Jul 19 2008

Your Title is Bad, but You Can Save It (Part 3)

Published by at 12:55 pm under Titles,Writing Articles

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. Houndsditch and the Age of Meat. Even though we don’t know who Houndsditch is, “the Age of Meat” slaps readers in the face. And it foreshadows how frighteningly funny the story is. Also, there’s meat involved.
  2. Self Love. Definitely a head-scratcher, but an intriguing head-scratcher. However, it’s vague. Adding more details would probably benefit this story.

Acceptable

  1. Breeding Pair. This title would have been above average for a sci-fi horror. Unfortunately, it was actually a sci-fi story designed to explore a religious question raised by C.S. Lewis in Religion and Rocketry. BP is mostly ineffective because it will attract readers that want an ominous horror story but completely miss readers that want religiously and philosophically themed fiction.
  2. Reprehension. As far as one-word titles go, this is better than most. It names a theme and suggests a mood, but we don’t know anything about the genre or setting, or much about the plot. I think that adding details would help.  For example, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail worked much better.
  3. From One Beast To Another. This has style and foreshadows the plot well, but the word “beast” is too generic. Is this story fantasy or science fiction? What kind of beast are they? Etc. I’d consider putting “From One Dragon to Another” in the above average category because it foreshadows the story better.
  4. The Paulinias Infestation. I like the word infestation, but Paulinias is an invented word. Is it a place or type of infestation? Why should I care about it? If prospective readers are unable to understand what half of the words in your title mean, a rewrite is probably in order.
  5. The Greater Threat. Too vague. What’s the threat? What’s being threatened? Why should we care?
  6. Stock Market Tips. This is slightly unexpected, but ultimately doesn’t tell us enough to make us care. What sort of tips are we talking about? What’s at stake? Who’s receiving the tips? Why should we care?
  7. Fully Automatic Weapon. This feels hokey.
  8. The Imposter. Also slightly hokey. What kind of imposter? What’s he posing as? What’s at stake? This has a lot of potential, but I feel that it’s a one-word title that needs more.
  9. Fingerprints. Better than most one-word titles, but we need to know more.
  10. First Time Out. This hints at the theme, but I’d like to know more about the characters. Who’s out for his time? What’s he doing? This has potential, but currently it’s bland enough that it could apply to a first-date story or an alien bred in captivity escaping from Area 51.
  11. Finally Alone. Who’s alone? Why should we care about them? What are they trying to get away from? This is borderline awful, but I think that it successfully establishes an emoish mood.  

Awful (But Fixable!)

  1. But is it Halaal. Failing to correctly punctuate this title with a question-mark earns it an instant trip to the awful pile. Also, the title wholly fails to identify itself as a sci-fi horror. Somehow, I think that’s more important than whether Muslim food is involved.
  2. Shutar Book 1: The Dragons Eye. This title is not punctuated correctly—the Dragon’s Eye should have an apostrophe. Like the previous title, it would have been awful anyway. Who’s Shutar? What’s the dragon’s eye and why should we care about it? Also, saying that a book is the first book in a series will scare away some readers because beginning writers seem to think that planning for a sequel excuses their inability to actually tell a story the first time around.
  3. State Override. “Override” is an interesting word, but I don’t know what a “state override” is or why I would want to read a story about a state override. Don’t know, don’t care.
  4. Inheritance. I think Chris Paolini named one of his books Inheritance, not that it was any more effective for him than this author. This is so bland it could apply to any genre, with any character. What’s being inherited? Who’s the heir? Why should we care? What’s at stake?
  5. Thrulls. What’s a thrull? Don’t know, don’t care. Next! [B. Mac adds: I think a thrull are similar to goblins.] This is still an awful title. Would you want to read a book called “Goblins”? What do the thrulls do? Why should we care about them?
  6. A Song for Aika. The word “song” is never helpful. Also, who’s Aika and why should we care about what’s being sung for her? What’s at stake? What’s the genre or setting? Etc. Don’t know, don’t care.
  7. Europa Song. This is better, but the word “song” is still a problem. In a title, it’s one of those pretentious words that doesn’t actually mean anything. This story establishes itself as sci-fi, but even so I need to know more about what’s going on before I might be interested.
  8. A Witch’s Heart. This is borderline acceptable, but I’d like to know more about the witch and why we should care about her. This title would also benefit from removing the word “heart,” which is a meaningless, bland word in most titles. For example, “A Shrew’s Heart” is far more forgettable than “Taming of the Shrew.”  
  9. John. Who’s John and why should we care about him? A possible revision might take advantage of the extreme ordinariness of John’s name by changing itself to something like The Man Named John, which at least has more style, but that would still raise questions about the genre and what’s at stake.
  10. Sidra’s Folly. This is better than “John,” but we still don’t know enough to care about Sidra. Also, I find the name Sidra ineffective and hard to pronounce. Next!
  11. Night Night. I have no idea what’s going on or why I would want to read this story. Also, I think it’s missing a comma.
  12. Storm Dancer. What’s a storm dancer? Why should we care about them? What’s the setting and genre? Don’t know, definitely don’t care.
  13. Seahorse. This has potential because it’s so unusual, but ultimately I can’t find any good reason to open up a book called “Seahorse.” Why should we start reading? Give us more details.
  14. Prelude to Battle. Battle is one of the most blandest title words, and Prelude isn’t much better. Who’s fighting? What kind of fight? Why should we care about who wins? What’s the genre?
  15. The Oak Trees. This is probably the worst example of a “The [Adjective] [Noun]” title I’ve ever seen. Why should we care about trees? Why is it relevant, let alone interesting, that they are oak trees? This title has clearly not been written for prospective readers.
  16. The Book of Grimoire. Who’s Grimoire and why should we care about his book? Also, why is his name a fancy word for “book?” I suspect that this title is a victim of thesaurus abuse.
  17. The Reversal. This title is so bland that it could apply to pretty much every book that’s ever been written. What kind of reversal are we talking about? What’s at stake? Why should we care about the characters? What’s the setting like? Genre? Mood? Etc.

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

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Your Title is Bad, but You Can Save It (Part 3)”

  1. HUsheron 26 Jul 2009 at 5:33 am

    When I read number nine the first thing that popped into my head was John Doe is Dead. I think that was a zombie story I read one time. Hmm. Number eleven sounds like it’s the baby talk way of saying ‘goodnight.’

  2. jenkkion 16 Sep 2013 at 3:40 am

    The Book of Grimoire is awesome in its badness, it’s like Manos: The Hands of Fate.

  3. Sera Nocteon 13 May 2017 at 8:55 am

    Short story titles of mine:

    Cassfire

    I Promise I Will Not Kill You, Even if it Looks Like I Might.

    The Egotistical Wallflower

    A Hacker’s Guide to Robbing Banks

    James, I Swear if You Die Again…

    Always Look Before You Jump off a Rooftop

    Try Not to Die. I Don’t Have a Shovel.

    He Who Got Hit by a Car and Walked it Off

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