by attacking the source of the corruption or providing a platform for the truth to be told.
Examples: Every classic superhero, Robin Hood, The original trio from Star Wars, Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter from The Help.
The villain wants a remedy for injustice, and goes about it by hurting innocents to get an audience or power.
Examples: Killmonger from Black Panther, Magneto from X-Men.
The realization that evil or destructive people are human, and, essentially, want the same things as good people, is a realization that makes them easier to write in an identifiable way.
I hope this helps, and happy writing! <3
1. Physical Abuse
(GIF from this amazing short film/PSA on child abuse, which you should absolutely check out.)
Physical abuse doesn’t always consist of simply punching or hitting.
It can also involve:
How to write it:
Remember that in only the most severe cases will the abuser be abusive all the time: more often than not, they will behave as “normal” or even loving parents to the child at least some of the time. This will often be emotionally confusing to the child, and make them feel as though they did something to warrant it when the parent eventually explodes.
Oftentimes, physical abuse will coincide with alcohol addiction. Other times, the parent will legitimately believe that physical abuse such as beatings, whippings, and spankings, will help their child to be a better person. Others believe it’s simply a natural power dynamic that should exist: when I was younger, for instance, I remember an acquaintance of my father complain that you “can’t even slap your kid anymore, or they’ll send you to jail for child abuse.”
When depicting physical abuse on paper, understated language will often have the most emotional impact. The last thing you want is for a child abuse scene to become unintentionally hilarious.
For instance, this:
Sandy’s father struck him again and again, his fist a merciless hammer. Agony wracked his young body, already riddled with black and purple bruises. Anguish racked his soul, cry after cry tearing its way from his lungs. When would it end? When would the abuse stop? When would he get the chance to be a child for once in his life?
Would be significantly less effective than this:
“I said shut up, ya little shit!” Sandy’s father barked.
His hand struck Sandy, hard, across the face, leaving a tender pickened mark across his cheek. Sandy brought a hand up to touch it delicately, tears pricking his eyes as he turned and quietly shuffled away.
Don’t be an exhibitionist, and don’t rely on drawing the audience’s attention with a spectacle. Keep things simple and honest, and trust in your audience to feel the emotional weight of it.
How to avoid it:
2. Mental and Emotional Abuse
How to write it:
As with physical abuse, mentally and emotionally abusive parents very rarely appear abusive all the time, and can outwardly seem like great and loving people. Keep this in mind when depicting them – abusive parents will frequently be a lot more chilling and realistic when you show that they can also be loving and sympathetic.
As Stephen King put it, “murderers sometimes help old ladies cross the street.” The same philosophy applies to almost any kind of monster or monstrous behavior.
As for writing the abuse itself, oftentimes, it will be passive aggressive:
Luna’s mother looked up from her newspaper, arching a judgmental eyebrow. “Eating again, are we?”
Luna looked down at the yogurt in her hands, and then sheepishly back to her mother. “It’s just my breakfast,” she pointed out. “That weight-loss book you bought me said-”
“You know no one’s ever gonna love you if you don’t lose weight, sweetie,” said her mother knowingly. “No boy wants to marry a girl whose thighs are thicker than he is.”
Luna’s face fell.
“Oh, come now; don’t give me that look.” Her mother went back to her paper, casually sipping her coffee. “You know I’m only telling you because I want what’s best for you. And everyone else is thinking it anyway.”
Luna swallowed dryly. Suddenly she didn’t feel so hungry anymore.
Note that emotionally abusive parents will often use looking out for the child’s well-being as a scapegoat.
Other times, it will be a lot more blaring:
“That shirt makes you look like a damn faggot, boy,” Eli’s father grunted, taking another swig of his whiskey.
His breath reeked of liquor that Eli could smell from where he was folding laundry halfway across the room, focusing on his task and pretending not to listen.
