by Laura Lavoie

It’s the halfway point! If you haven’t come up with 14 ideas yet, don’t despair. My goal is for you to leave this post with not one, not two, but three new story ideas.

When I’m brainstorming, I almost always come up with a title first and see if I can spin a solid story from there. There are many methods I use to brainstorm catchy titles, but today I’m going to share three—with an exercise to try for each. Ready?

Title Trick #1: Add a Twist!

I like to make lists of classic titles and/or common phrases and see if I can spin a fun new story by swapping out a word or two. Our fearless Storystorm founder, Tara Lazar, did this with her picture book LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD (illustrated by Troy Cummings). Switch up the word riding for the rhyming gliding and voila! Little Red is now the star of her own figure skating story.

Here are a few more ways you can create a twisted title:

Instead of substituting a rhyming word into a classic title, try a totally wacky, unexpected word like Corey Rosen Schwartz did with THE THREE NINJA PIGS (illustrtated by Dan Santat).

You can also put a twist on a common phrase. See: Tammi Sauer’s BAWK AND ROLL (also illustrated by Dan Santat) or Kelly DiPucchio’s NOT YETI (illustrated by Claire Keane).

Alternatively, put a spin on a popular movie title, like author-illustrator Ethan Long did with FRIGHT CLUB.

Brainstorming Exercise: Grab your notebook. Write down a few classic fairytales, well-known movie titles, and familiar phrases that come to mind. What fun new words could you use to come up with a twisted title?

Title Trick #2: Make it Roll Off the Tongue

Another favorite trick is to utilize rhyme, alliteration, consonance, or assonance… or a combination of two or three of these for bonus points. For my debut picture book, VAMPIRE VACATION, illustrated by Micah Player (coming in May from Viking), I went with an alliterative title.

In this case, I actually didn’t brainstorm the title before I drafted the manuscript. (If you want to know how I came up with the idea for this story, you’ll have to read the PBCrew22 Storystorm post later this month!)

Once I had written a story about a little vampire who dreams of sandcastles, snorkeling, and surfing, I brainstormed a few working titles, including “Vampire Loves the Beach”… but the alliteration in VAMPIRE VACATION sounded so much better, so that one stuck.

Other alliterative titles I love? MEENA’S MINDFUL MOMENT, written by Tina Athaide and illustrated by Asa Gilland, and HARDLY HAUNTED by author-illustrator Jessie Sima.

Here are more examples of ways you can create a title that rolls right off the tongue:

Go for a title that rhymes, like THANK YOU, OMU, written and illustrated by Oge Mora, or NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE, written by Ashley Franklin and illustrated by Ebony Glenn.

Think up a title that goes heavy on assonance and consonance, like Ashley and Ebony’s sequel story, BETTER TOGETHER, CINDERELLA, which features the repetition of the soft ‘e’ (assonance) and the ‘r’ sound (consonance).

Create a fun wordplay mashup like author-illustrator Lucy Ruth Cummins did with VAMPENGUIN.

Brainstorming Exercise: Write some lists of alliterative words, rhyming words, or words that share similar sounds. Any fun title ideas jumping out at you? Any words you can smoosh together to create a clever concept?

Title Trick #3: Get Readers Curious

I love titles that make me wonder, what’s that about? Think about it: you’re browsing shelves in a bookstore and catch a spine out of the corner of your eye. If the title automatically elicits curiosity, you’re likely to take a look, right?

DON’T HUG DOUG, written by Carrie Finison and illustrated by Daniel Wiseman, gets bonus points. Not only does it rhyme, but it makes me wonder, WHY shouldn’t I hug Doug? Of course, we know this is a story about consent, but it *could* be a story about an irritable porcupine or a kid who burps when you squeeze him.

Here are some other recent titles that have made me go Hmm…

  • TOO MUCH SLIME! written by Frances Gilbert and illustrated by Vin Vogel
  • THE NEW KID HAS FLEAS, written by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Eda Kaban
  • I DO NOT LIKE YOLANDA, written and illustrated by Zoey Abbott
  • ON ACCOUNT OF THE GUM, written and illustrated by Adam Rex

Brainstorming Exercise: Create a list of problems a character could have. How could you spin that problem into a curious title like the ones above?

My challenge to you today: come up with at least one idea for each of these title tricks. Even if it’s just the title, that counts. Come back to it later and see what kind of magic you can make!

Laura Lavoie writes humorous, pun-filled picture books. She can also tap dance, tell terribly cheesy jokes, and bake a mean chocolate chip cookie. Laura’s debut, VAMPIRE VACATION, (illustrated by Micah Player) will be out from Viking in May 2022. She has more books on the way in 2023 and 2024! You can find Laura on Twitter and Instagram @llavoieauthor.

Laura is donating a picture book critique + a follow-up 30-minute Zoom chat to one participant! Humor and puns are her specialties, but she’s happy to talk about anything writing- or publishing-related during the call.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below.

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.