Friday, April 30, 2010

Title Me Titular

Title. Think carefully.

Write your story, sure, and use a working title. That's what I do. But when you're finished and you polish up your story, sand it, put on a fine coat of stain, and get it ready to send out, find a great TITLE.

For instance: Jaws

What a great title! One word. One syllable. One fear.

Spielberg could've called it a number of things:

o Shark
o Great White
o Blood in the Water
o etc.

But he didn't! He put a ton of thought into that title, I promise ya.

How about this one: Shogun

Great title. One word. Want more? How about this one: It

That's gotta be some sort of record. The longest book with the shortest title. It.

Think of a GREAT title!

Here are a couple of rules I like to use:

1) Avoid "The" statements. They're okay in small doses, but avoid titles like:

o The Monkey House
o The Red Fern
o The Clash of the Titans
o The Road
o etc.

Start off punchy. Reword them to something like this:

o Welcome to the Monkey House
o Where the Red Fern Grows
o Clash of the Titans
o The Road (okay, that one won a fucking Pulitzer, let's keep it)

2) Make it thought-provoking. For instance:

o Child of God by Cormac McCarthy. It's about a serial killer. Get it? Any of McCarthy's titles are great. He understands this rule. Him and Vonnegut. Man I love those two guys. Add Bradbury and you'd have my fantasy crit-group.

o The Life of Pi. Okay, he broke my "The" rule, but that's okay, because somehow that title captures the feel of the book. It's a simple story with a straight-line plot, no curves, almost a YA read, but it's a thought-provoking look at being stranded and alone. And it's about what? It's about The Life of Pi. Get it?

o Slaughterhouse Five by Vonnegut. Tell me that title doesn't punch you in the face! WHAMMO!

3) Keep it simple. Stephen King is my favorite with this respect:

o It
o Carrie
o Christine
o Cujo
o Misery
o Firestarter
o Dreamcatcher
o The Stand (broke my "The" rule again, but note how few times he does it)
o The Shining (again...)
o The Dark Towers (again...)
o Bag of Bones

Here's a list of King titles. Look at them. See what I mean!

4) Write it big. If you give your work a great title, you'll inspire the reader to read your words. WRITE IT BIG! The title is your first hook.

Title title title. Never underestimate the power of a good title.

Title me titular. Get it?

- Eric


Matthew MacNish said...

Hah! I was going to say something about The Road being pretty successful, but then you beat me to it.

Great post about titles man, thanks for sharing.

Today's guest blogger is The Alliterative Allomorph!

Anonymous said...


You don't mince words here and if we can't get the idea, we have no business being writers.

Thanks for a Titular Tutorial on Titles.

Andrew Rosenberg said...

Steam Palace.
Go or no go?
Note that in the book, they refer to it as "The Steam Palace".

Theresa Milstein said...

Great title post. Stephen King does have excellent titles. The Green Mile.

I like all of my titles. I only use "The" once in five manuscripts. None are bestsellers or even published or even agented yet, but there's always hope. My exception and current one "The Disappearances".

Eric W. Trant said...

Matt, yeah, some books are the exceptions. Nothing wrong with that!

Cat, I don't mince words too much. I prefer to be punchy and clean. I like my readers on their heels the entire time they're reading me.

Andrew, Personally, I'd drop the The, but that's just me. My last book was working title The Dark Woods then Dark Woods and finally Walk With Me Into the Darkness. Nothing ever makes sense, eh.

Theresa, Once in five manuscripts? You mean shorts, or do you have 5x novels? Dang, girl!

- Eric

Jemi Fraser said...

Good post. Good titles are pretty priceless. I have one I like for my wip, but I found out another book has been published a year or so ago with the same title. :(

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I love my title : FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE. But hey, I'm prejudiced. And unpublished. Ah, I'm starting to see a pattern here...

Don't forget Lilah's LAST LINES BLOGFEST. I had to post early due to work. Come over and see, Roland

Jai Joshi said...

Great post, Eric!

You got me thinking about titles because I need to title my suspense novel and I've been putting it off for far too long. I had some ideas but your post made me re-think the whole thing. I think my working title just maybe the right title after all. It does everything I want and it sounds good too. I'll have to think about this some more, bounce it around my critique groups.