“Is that what you want?” his father sneered, evidently unsatisfied with his lack of reaction. “You want everyone who looks at you to think you’re a goddamn cock-sucker?”
“No sir,” Eli muttered. He could feel the hateful flint of his father’s eyes boring into his back.
“Ha!” his father spat. “Shoulda left you at a damn foster home when you’re moma left you. She didn’t want you, and I don’t want you neither.” He took a final swig of his whisky. “Goddamn lazy queer.”
Eli breathed a silent sigh of relief as he heard the floor creak softly under his father’s receding footsteps. He tensed when he heard him pause by the door.
“And hurry up with my damn laundry, would ya?” he called. “I work too damn hard keepin’ a roof over your head for you to slack off.”
“Yes sir,” said Eli. He didn’t dare look up.
With a final grunt, his father departed the room. Eli knew already that once he was sober, he probably wouldn’t remember any of this.
Also note that substance abuse (most frequently alcohol) coincides with or triggers abuse, and that emotional abuse frequently involves slurs attacking the child’s disabilities, sexual orientation, or even race (though if you are a White author, I would personally recommend against ever using the N-word or other racial slurs in your writing.)
How to avoid it:
3. Verbal Abuse
This one coincides with mental and emotional abuse, so I’ll keep it somewhat briefer, but it merits a point all its own anyway.
Child neglect is one of the most prevalent forms of child abuse in the Western world, and also one of the most easily dismissed.
Parents, well-meaning or otherwise, may routinely neglect to pick their children up from school, for example (thus forcing them to make long walks and possibly be put in danger in the process), lock them out of the house, forget to feed them, fail to provide them with enough food, give them age-inappropriate responsibilities, or leave them unsupervised for inappropriate periods of time or in dangerous situations.
It may also take a more emotional form, when the parents don’t acknowledge the child’s need for affection and camaraderie, and never offer them physical or emotional comfort.
Sometimes, neglect is most prevalent when children are in dangerous or abusive situations, or outright disregard them: I know of children who attempt to tell their parents they had been raped or sexually abused, only for the parents to trust the abuser’s word over theirs.
Like any form of abuse, child neglect can take any number of forms, poses an extremely serious risk to the child, and frequently does irreparable psychological and emotional damage.
When depicting it, be sure not to shrug off the parents’ behavior with a “they were doing their best” type excuse: in any kind of abusive situation, the first priority should be the well-being of the victim, not the abuser.
How to avoid it:
There are others, including spiritual abuse and financial abuse, as discussed by Psych Central here, but these (like CSA) warrant posts all their own.
In the meantime, best of luck and happy writing!
Despite the fact that I am not deaf, mute, or blind myself, one of the most common questions I receive is how to portray characters with these disabilities in fiction.
As such, I’ve compiled the resources I’ve accumulated (from real life deaf, mute, or blind people) into a handy masterlist.
Deaf characters masterpost
Deaf dialogue thread
Dialogue with signing characters (also applies to mute characters.)
A deaf author’s advice on deaf characters
Dialogue between deaf characters
Life as a Mute
My Silent Summer: Life as a Mute
What It’s Like Being Mute
21 People Reveal What It’s Really Like To Be Mute
I am a 20 year old Mute, ask me anything at all!
The 33 Worst Mistakes Writers Make About Blind Characters.
@referenceforwriters masterpost of resources for writing/playing blind characters.
The youtube channel of the wonderful Tommy Edison, a man blind from birth with great insight into the depiction of blind people and their lives.
An Absolute Write thread on the depiction of blind characters, with lots of different viewpoints and some great tips.
And finally, this short, handy masterpost of resources for writing blind characters.
Characters Who Are Blind in One Eye
4 Ways Life Looks Shockingly Different With One Eye
Learning to Live With One Eye
Adapting to the Loss of an Eye
Adapting to Eye Loss and Monocular Vision
Monocular Depth Perception
What Is It Like To Be Deafblind?
