This Is Not Ralph Waldo Emerson’s BBQ Chicken Recipe

Titles are important. They draw readers in and make promises about what the content of your work is going to be. If your title has absolutely nothing to do with your poem or short story or novel or book or article or blog post, people are going to get annoyed.

That is the power of titles – they lead the expectations of readers.

This title is completely and utterly honest, because Ralph Waldo Emerson doesn’t have a BBQ Chicken Recipe. It doesn’t exist.

Here’s a really good mustard-based barbecue sauce to make up for it. I love using it on tofu.

Sorry, but I’m not sorry. This is the exact tactic used by many articles known as “clickbait.” While this is a shady practice online, it’s also a good lesson on how to write titles that accurately represent the content of your piece of writing while also drawing a reader in.

This site which supposed that a new Shakespeare book had been found in an addict is a good example of clickbait bullshit.
This site which supposed that a new Shakespeare play had been found is a good example of clickbait.

Here are a few tips we can glean from clickbait articles for catchy titles.

1. Make your title compelling. The title of whatever you are writing is the first thing people read. If it isn’t compelling, why would they want to read the rest? Clickbait often uses deceit to make their titles compelling, but you don’t have to. Look at the central theme or idea within your piece of writing and play with a title that exemplifies that concept. To make this easy, write down all of your themes and maybe a few character names or locations the story is set in and see what you can come up with.

2. Have your title flirt with the content of your piece. You don’t want your title to give everything away. Clickbait is really good at giving (albeit misleading) titles that hint at what’s inside without giving the contents away. So while you want your title to relate to your content, you don’t want it to give away the whole plot within the title.

3. Wordplay and irony are not dead. In fact, be punny! Clickbait titles are rife with irony, or the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect. If it works for clickbait it can work for you too! So use puns, play with words, and keep irony alive with your title.

4. And, first and foremost (despite coming in fourth on my list), be honest. Clickbait isn’t news – it’s ads which use misleading titles to get people to click on them. So don’t mislead. You can be playful, but don’t lie. It’s as simple as that.

For more help with titles, check out this older post on writing creative titles.

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