The Threat of Bad Titles

This week, I was scrolling through Facebook and found an article that caught my eye. It caught my eye because I didn’t agree with the title. I was tempted to comment immediately without reading the article, but I resisted. I read it, and what I found was a pretty good article.

I almost didn’t read it because of an off putting title. As writers, we are taught to write titles and first lines that are attention grabbing and make readers want to read what comes next. In this case, the title caught my attention but had the reverse effect.

It can be tempting to be overly clever in a title. In the age of the internet, it can be tempting to title something controversial just to get hits. This is called click bait.

After reading, I read the comments on Facebook to the post and saw what I was tempted to do. Several people were blasting the article without reading it. The lesson became clear to me –

Bad titles can kill good writing.

Just like a bad trailer can make a good movie flop, bad titles have the same capability. It’s important to walk the line of creative clarity. It’s a dangerous game to sacrifice clarity to creativity or, even worse, shock value.

There’s a delicate balance between attention grabbing and summarizing a post, article, or story in just a few words. It is an artform. If you aren’t creative enough, readers blow right past you. If you don’t set the stage with the title, though, the same exact thing can happen – or worse people feel manipulated at the end.

I’m still learning the art of titles and the first sentence. I want to be able to find that balance between clarity and creativity. It’s hard, but it is something to strive for.

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