Going Deaf and Blind in a City of Noise and Lights
Deaf and Blind by 30
Sarita is Blind, Deaf, and Employed (video)
Born Deaf and Blind, This Eritrean American Graduated Harvard Law School (video)
A Day of a Deaf Blind Person
Lesser Known Things About Being Deafblind
How the Deaf-Blind Communicate
Early Interactions With Children Who Are Deaf-Blind
Raising a DeafBlind Baby
If you have any more resources to add, let me know! I’ll be adding to this post as I find more resources.
I hope this helps, and happy writing! <3
Hey, all! As some of you know, I recently published a masterpost on how to name your novel.
However, one reader responded that the post only applied to self-published authors, as publishers would help you come up with a marketable name. When I responded that this, for the most part, was not true, and that authors usually receive minimal marketing help from publishers, they insisted that “publishers would still handle most of it.”
This is a common mentality, but to my knowledge, it can be fatal to a budding author’s career. So I decided now is as good a time as any to create a masterpost of marketing resources for my fellow published authors to-be.
I intend to add to this list as time goes on, but I hope it will be a helpful and handy resource!
Myths and Misconceptions:
3 Things Your Traditional Publisher is Unlikely to Do
Do Publishers Market Books
Traditional Publishing Myth: The Publisher Will Provide Lots of Marketing Support
Do “Traditional” Publishers Market Their Books?
The Book Publishing Landscape is a Mess
6 Self-Publishing Myths That Need to Die
Do Publishers Market Their Books?
15 DIY Book Promotional Tools
71 Ways to Promote and Market Your Book
How to Market and Sell Your Book in 5 Steps
50 Surprisingly Simple Ways to Promote Your Book
How to Skyrocket Sales of Your Book
Marketing Your Book
Sell More Books and Reach More Readers
How to Market a Book
101 Book Marketing Ideas to Promote Your Book
Book Marketing, How to Promote a Book
More to come! I hope this helps, and happy writing! <3
A question I get a lot is how to write about common addictions, so here you all go! More to come!
Signs and symptoms
Cocaine addiction statistics
Your brain on cocaine
Your brain on crack cocaine (video)
Cocaine withdrawal symptoms
True stories about cocaine addiction
Signs and symptoms
Heroin addiction statistics
Your brain on heroin
Heroin withdrawal symptoms
True stories about heroin addiction
Signs and symptoms
Opioid addiction statistics
Your brain on opioids
Opioid withdrawal symptoms
True stories about opioid addiction
Signs and symptoms
Meth addiction statistics
Your brain on meth
Meth withdrawal symptoms
True stories about meth addiction
Signs and symptoms
Alcohol addiction statistics
Your brain on alcohol (video one and two)
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms
True stories about alcohol addiction
Happy writing, and don’t do drugs!
I’ve been getting a lot of asks lately about how to write characters who are amputees. As a person with four functioning appendages, I decided the best course of action is to pass the microphone to some folks who actually have the disability in question.
Here’s a list of resources from real-life amputees. If you are an amputee, send me an ask with anything you’d like writers to know, and I will add it to this post!
9 Things I Wish I Knew When I Became an Amputee
The Life of an Amputee
“Life is Worth Living:” Lessons I Learned as a Triple Amputee
Your Stories – Amputee Coalition
Inspirational Stories – Amputee Coalition
True Story: My Leg Was Amputated
Things Not to Say to Amputees
Living With Limb Loss: What Amputees Can Expect During the First Six Months Post-Surgery
Amputees on Airplanes
10 Things I Do Differently as a Quadruple Amputee
Morning Routine of an Amputee
Best Selling Books About Women Amputees
Popular Goodreads Books About Amputees
I hope this helps, and happy writing!
I’m often asked for tips on how to respectfully depict Black people, or how to write from their point of view. Because something about my marshmallow complexion evidently screams that I’m a jackpot of insider information on Black culture.
