You may have spent hours brainstorming your thesis, searching for quotations and polishing your final draft, but a good title can make the difference between someone reading your literary essay and tossing it aside. Good literary essay titles not only capture your reader's interest, but they also preview the argument you'll be making in the paper itself. They capture the central idea that is presented in your work, and entice the viewer to read. Creativity, humor and innovative plays on the work you're writing about can transform a dull title into one that piques your audience's curiosity.
Include the Subject and Focus
Your title should not just name the literary work that is the subject of your essay but also describe its focus, the target idea, literary device or theme that the piece explores. This is sometimes referred to as a "working title" as well, since it focuses heavily on the main part of your essay, and can remind you of your focus as you read. In an essay about morality in "To Kill a Mockingbird," for example, Harper Lee's novel would be the subject of the paper, while morality would be the essay's focus. Including the phrase "Morality in 'To Kill a Mockingbird' " somewhere in your title would clearly indicate to audiences what themes your essay will deal with. This is a more basic example of an essay title, but effective in most all cases.
Link Two Ideas With a Colon
While including the subject and focus in the title gives a good summary of your essay topic, it's not enough to pull readers in. Using a colon to punctuate the subject with a catchy explanation of the focus can not only add an air of professionalism to your paper but also give a more in-depth, eye-catching preview of your topic for readers. An essay about Holden Caulfield's painful transition to adulthood, for example, might be titled "The Precarious Edge of the Cliff: Loss of Innocence in J.D. Salinger's 'The Catcher in the Rye.' "
This title choice also allows you to present two ideas that are key parts of your essay, if you choose to. Maybe you can't decide on just one, because both are equally important. This choice would be a good tool for featuring both ideas and connecting them to each other. Displaying a longer, more developed essay title, can also give you the freedom to discuss these ideas in your essay with more detail since they are featured in the title.
Include a Quotation from the Work
Sometimes, a quotation from the book can provide inspiration for your essay's title. Try adding a brief, snappy portion of this quote to your title's focus statement. For example, the title for an essay about mother-daughter relationships in Flannery O'Connor's short stories might borrow from a quote in the story "Good Country People," in which the central character, Hulga, tells her overbearing, critical mother, "If you want me, here I am -- like I am." The title of this essay might read, "Like I Am: Mother-Daughter Dysfunction in Flannery O'Connor's Short Stories."
While the tone of your literary essay should ultimately be professional and credible, using puns or humor to play off an aspect of the title can be a friendly way to entice your audience to read further. For example, an essay about the symbolic villages of East and West Egg in "The Great Gatsby" might be titled "The Eggs Came First: Settings as Symbols in F. Scott Fitzgerald's 'The Great Gatsby.' "
You can be assured your teacher, or whoever is viewing your paper, is going to sift through many boring and unoriginal essay titles, so making sure that yours will pop is important.
Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.