by Kim Norman
In a not-very-long-ago life, I was a graphic artist. The first order of business in the ad agencies where I worked: strong slogans. If you were a fan of AMC’s Mad Men, you probably know leading man Don Draper’s alliterative name is no accident. Alliteration is a handy gadget in the ad copywriter’s tool bag. The human ear is tuned and attracted to alliteration. There’s no question alliteration makes a tag line memorable:
“Put a tiger in your tank”
“Melts in your mouth”
“Fly the friendly skies…”
Why not open Don Draper’s bag of tricks for ourselves? First, let’s play with alliteration. Through a random Google search of “things that start with g,” I landed on this helpful page of alphabetically arranged objects:
Scanning the G list, pairing words, my mind positively pops with possibilities.
Open a new browser window and search for “adjectives that start with G,” and you access a further trove of ideas. Add those to your nouns:
(Oops, sorry. I have an 8-year-old’s attraction to scatology.)
Don’t tie yourself to that one alphabetical collection above. It’s missing lots of useful nouns. Search the net for other lists, too.
The one thing I suggest you avoid in this exercise is alliterative names, (Squeaky Squirrel, Rowdy Raccoon and the like). Because they can feel old fashioned and clichéd, many editors are skittish about alliteratively-named characters, although I was unconsciously guilty of it myself with my story about Percy, the pug. But the book was simply titled Puddle Pug, and we don’t learn the main character’s name until we open the book.
Next in the copywriter’s bag of tricks is rhyme. Social science studies reveal rhyme as a powerful persuasion technique. Whether it’s classic end rhyme:
“The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup”
“Plop plop. Fizz fizz. Oh, what a relief it is”
…or clever internal rhyme:
“Please don’t squeeze the Charmin…”
Let’s go back to that alphabetical list of nouns above. When you spot an object that catches your eye, (preferably an animate rather than inanimate object) open a new browser window and go to rhymezone.com.
Paste in your chosen word. I’ll try “puppy.” A slim selection rhymes with the entire word, but if I search with just one syllable, “pup,” I spy great possibilities:
Buckle up, pup!
What’s up, pup?
Even slant rhyme or borrowed vowel sounds will work:
Two of my books coming out next year benefited from rhymes that popped into my head. I don’t know exactly what sparked Still a Gorilla, (Orchard, 2016) except I remember scribbling the words on a scrap of paper while wandering around an elementary school library. The paper stayed in my wallet for weeks. After I discovered it during another school visit, I mulled over the idea during a long drive. By the time I got home, I’d outlined the basics of the book in my head, as well as a few of the rhyming stanzas.
A robot manuscript based on “The House that Jack Built” was also improved by a rhyming title tweak. My editor, Meredith Mundy, suggested I come up with a different name for the main character, since “Jack-built” stories are becoming ubiquitous. I’m glad she did. I think The Bot that Scott Built (Sterling, 2016) is even more catchy!
The picture book that evolves from this exercise may end up with a title very different from the Don-Draper-inspired pairing that sparked your story. That’s fine, although I would argue that editors are people, too, who may be as subject to advertising psychology as the rest of us. If a Draperesque title attracts an editor to your manuscript? Presto! Perfect payoff!
Kim Norman (posing with Bookie, one of her half-pug muses) is the author of more than a dozen children’s books published by Sterling, Scholastic and two Penguin imprints. Among them is TEN ON THE SLED, (Sterling, 2010), I KNOW A WEE PIGGY (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2012), a Texas “2×2 Reading List” selection. Her most recent title is THIS OLD VAN, published by Sterling Children’s Books, and illustrated by Carolyn Conahan. Kim is represented by the Andrea Brown Literary Agency in San Diego. Because Kim visits dozens of schools around the country every year, she maintains a website devoted helping authors learn the ropes of school visits at coolschoolvisits.com.
Kim’s own website is at KimNormanBooks.com.
Kim is giving away a signed copy of THIS OLD VAN!
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