However, I appreciate that my followers want to learn – that’s something we all need to do! So I decided the time has come to compile a masterpost on sources from real Black people, so you can get your information right from the source.
More to come, and happy writing!
25 Amazing Books by African-American Writers
10 Must-Read Books by Iconic Black Authors
12 Unputdownable Books by Black Authors
15 Black Writers We Should All be Reading
Black Enterprise – a website for Black entrepreneurship.
For Harriet – an online community celebrating Black women through history and storytelling.
Tea & Breakfast – a Black-focused website bringing you the latest in news and entertainment.
Ebony – a highly respected resource for Black news, entertainment, and lifestyle content.
Clutch Magazine – a mixture of news and editorial pieces.
7 Things Black People Want Their Well-Meaning White Friends to Know
100 Ways White People Can Make Life Less Frustrating For People of Color
This is What it Feels Like to be Black in White Spaces
Growing Up Black in America
Tips From Followers
I’m inviting all my Black followers to offer tips on authentic, respectful depictions of Black characters and culture. If you have something you’d like non-Black authors to know, please message me and chime in!
I’m mixed race- black and white, and I think its important to mention the cultural closeness; a lot of black mothers are very overprotective, and restricting. Hair is important. A lot of my childhood memories had to do with my mom braiding my hair, or straightening it.
Here’s a bit too much information about me, which I’d very much appreciate if you kept anonymous: I am an Afro Latina, my grandma moved from Honduras to Ny when she was 15 and so my entire dad’s half of the family speaks Spanish (except me and my cousins lol). They’re all dark-medium skin like me, so when they speak Spanish it tends to surprise ppl, but they take pride in that. My dad grew up in Harlem during the crack epidemic and he saw a lot of people die, including his cousin who was shot in the head in front of him when he was about 8. He has a lot of unchecked mental problems bc of this and tends to lash out when he’s frustrated, tired, or guilty. His dad was also a rolling stone and unsupportive, so my dad tries very hard to be a better, more supportive father for better or worse.
My father met my mother when they were in college through a mutual friend. They were together for a year before they had me. They never got married. My mother’s family is what we’d call a bit bougie, so they didn’t take too kindly to this. They never outright disowned her, but a lot of the time they treat her like a black sheep. They’re a very “whisper-behind-your-back, never-confront-until-ur-drunk at-the-family-reunion” family. My mom and dad were together on and off for 23 years. Whenever my dad hurt my mom (never physically but still) and she had the means to, she would take me in the middle of the night and run to a shelter or friend. This happened about 5 times, each time my mother came back after about a half a year.
I have anxiety depression and add but great empathy, so a lot of the time I can understand what people are feeling but not why (basically I have no self awareness). I am an English senior that lives on tumblr. I am also very reserved but I’d like think I’m kind, if a tad childish. I love rpgs, marvel, and making characters but I have perpetual writers block. I also draw all over my notebooks. I’m not good with my hair though (an offense) and I used to be called an Oreo (white on the inside) in school, but I’m really just have always been a huge nerd.
I also have a baby brother who I love and pick on constantly even if I’m at a dorm. I’m very protective over him and we’re nine years apart so I tend to feel equal parts caretaker and big sister. I am very close to my family, especially my mom, who I talk to almost every day. I am always tired, sometimes to the point of not eating at all, even as I write this I am in bed. However, I love shopping and walking to seven different stores around town, even just to window shop, is how I spend some days off. Like my mom’s half, I’m pretty non-confrontational, but I’m quiet and don’t like to gossip, so my friends and family tend to confide in me a lot. But I’m pretty closed off, so I don’t tend to share myself. I am bisexual but I don’t want to talk about that, bc I’m still not sure. I don’t like to touch people or have people touch me unless I’m close to them.
