Jul 17 2008
Cadet Davis reviews and revises the titles of 30 manuscripts submitted to a writing workshop. This will help you evaluate and improve your titles.
- 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.
- Dogs in Clogs. This was a real head-scratcher and failed to foreshadow the plot in any meaningful way, but was invitingly weird.
- Creeping Death. It foreshadows the story and tone well. If I were rewriting it, I’d make it more subtle and less cliché.
- 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?
- 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.”
- 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.”
- Stupid Manuscripts. I found the word “stupid” refreshing here. It was otherwise mediocre.
- –>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.
- Urban Growth. A pretty standard horror title. I found it blander and less scary than “Creeping Death.”
- Blood on the Ice. This is an interesting image, but I have no idea what kind of story it is.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!)
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- Milo Scarlet. Who’s Milo Scarlet? Don’t know, don’t care. Next!
- 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.
- Dwight. See previous two. Who’s Dwight? Why have you written a story about him? Why should we read said story?
- Dinner with Lord Ku. This is not quite as bad as the previous three, but dinner doesn’t add very much to the picture.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Insufficient Memory. This fails to foreshadow the story and is wholly uninteresting to boot.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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?
- 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!
- Sol Brier. Who (or what) is a Sol Brier? Don’t know, don’t care.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- Wednesday’s Child. Who’s Wednesday, and why should I care about her child?
- 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.
- 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.