Sunday, March 4, 2012

Titles

One of the most important yet often overlooked parts of a book is the title.  A good title can grab a reader from the outset and make them curious enough to pick up the tome and browse through its pages.  A bad title, on the other hand, can instantly turn off a reader and make them think that there's nothing inside that could possibly interest them.

Imagine a book called Past Feelings, Future Grim.  Or maybe it could have simply been called The Wages of Greed.  Would any of those titles have drawn in readers as much as A Christmas Carol?  Or what if The Old Man and the Sea had instead been called A Fisherman's Shitty Life?  Maybe Twilight could have simply been called Sparkly.

Books with the God awful titles above would have likely never found their way into the literary lexicon because the titles alone would have turned people off.  To me, they say, "I'm boring or cheesy beyond belief, and you'd be better off spending your time getting a colonoscopy."

The writers I know - at least the good ones - agonize over their book's title.  It's got to be something that captures the spirit of the story and creates an instant emotional connection.  It should be the surface identity of the novel and entice people to delve further into its soul, the same way our own name does that with others.  And let's not forget that it'll be around for a very long time, since it's easier to change your own name than a book's title once it's out in the public sphere.

Of my three novels, only one - Akeldama - came easily.  I agonized over my first book, a sci-fi novel that will never see the light of day, for months.  I poured over several working titles with a friend before eventually deciding on On Freedom's Wings.  The book told the story about humanity breaking out of its self-confining box thanks to a warship called the TWH Freedom.  There were multiple layers to it, and I finally felt that I had something that captured the essence of the book in several ways.

With my second book, Salvation Day, I thought I'd never come up with a title.  Nothing resonated.  There were several dozen attempts, each as putrid as the one before.  How would I convey the sense of loss, grief, retribution, and redemption that were part of the story?  I didn't want something overly bold like Target:  Jehovah, but anything too understated wouldn't do it justice and might even seem mousy.  Then my wife - thank God for the creative woman in my life - said, "Well how about that thing Mike said in the last chapter about how they'd call the day God returned Salvation Day?  You could go with that."  I spun it around and around in my head and knew it was everything I needed it to be.

Akeldama came easily and out of nowhere(probably because I knew most of what was going to happen before I wrote it), but the current novel I'm working on is no closer to a title today than it was before I came up with the outline of the story.  I probably need to wait to finish it before I'll be able to come up with something appropriate.  Too many of my tales go off in unexpected directions, and any title that rears its ugly head before I finish probably won't fit by the time I'm done.

Still, I relish that eureka moment when  I think of something and can say, "Wow, that's an awesome title!  I know it'll work."  Those small victories are the things we writers cling to in the dark times when we wonder if people will enjoy our work.

7 comments:

  1. I'm like you with titles...sometimes I hit it lucky and I just get the title...other times it can be agonizing. I love your books' titles, by the way! I would pick those up to check them out! And we don't judge a book by a cover, we judge it by its title (and then the cover).

    My latest works title - A Light Burns at Midnight - I'm sticking with it now because it has it's own little story. The book itself is a fantasy and it matches because the draw of power starts with imagining a candle...the stronger the burning flame, the powerful the draw of magic.

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    1. Nicole - that sounds like a great title and an interesting beginning. I'd love to hear more!

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    2. Thank you!! :) I'm so glad to hear someone say that! And that was actually the first time I said it like that so nicely like that too. :)

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  2. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was good. I don’t know who you are but definitely you are going to a famous blogger if you are not already Cheers!

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    1. Thanks. I hope you keep coming back.

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  3. Nicole is soooo right...cover and title are why someone will pick up your book.

    I think your titles are great Russ. My title came from an inside joke in the Provost Marshals Office in Afghanistan last year and I just ran with it.

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    1. Your definitely will draw in a certain demographic, and I think it's something that will draw in all dog lovers.

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