My half sister is also bisexual, as well as a preschool teacher and a single mom with two adorable girls. I don’t get to see them often bc we always lived in different states. She is a very sweet lady but is very no nonsense, and will be the first to step up if someone’s in trouble. I also have a half brother, who is mildly autistic. We live in different states too, but I never see him because my father didn’t treat him right when we were younger, bc he was “soft”. He is currently living with his mom and writing a GOT-esque epic, which he is excited to tell people about.
A Writing Account From a POC
Loving to read is a bit of a double edged sword. I love the stories, the worlds they depict, and most of all, the characters. But sometimes, I find myself disappointed that most of my favorite characters in my favorite novels are not POC (person/people of color). And if they are, they are depicted as stereotypes. And as a POC and a writer, there are ways to change that. Here are a few tips.
POC are FRIENDS, not FOOD
Now I love chocolate. I love coffee. However, if I read someone describing my skin color as the color of a cappuccino, I wouldn’t be to thrilled. Saying, “Her skin was like sweet milk chocolate, the kind you remember begging your mom for through a candy store window.” I imagine would be the equivalent of saying, “Her skin was so milky white, I could imagine dipping an oreo into it.” Ew.
Not all African Americans live in the poorest part of the city
Not all African Americans are poor and underprivileged. Some of us have gone to private schools, have parents with well off jobs, and live pretty comfortably. That being said, that is not the case for all of us. So if you want to depict your character that way, just make sure you do it respectfully, and not in a way that you would cringe reading at it you were in their place.
Don’t take advantage of our history
African American history is filled with hatred and oppression. That does NOT MEAN THAT IT CAN BE EXPLOITED FOR A STORY. By all means, mention how awful it was, but do not use it to make other characters and or readers feel sorry for your character. We may want you to feel sorry, but more than anything we want you to understand that what happened was horrible and that it isn’t okay to use it any way you want.
So, yeah. Just respect POC. Even though you probably can’t imagine being in our position, be sympathetic, the same way you would want to be treated if you were being stereotyped.
If you have any other questions about depicting POC’s and want to ask a writer who is POC, I’m happy to help!
I’ve had a lot of followers asking me how to authentically depict Jewish people. However, I myself am not Jewish, and not qualified to speak as an insider. As such, here’s a masterpost of information directly from the source!
More to come, and happy writing! <3
50 Most Essential Works of Jewish Fiction
Jewish Characters (and What to Avoid)
10 Things I Love About Being Jewish
What It Means to be Jewish in America
Judaism 101: Jewish Holidays
Types of Jewish People
50 Top Jewish Websites
Top 50 Jewish Blogs, Sites, and Newsletters
10 Great Jewish Websites
Tips From My Jewish Followers:
A while back, I asked my Jewish followers for tips on authentic reprisentation, and was fortunate enough to get a huge turnout. Hopefully more Jewish followers will chime in once this is posted!
As a very much reform Jew, I can’t speak much about more conservative Jews. However, I can name a few common traits. We tend to have very close family and community ties, and hold mass gatherings for dinner at the slightest excuse. Jewish mothers, especially grandmothers, tend to gather in packs. The arguing thing IS true; many religious classes are styled as debates among the older men in the community. Older Jews will drop Yiddish phrases often. We tend to joke about ourselves a lot too.
As a religious Jew, I’d like to add a few things. The stereotype about Jews arguing is true, but the interesting thing about the arguments is that they are (almost always) done in the spirit of learning something new, or bringing a ‘chiddush’, addition, to what you are learning. For example, take The House of Shamai and The House of Hillel in halachic decisions; the two houses disagreed on so so much, and yet, the men of Beit Shamai married the women of Beit Hillel, and vice versa.(1/?)
I don’t completely agree with what the reform anon said about the mass gatherings, but that may be because I live far from most of my family (I live with my family in Israel, while the most of my cousins live in the States), and for me, the “mass gatherings” happen on Chagim, the Jewish holidays. I’ll tell you something, anon, there is something incredible with the Chagim, a feeling that is hard to describe, but is probably best described as a feeling of “home”, at least that’s what I feel (2/?)
