How to Write Strong Titles

How many times have you been brooding over your “untitled screenplay”, searching for that perfect title that would make it shine like a gemstone? Yes, this won’t come as a surprise to many of you: crafting a good title for a script is not a piece of cake. And while there’s plenty of brilliant references out there (Raging Bull), there are as many awful ones (We Bought a Zoo). Not to mention the many misconceptions about writing strong titles out there (like those saying a title can’t be longer than two-three words).

But there’s good news! Even though there will always be a certain degree of subjectivity in valuing whether a title is good or not, it doesn’t mean there aren’t tips and tricks to help you find that catchy, intriguing, distinctive title for your screenplay.

#1 Watch out for broad, vague words

When you write something, common sense suggests you want people to remember how it’s called, so giving your title some specificity is a very common practice. Take the followings:

No Country for Old Men.

Little Miss Sunshine.

A Clockwork Orange.

Don’t you want to go to that country, meet that person, and find out the meaning of that odd orange? Albeit referring to different things (a place, a person, and an object), all three titles convey an intriguing sense of specificity without being on the nose (Snakes on a Plane) or just dull (Herbie: Fully Loaded).

Before moving onto the next point, bear in mind that vagueness isn’t your enemy, but it always depends how you use it. Normal People, Stranger Things, Marriage Story, Silence, Sex Education, and Almost Famous are all good examples of how you can also play with abstract words to create distinctive, interesting titles.

#2 Think about the theme and tone of story

Great titles aren’t only attention-grabbing, but can also arouse a certain mood and emotions, or bring vivid images to your mind. It is usually quite helpful to think about the theme and tone of your story. How do you want the audience to feel when they read or hear your title for the first time? How is the title addressing the subjects or message of your story?

Vertigo – a word embodying the essence of this mind-bender Hitchcock’s masterpiece.

There Will Be Blood – a brutal statement for an epic journey into America’s past and heart.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – enchanting and trippy like the writer’s unique style.

The End of the F***ing World – a dark title for a black-comedy and romance between two troubled teenagers.

I May Destroy You – it’s bold and straightforward, encapsulating the vibe of the show.

#3 What’s the genre?

Thinking about the genre is also a very common technique. Is your film/TV series a genre piece and what thoughts, images, or expectations is your title creating in the audience’s mind?

A Quiet Place – a horror.

Scarface – a crime drama.

For a Fistful of Dollars – a spaghetti western.

How I Met Your Mother – a sitcom.

Black Mirror – a dystopian sci-fi.

#4 Play with language

Another common approach when searching for a title is thinking about idiomatic expressions, dialect words, or slang words that can capture your story’s essence. The risk here is that your title may be cryptic for some. However, if it’s distinctive and somehow touches your story’s theme, that’s a point for you.

The Hurt Locker – a slang term for a place of deep pain and discomfort.

Breaking Bad – a southern America slang term with a variety of meanings (“raising hell”, “to go bad”, “to break the law”, etc.)

Six Feet Under – dead and buried, a good title for a series about a family running a funeral home.