Aug 09 2008

Your Title is Bad, But You Can Fix It (Part 5)

Published by at 5:40 pm under Titles,Writing Articles

B. Mac 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. Malignant Fusion. Malignant is stylish and illustrates the mood of the story. Fusion shows this story is sci-fi, but replacing fusion with something less melodramatic would probably improve this title.
  2. Hellhounds. Although this title has only one word, it manages to work in some imagery and setting. However, it needs more details. What’s at stake? Why should we care?


  1. Yuletide in Camelot. This creates an interesting contrast between the location and the time. What kind of King Arthur story could you tell during Christmas? That’s an interesting premise. My main concern is that it’s not clear whether this is an action story.
  2. The Lost Mariachi. This is a head-scratcher, but I found it endearing. I suspect that adding details could help sell this story. What’s at stake? Why should we care about the mariachi?
  3. Stranger Among Us. I love the phrase “among us,” but it makes the word “stranger” superfluous. If the title were, say, The Soldiers Among Us, readers would easily pick up that soldiers are strange to the story’s other characters. Consequently, this title should replace “stranger” with a more specific and interesting noun. That would also help establish the setting and plot.
  4. The Book of Adam. This title is thoroughly mediocre, but it successfully markets itself as religious-themed fiction. The biblical structure is passable but desperately needs more flair. For example, given that this is a sci-fi story about genetic engineering, we could try something like Enhancing God’s Image. For a colder, creepier feel, we might try Perfecting God’s Image.
  5. Path of the Warrior. This is another mediocre title that successfully identifies its niche.  Japanophiles will hopefully pick up the cue that “path of the warrior” is a direct translation of “bushido” (Japanese chivalry).  The title suffers because path and warriors are bland words.  The story could probably distinguish itself from other stories about medieval Japan by using an adjective to modify warrior, or replacing warrior with a more specific noun.
  6. Fat Grins from Space. I suspect that this head-scratcher might intrigue fans of wacky sci-fi. This has potential, but I think that revising “Fat Grins” will help.
  7. Royal Rescue. This successfully suggests the genre (medieval fantasy) and the substance, but it feels clumsy because it relies on such a one-dimensional plot. If the plot sounded more interesting, the title would be more effective. Would you rather read Royal Rescue or The Dragon Doesn’t Want to be Rescued? I prefer the second because it adds an unexpected character (a dragon in distress) and conflict (with a prisoner that doesn’t want to be rescued).

Awful (but Fixable!)