And now, to finish up, I’ll say that Judaism comes in many different shapes and forms, and good luck with your story! (3/3) - Religious Jew anon
hi! conservative Jew here, I saw your post. Community is a big deal, in my experience even more than faith. In my temple, maybe you meet through the temple or the hebrew school or some such, but the real magic is what happens outside the synagogue walls. There are a lot of different traditions, both for individuals and for congregations, and people respect different levels of faith. I’m more religious than some of my temple for example because I make an effort to keep kosher, (1)
but compared to my orthodox cousins I’m very secular. I’d love to read more things where there were varying levels of observance. A Jewish man wearing a kippah in public, or a married orthodox woman wearing a wig, next to a reform person who’s calling their friends on shabbat on a cell phone. Someone who won’t eat pork because kashrut and that’s okay. There’s a lot of ways to be Jewish and have it not be a big deal. I usually cue people in myself by mentioning a holiday, Chanukkah at this (2)
time of year. Also one major perspective is that you’re meant to question whatever religion tells you. We follow kashrut laws for food, but why do they exist? Food safety, probably, but still. You’re meant to learn and then question and come out stronger for it. “Israel” was what Jacob was renamed and it means “struggle with God”. Israel is a tricky subject because people conflate Judaism and Israel, which isn’t right, but a lot of arguments against israel are anti-semitic in nature so tread (3
carefully. there are some really obvious no’s: judaism and money need to be handled carefully. Jews got pushed into professions involving money (moneylenders and bankers etc) because Christians felt that it was dirty work, and that created the stereotypes of the miserly jew, greedy jew, and “all jews are rich” (avoid avoid avoid). jews thinking israel is always perfect is also wrong. please don’t define your jew as having a strange nose. JAP (jewish-american pricess) is a nasty subtype of (4)
“rich jew”. please don’t model your jewish mothers on Molly Weasley. Both between the overbearing nature and the always millions of kids. She’s every stereotype of a jewish mom except with red hair instead of dark. Jewish ppl will feed you, especially jewish grandparents (bubbe for grandma zadye for grandpa). Sorry for the essay ^^;;; (5/5)
more jewish things: we definitely look for ways around things! The concept of a shabbos goy for example, who comes and turns on temple lights during shabbat, or keeping an oven on low during all of shabbat so you can reheat food without messing with the settings. Also want to emphasize that there are jews all over the world, who look like all kinds of things, and who have all kinds of traditions. From China to Argentina. Also not just Ashkenazi, but also Sepharadic, Mizrahi, and more. Cheers!
I’m part of the Jew Crew too! I’m reform but I’ve spent some time with reconstructionism and i’d like to add a few points: I think this differs in other cultures (probs other sects too) but we’re kind of ambivalent towards jesus. I know we’re stereotyped as hating him but we don’t really, we just don’t think he was the son of g-d & all that. also I went to a reconstructionist camp and there were so many Jew memes & we poked fun at ourselves (but also goyim) a lot. Soo yeah feel free to PM me
I’m Jewish and this isn’t so much about how to write a Jewish character, but something I’ve always wanted to see in the media is a Jewish character who mentions a holiday OTHER than Chanuka. Chankua is great but it isn’t our only holiday.
1. Ask yourself these basic questions:
Brainstorm random questions about your characters, their likes, dislikes, et cetera. Here are examples:
Simple character sheets are a great way to fill in the gaps and get to know your character. Though there are quite a few floating around on my favorite blogs, but here are a few examples:
Of course, the only way to truly get to know your character is to write about them. You never know how they’ll develop until you get going, and once you do, they’ll never cease to surprise you. Characters truly do gain lives of their own, so don’t give up and keep writing.
And in the meantime, I hope this helps! <3
You may have heard that titles don’t matter, and that they won’t make or break your career. Whoever told you that is either grievously uninformed or a filthy liar.
