Warning: I am a Very Opinionated Person concerning this topic... concerning most topics, actually. So although I may present this as the Only Right Way, it really isn't. I'd love to hear your suggestions, actually. I might learn something new. :)
The first question we must ask ourselves is the one that's most likely to get me in trouble: what makes a good title? Because if you don't know what your title should look like (long or short, descriptive or plain, obvious or mysterious) then how you choose your title won't make a lot of difference.
I personally believe that a title should be short, meaningful, and allude at least subtly to the theme of your story. And of course, to allude to a theme, you must first know what your theme is. That's an entirely different article, though, so I'll leave that sitting where it is.
My belief that titles should be short leads to me generally choosing titles that are three words long or less. For example:
The title of my current project was "The Lost Heir," and reflected the fact that the main character was the king's legitimate heir and could (if he wanted to) displace his younger brother. As the plot evolved and the world developed, the title changed to "Heir of the Dragon King," which you might notice is five words long. This makes me uncomfortable, but it fits better than "The Lost Heir" because the story isn't about a lost heir anymore.
A friend once suggested the title "Path of the Wanderer" for a story we were coauthoring, and I nixed it in favor of "Choice of Paths," which was shorter. It's a little silly, to be sure, but I really have Strong Feelings about how long a title should be, and will even avoid reading books with long titles if I dislike them. I won't even get into subtitles, (the smaller print under the main title, not the script at the bottom of the TV screen when watching a movie) because that's a pet peeve I'm not ready to confront yet.
What makes a good title in your opinion? Should it be long? Short? Poetic? Descriptive? Include the name of the main character?
That I know of, there are a handful of methods for choosing a title for your book/game/movie/show/what-have-you and some are... I won't say "better" than others, but they are at least more likely to produce a title that has a meaning linked to your story.
1. Choose a title and build the story off of it.
2. Write your story out, then choose a title based on its subject or main character.
3. Produce the entire story, then choose a line of dialogue or scene from which to take the title.
4. Pick a "working title" to start and change it later. (Or don't change it.)
None of these are particularly right or wrong, but I find that if the title is set in stone before the story is written, it's harder to find the story to match the title. For example, a friend of mine had a chocolate lab named Joe that passed on a few years back, and I was determined to write a poem in his honor titled "Mourning Joe," because they really liked coffee and they really liked their dog. But because the phrase "mourning joe" was already set in stone, I could never compose a poem to my satisfaction to go with that title, and eventually I gave up. (I'm still a bit disappointed in myself for that.) It was that inflexibility that made it so difficult to make the poem work for me.
At this point, I'm not even sure if what I wrote today makes sense - I hope it's at least semi-coherent. What are your thoughts, Inklings? Do you like titles that are symbolic or literal or titles that suddenly make sense when you're halfway through the book because that one character used that phrase when they were talking to the villain?