Jul 17 2008

Your Title is Bad, but You Can Fix It (Part 2)

Cadet Davis reviews and revises the titles of 30 manuscripts submitted to a writing workshop. This will help you evaluate and improve your titles.

Above Average

  1. The Merchant of Venison. This title does a remarkably good job of identifying the story as a Shakespeare parody. Also, it was the only title this week to get me to chuckle.
  2. Dogs in Clogs. This was a real head-scratcher and failed to foreshadow the plot in any meaningful way, but was invitingly weird.
  3. Creeping Death. It foreshadows the story and tone well. If I were rewriting it, I’d make it more subtle and less cliché.


  1. Der Fuhrer’s Bunker. It laid out the plot of the story, but needed more flavor. How is this story different from the other three I’ve read that were set in Hitler’s bunker?
  2. The Plight of the Domesticated Troll. This has a lot of flavor. It’s a candidate for above average, but I think it’s ill-served by the word “plight.”
  3. Dirty Money. This hints at something interesting, but needs more detail. The title failed to signal the piece’s style and tone. For example, the first line was “Roy owned the only drive-thru funeral parlor in Maine.”
  4. Stupid Manuscripts. I found the word “stupid” refreshing here. It was otherwise mediocre.
  5. –>Fruit of the Word. I’m not sure what to make of this. It sounds like a religious allusion to me. If that’s the case, then it’s probably done a good job of identifying itself to readers in that subgenre. However, that’s a pretty wide subgenre, so more details about the plot or tone would probably help.
  6. Urban Growth. A pretty standard horror title. I found it blander and less scary than “Creeping Death.”
  7. Blood on the Ice. This is an interesting image, but I have no idea what kind of story it is.
  8. The Very Definition of a Scandal. This has a lot of style. I don’t think it adequately foreshadows the story, although it indicates an upper-class setting. This has a lot of potential, particularly if it is revised to suggest what kind of scandal is involved.
  9. I See Her Face. Who sees whose face? It’s an interesting action, but unless we know who the two people are, this is a don’t-know-don’t-care kind of title.
  10. Done Before. This title was unusual, but unfortunately it failed to foreshadow the substance or style of a story where a science-fiction editor whips out a time machine to kill Hitler. The only reason this escaped the awful category was because I correctly inferred it was about a time travel paradox. I’d recommend more specifics here.
  11. The Old Lady and the Demon. This introduces an unexpected combination of two characters, but I think it would be more interesting to replace “old lady” with something like “grandmother.” Also, I’d recommend adding a third list item to foreshadow the plot.
  12. Lee Marvin, Dupree’s Girl and Excalibur. This is a real head-scratcher. The inclusion of Excalibur definitely saves the ensemble, but “Dupree’s Girl” and “Lee Marvin” seem pretty redundant.

Awful (But Fixable!)