A title must do the following:
Like cover art, your title can determine whether or not anyone will actually read your book. Also like cover art, you probably shouldn’t name it like a twelve-year-old with a DeviantArt account.
But how do you check off such an extensive yet vital list of criteria? Well, being the magnanimous individual that I am, I’ll tell you.
Let’s take a short journey through five of my personal favorite approaches:
1. Use metaphor.
Some of the most memorable and iconic titles are derived from metaphor, allegory, and simile. If you have a metaphor that encapsulates your book’s theme or tone, consider using it for your title.
When done correctly, these will also provoke interest from prospective readers, as they will have to read your book to put the metaphor into context.
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
Life of Pi, Yann Martel
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
100 Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Lord of the Flies, William Golding
2. Ask a question.
Is there a fundamental question your book is asking? (There probably should be, but that’s a topic for another day.) If so, consider presenting it to the reader from the get-go.
These questions can be existential or personal, metaphorical or literal. But they should make the reader want to know the answer.
Note that you can get creative about this. A question doesn’t have to be one you ask the reader, but one you provoke the reader to ask themselves. Like, “Did this author really spoil the ending with their title? I’ll have to read and find out!” As you’ll see in the titles below.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Bloom
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray
John Dies at the End, by David Wong
3. Invoke a character’s voice.
Ask yourself how your protagonist or viewpoint character would choose to title their story.
Ask yourself who this person is. Are they an angsty teen? A plucky optimist? Self-conscious? Ironic? Morose? Sassy?
Your viewpoint character should essentially control the tone of your novel, and the title should be reflective of such.
My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters, by Sydney Salter
Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), by Mindy Kaling
Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
4. Utilize the setting, or a memorable place, object, or event.
Is there a place, object, or event at the heart of your story? Maybe its a restaurant that is to your ensemble what the Central Perk is to the cast of Friends, a stuffed animal or piece of jewelry that serves as the story’s MacGuffin, a book that holds the secrets to the protagonist’s identity.
Or maybe it just, for one reason or another, perfectly encapsulates the tone and philosophy of your story.
I seem to be partial to this one, because it’s how I chose to name three of my novels: An Optimist’s Guide to the Afterlife (named after a book handed out to the recently deceased), General Tso’s Chicken From Outer Space (named after a Chinese food restaurant in a UFO hotspot town), and Diner at the End of the World (named after a diner frequented by Eldritch Horrors.)
‘Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, by Douglas Adams
Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton
Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
5. Introduce the protagonists (but get creative about it.)
In ye olden times, an opulence of great literature popped up that was named after specific characters. Think Anna Karenina, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Don Quixote, The Great Gatsby, and Jane Eyre. You can still do this–lots of authors still do, and it works great if you have a particular cool or quirky name–but in an already saturated market, it’s probably a good idea to put a twist on it.
I’ve observed three ways to go about this. First, you can introduce the main character and major conflict/theme of your story.
Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Emily M. Danforth
Approach number two: introduce the readers to the group of people your story is about.
The Help, by Kathryn Stockett
American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, by Ayana Mathis
The Vacationers, by Emma Straus
Crazy Rich Asians, by Kevin Kwan
And approche trois, name the title of a main character, particularly if it’s memorable and plays a large part in the story.
The Giver, by Lois Lowry
The Obituary Writer, by Ann Hood
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, by Laurie R. King
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Martian, by Andy Weir
These are just a few of my favorite methods of naming stories! To my followers, I invite you to add more, and to share your own favorite titles.
How to Come Up With the Perfect Title For Your Novel
How to Choose Your Novel’s Title: Let Me Count 5 Ways
7 Tips to Land the Perfect Title For Your Novel
How to Find Good Titles For Your Novel
How to Name Your First Novel
How to Title Your Novel
I hope this helps, and happy writing! <3
About the Author
Brooksie C. Fontaine is an author and illustrator, currently pursuing an MFA in creative writing.