2011-04-23

A to Z Blogging Challenge – Day 20

apparently I can't count. I've been off by a day all week. So today really is Day 20. Can we say, D'oh!?

T is for Titles

Almost everyone has heard the phrase “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” and most of us have come to believe it. The same logic applies to titles. A title functions as the very first introduction the audience will have to the story in question. So the problem is, while everyone knows they shouldn't judge a book by its title . . . well, they do.

Memorable, easily-recognized titles can often be accomplished through one - or sometimes two - words. Consider Dreamcatcher, Jaws, or Roots. All single word titles that immediately bring an image to mind.

Longer titles can also work sometimes, especially if they make an interesting statement, or ask a fascinating question about the contents of the story itself. How about Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which was made into the movie Blade Runner (also a great title). Or what about I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, or The Red Badge of Courage?

Try fitting your title to the genre you’re writing for. It isn’t surprising that so many mystery books often include the word “death” or “murder” in their titles. Romance novel titles often have “love” or “kiss” included. This kind of title lets the reader know right from the beginning what kind of book they’re looking at.

If your book doesn’t fit neatly in a single genre you can use something that reflects the tone or mood of the book. Try using descriptive words to create your title. “Dark Night of the Soul” will indicate a much different mood than “Happiness in the First Degree.”

Titles are not copyrightable. I have two science fiction books, both titled Millennium, one is by John Varley and the other is by Ben Bova – both big names in the field. If you want to check to see if your title is unique, try checking it out on Google.

Here’s a few do’s and don’ts when it comes to titles:

Don’t settle for just one title for your novel, come up with several and then enlist the help of family or friends to narrow it down to the one they think sounds right.

Don’t be afraid to change your title. If you’ve settled on the perfect title when you start to write, it’s okay to change it if the story takes a different turn and that title is no longer quite as perfect.

Don’t make your title so unique that no one understands what it means. Avoid cryptic phrases, quotes or excerpts from the story, etc. if they require an explanation to make sense of the genre, tone or mood for your book.

Do use a particularly memorable word or phrase from your text.

Do grab your reader’s attention. If there is one place where the first impression counts, it’s the title of your story or novel. The title must immediately tell the reader why he or she should keep reading.

Do use a thesaurus to find a catchier synonym for a single word title. It needs to have punch and should resonate with your potential readers.

Just for fun:

Here’s a list of the original titles of a few famous books. See if you can guess what the books are. The answers will be posted tomorrow.

1. First Impressions
2. The Kingdom by the Sea
3. Tomorrow is Another Day
4. Jaws of Death
5. Trimalchio on West Egg
6. Strangers from Within
7. At This Point In Time
8. Cancer
9. Something That Happened
10. All’s Well That Ends Well

4 comments:

Nofretiri said...

Well, even if you have a really good book title, you're never secure of the idiocy of publishing houses, e.g. the famous Millenium trilogy by Stieg Larsson: The original title of the 1st book is correctly translated in English 'Man who hate women' BUT the German translation *cough* is Verblendung = blindness/delusion. The other two German titles are even worse! What the hell did they think?!?

Karin @ Nofretiris Dream Of Writing

ralfast said...

Titles are the first thing I think about in any project, so much so that without one I get frustrated and it is a sure sign that it won't go anywhere.

It is also the reason why I cling to them with such devotion.

Jolene Perry said...

I know Cancer was a stephen King thing because I love stephen king.

I also know that most of the time, writer's done keep the titles they started out with.

It's a funny thing!

Steven Chapman said...

Cracking article, Carol! I really enjoy picking titles, but like you say it's an ongoing task and sometimes you have to let go of a title you've been holding onto for a while - even if you really like it. As with characters, titles seem to take on a personality of their own!

Steven Chapman (writer)