  1. the wisdom of merthyr tydfil [without capital letters] First, every title should be properly capitalized. Second, I have no idea who or what “merthyr tydfil” is. I don’t even think I know how to pronounce it properly. Don’t know, don’t care. Next!
  2. Out Of This World. This title doesn’t have very much style. Worse, it’s so bland that it could be the title for most science fiction stories. It has failed to persuade me to read this one in particular.
  3. Fortune’s Favor. This has potential, but unfortunately suggests so little about the plot that it isn’t very persuasive. Who’s fortunate? What does he use his fortune to accomplish? What’s at stake? Etc.
  4. Milo Scarlet. Who’s Milo Scarlet? Don’t know, don’t care. Next!
  5. Felix. See above. Who is Felix? What’s he doing that I should care about? What’s this story about? I’d recommend adding a detail or two that make us actually care about him. Having not read this story, I’m not sure what I could suggest, but I really want to read a story called Felix Had Killed Me, I Surmised.
  6. Dwight. See previous two. Who’s Dwight? Why have you written a story about him? Why should we read said story?
  7. Dinner with Lord Ku. This is not quite as bad as the previous three, but dinner doesn’t add very much to the picture.
  8. Memento Nora. As far as I can tell, Memento is a first name. Not only is it an inadequate name, but a decidedly inadequate title.
  9. Casith’s Call. First, I don’t know who Casith is or why I should care about him. Second, the ambiguity of the word “call” doesn’t help. Is he calling for help, taking a telephone call, or hearing a call of duty, etc? I don’t feel that I could even make a guess about what this story is about, which is a grim omen.
  10. Elemental. The ambiguity doesn’t help. Does elemental mean “basic,” “inherent,” or fire/air/wind/water here? This title could apply to pretty much any fantasy book. I would recommend adding details to suggest what kind of fantasy it is.
  11. The Truthsayer’s Companion. I can’t imagine why the companion of an honest man would be interesting to read about. Also, the word truthsayer looks a bit pretentious.
  12. Insufficient Memory. This fails to foreshadow the story and is wholly uninteresting to boot.
  13. The Golden Key. If your title is “The [Adjective] [Noun]”, the adjective absolutely has to be more interesting than golden. What is the golden key and why the hell should we care about it? If “golden” is the most interesting thing you can say about, the story probably isn’t ready to publish.
  14. Vicesteed. I have absolutely no idea what this means. Is it a name? Is it a replacement in case the original steed dies? This absolutely fails to foreshadow the story.
  15. Final Battle. Cliché word + cliché word = cliché title. Who’s fighting? What’s at stake? Why should we care? Is this a story about a near-future Armageddon or a fantasy Battle of Helm’s Deep?
  16. Angel Race. Is this a noir-ish science fiction story? Religious-themed fantasy? Who are the angels and why should we care about them? Is the word “race” like a competition of speed or a biological race (like the human race)? This title needs more details.
  17. Second Coming. This is indistinguishable from any other books about the Second Coming (such as the Left Behind series). I’d recommend adding details so that we know what kind of Second Coming story this is. For example, what’s the mood like?
  18. Regeneration, and Other Ghosts. This is a head-scratcher that doesn’t give me enough to care. Also, it seems to suggest that Regeneration is the name of a ghost. What a corny name. Next!
  19. Sol Brier. Who (or what) is a Sol Brier? Don’t know, don’t care.
  20. The Heart of a Woman. This is bland enough to apply to pretty much any story about a female protagonist. It utterly fails to foreshadow the story or why we should care about the woman in question.
  21. Cycle of Revenge. Too bland to be interesting. What sort of revenge is at stake? Why should we care about the people getting back at each other? Is time-travel actually involved or is the word “cycle” just a red herring?
  22. The Red House. When you do a title in the format “The [Adjective] [Noun],” don’t screw yourself with an adjective as bland as red. What’s going on in the red house? Why should we care?
  23. Dogged Resolution. This is better than The Red House, but we still don’t have enough to care. Who’s doggedly resolved? What’s he trying to overcome? What’s the setting like?
  24. The Stone Maker. I can’t think of a single reason a story about a stone-maker would be interesting. This title needs to give us more details. Who is he, and why should we care? Is there any conflict in this story? Who (or what) is he struggling against?
  25. Wednesday’s Child. Who’s Wednesday, and why should I care about her child?
  26. Credit Card Debt. This needs a lot more style. I’d recommend adding tension to the title by referring to what happens if you are unable to pay off the debt.
  27. Fathers. Whose fathers? Why should we care about them? Is this a fantasy, a science-fiction, or something else entirely?

This article was the second part of a series. If you’d like to read our reviews of other batches of titles, please see the list just below.

21 responses so far

21 Responses to “Your Title is Bad, but You Can Fix It (Part 2)”

  1. C. S. Marloweon 26 May 2009 at 1:13 pm

    I think ‘Wednesday’s child’ might be referencing an old nursery rhyme called Monday’s Child. Dunno if you know it or not. ‘Wednesday’s child is full of woe.’

  2. H.G. Miltonon 26 May 2009 at 3:11 pm

    “Dogs in Clogs” ? I would so read that! And while I agree that titles are an important part of selling or buying a book, I have to say that a certain serious of books entitled, “Harry Potter and the…”, seem to be doing pretty well, despite their boring, redundant titles.

  3. Ragged Boyon 26 May 2009 at 5:22 pm

    “Let’s face it, you can say these titles are bad, but fair’s fair, they are published and are probably selling well.”

    Actually, I think most of these titles are from unpublished works. I could be wrong, though.

  4. B. Macon 27 May 2009 at 6:15 am

    Right, Ragged Boy. None of these titles have gotten published yet. We gathered them from submissions to a writing review site.

  5. B. Macon 27 May 2009 at 6:18 am

    HG said: “And while I agree that titles are an important part of selling or buying a book, I have to say that a certain serious of books entitled, “Harry Potter and the…”, seem to be doing pretty well, despite their boring, redundant titles.”

    Personally, I hate titles with character names. However, I think that books that are part of a series have a bit more latitude to use character names. That helps make it easier for readers to look up the next book even if they don’t remember the title. They can just go to one of the bookstore computers and type in “Harry Potter” or “Indiana Jones” or whatever. However, if you do a title like “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” make sure that the part of the title that comes after the character’s name is interesting.

  6. B. Macon 27 May 2009 at 6:25 am

    David said: “Besides, if titles are meant to tell us about the plot of the book and such, we wouldn’t need the bit on the back, now would we?”

    Actually, most authors need both an interesting title and a blurb (either on the back-cover or the dustjacket).

    At any given time, there are usually hundreds of novels on a fiction shelf. Readers literally do not have the time to read the back-cover for all (or even most) of the books on the shelf.

    Generally, a reader checks the title and cover before deciding whether to read the backcover blurb. If the title is bad, he probably won’t bother pulling it off the shelf. (You might be saved by an awesome cover, but that’s beyond your control so you shouldn’t count on it).

  7. Anonymouson 12 Feb 2012 at 8:57 am

    “Memento Nora” is probably a reference to (or similar to) “Memento Mori” which I’m pretty sure translates to either ‘a reminder of mortality’ or ‘remember you are mortal’ (I’m too lazy to look up what ‘Nora’ means)

  8. Sylaron 13 Aug 2012 at 8:04 pm

    B.Mac, I’m doing a pirate story that combines historical pirates (i.e., Blackbeard) with fictional pirates of my own creation. The title I had in mind was, “The Demons of the Sea”. What do you think?

  9. B. McKenzieon 13 Aug 2012 at 10:36 pm

    I think it’s pretty good. One tweak would be shortening the phrase to Sea Demons and possibly inserting another phrase which helps cue readers to your genre and/or conflict.

  10. Fenigoron 14 Aug 2012 at 1:07 pm

    What about a science fiction version of the myth of the Greek hero Jason, called “Jason and the Astronauts”?

  11. YoungAuthoron 14 Aug 2012 at 5:34 pm

    @Fenigor- Jason and the Astronauts definently sounds like a book I would read. Maybe that’s just me.

  12. YoungAuthoron 14 Aug 2012 at 5:50 pm

    Also, I need some advice on a title for my story. Its about a 17-year old who becomes a superhero with dragon-like powers. He saves his somewhat crime-ridden city from disaster three times in a row.

    “The city needs a dragon” or “The coming of Black Dragon”

  13. Ragged Boyon 14 Aug 2012 at 6:13 pm

    I feel like “The Coming of Black Dragon” sounds a bit too generic. More like a fantasy novel than a superhero story.

    “The City Needs a Dragon” sounds a bit more stylish. I’m not very good with titles so I’d recommend that you keep experimenting with the title before I actually suggest a title. Maybe write a bit first and let a title emerge from your voice.

  14. B. McKenzieon 14 Aug 2012 at 6:49 pm

    I like The City Needs a Dragon, although it sounds a lot more fantasy than superheroic.

  15. YoungAuthoron 14 Aug 2012 at 7:45 pm

    “I like The City Needs a Dragon, although it sounds a lot more fantasy than superheroic.”
    I agree and that, along with the reason that it sounds like a foreign far east kid moving to a big city and fighting crime story, are why i haven’t chosen it to be my title.

  16. BraveKnight99on 15 Oct 2012 at 7:20 am

    “The Heart of a Woman.” That sounds like a love story in which the male (protagonist) is constantly confused by what the woman does.

    Just a guess….


  17. Wolfgirlon 13 Dec 2014 at 5:59 am

    Going off of a random adjective noun title. How about the The Angel Superhero

  18. Fae Lanson 13 Jul 2017 at 7:25 am

    So, I’ve got some random titles for a writing exercise I was hoping you could rate on a scale of 1-10.

    1. The Princess That Didn’t Want to Be Rescued.
    2. A Boy Named Death.
    3. Nono, the Wobbly-Headed Cat.

  19. B. McKenzieon 13 Jul 2017 at 10:14 pm

    “I’ve got some random titles for a writing exercise I was hoping you could rate on a scale of 1-10.”

    “The Princess That Didn’t Want to Be Rescued” feels long and somewhat awkward. As a potential alternative, maybe “The Unrescued Princess”? It changes the meaning somewhat, which might not be ideal, but I think it sounds a lot smoother.

    “A Boy Named Death” — it may help to try something more descriptive than “boy” for the protagonist. E.g. Princess is a lot more descriptive than Girl would have been in the first example. Of the three I feel like this would be the most workable if this were a novel submission.

    “Nono, the Wobbly-Headed Cat” — this isn’t a huge deal for a class exercise, but I would recommend taking a different approach for a novel submission. (e.g. the genre isn’t clear, it doesn’t feel incredibly engaging to me, hard to envision target audience, “Wobbly-Headed” could probably be replaced with something more informative, etc).

  20. Fae Lanson 14 Jul 2017 at 5:15 am

    “Nono, The Wobbly-Headed Cat” is actually the title of a picture book i’m trying to get published.

  21. BMon 14 Jul 2017 at 4:04 pm

    “Nono, The Wobbly-Headed Cat” is actually the title of a picture book i’m trying to get published.” Ah, that would have been useful context. For a picture book, it feels more viable than for a novel, but I’d suggest consulting with a publishing professional that works with picture books.

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