  1. The Hand. Whose hand? Why should we care? This title badly needs more details.
  2. The Forest Ranger. “Forest” is a boring adjective here. Why should we care about a forest ranger? What’s at stake? What kind of story is this?
  3. Playgel Riser. I have no idea what that means or why I should care about it. I think both words are invented. I don’t recommend using invented words in titles.
  4. The Edge of TIme [the capital ‘I’ in ‘TIme’ was in the original]. Improperly capitalizing “Time” earns this title a one-way trip to the awful pile, but the title would have been awful anyway. This prepackaged phrase doesn’t suggest enough about the story or why we should care.
  5. she’s come back [no capitals]. This is another improperly capitalized title. Look at this from the editor’s perspective. If an author doesn’t even double-check his title, there is no chance that his manuscript is worth reading… Also, even if this title were capitalized, I’d still want to know who she is, where she has come back from and why we should care. This title doesn’t give us enough to generate interest.
  6. Gethsemane. Using an invented word as a one-word title fails more than 95% of the time. What’s a Gethsemane? Don’t know, don’t care. Next!
  7. Current of the Pathless. This feels trippy. I don’t know what a current of the pathless is, or what kind of story this is, or why I should care.
  8. The Black. Huh? Black seems to be a noun here, but I don’t know what a black is or why I should care about it. My best attempt to make sense of this title is that it’s about a human of African heritage. Somehow I don’t think that’s what the author meant.
  9. Hanuman’s Bridge. Who’s Hanuman and why should we care about his bridge? This title makes poor use of a character’s name.
  10. I, Con. This feels like a much more awkward version of I, Robot.
  11. Strength of Spirit. Who has a strong spirit? What sort of obstacles do they have to overcome? Why should we care? This bland title could apply to virtually every fantasy or realistic-fiction story ever written. If your title can describe a cancer survival story as easily as a tale of knights saving princesses, you’ve got a problem.
  12. Knight of Decision. This title is so horribly awkward, so wildly cacophonous that it must be scrapped immediately. When the author rewrites it, he should try elaborating which decision the knight is making and why we should care.
  13. Manji’s Tale. This wasn’t as effective as Path of the Warrior. Using a character’s name is rarely effective. Words like “tale” or “story” are wholly ineffective because they completely fail to tell readers anything about your story. What kind of tale is this? Who’s Manji and why should we care about him? What’s the genre like? Besides a faint whiff of Japaneseness, we have literally nothing to go on here.
  14. Venus Doom. This feels awkward and strange. I think that revising it to Doom on Venus would probably help somewhat. I still have concerns, though. What kind of doom? Who is facing doom? Why should we care? This feels pretty melodramatic.
  15. Man’s Best Friend. What’s the setting like? Whose dog are we talking about? This prepackaged phrase fails to tell us anything about this story except that there’s a dog.
  16. Vernal Equinox. This is impressive vocabulary, but why should I care? What about this equinox is so special that we will want to read about it?
  17. City. Why should we care about this city? Are we talking about a modern metropolis, a city of elves, a lunar base, etc? What sort of plot is unfolding in this city? What conflicts are brewing? (Mob bosses? Orcish invasion? Alien subterfuge?)
  18. The Lottery. What kind of lottery? (Money? Conscription? Something else?) What’s at stake? Who’s eligible? What sort of conflict are we looking at?
  19. Time Will Tell. Too bland. This title fails to tell us anything about the story.

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

20 responses so far

20 Responses to “Your Title is Bad, But You Can Fix It (Part 5)”

  1. t3knomanseron 09 Aug 2008 at 7:04 pm

    Gethsemane isn’t made up; it’s biblical. It’s still an awful title, but it’s not made up.

  2. B. Macon 11 Aug 2008 at 8:14 am

    Ahh, thanks for pointing that out. Although I was mistaken about it being invented, I think I would still rank it as awful. An author of religious fiction can probably identify himself to his niche of readers more artfully. For example, I found “The Book of Adam” acceptable and “Remaking God’s Image” slightly better.

  3. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 05 Oct 2008 at 6:12 am

    Gethsemane’s the lake where Jesus is meant to have preached from the boat, isn’t it?

  4. Last Equinoxxon 25 Oct 2009 at 1:21 pm

    Hanuman‘s a god, too. And there’s a story about a bridge in his mythology, too.

  5. YonTroperon 25 Jan 2011 at 3:34 pm

    Yep, Hanuman was a Hindu god – in the Hindu epic the Ramayana, Rama had to build a bridge to Sri Lanka, but Hanuman challenged him to build a bridge capable of bearing him alone, and he repeatedly destroyed it because Rama didn’t know his true identity. So I think that story would appeal to readers looking for a story themed around Hindu mythology.

  6. Anonymouson 12 Feb 2012 at 9:16 am

    #8 under awful probably refers to “into the black” and similar phrases refering to the void of space (marking it as scifi). Still a boring title, though

  7. Saito Yuion 17 Jul 2012 at 11:34 pm

    Umm… Could you rate these?
    “Reality Weavers”
    “Fireballs and Firefights”
    Both are titles for the same story. The last one is my proposed replacement after reading this article.

  8. B. McKenzieon 18 Jul 2012 at 12:19 am

    I think “Reality Weavers” is alright, but it sets up a story entirely different than “Fireballs and Firefights” (which sort of sounds like the urban fantasy equivalent of “Shoot ‘Em Up“). With “Reality Weavers,” I think it might help to add a clause helping describe something key about the story.

  9. YellowJujuon 18 Jul 2012 at 8:03 am

    I’ve been thinking of naming my book “Inside Man”.

    It’s the one about the guy that fights with a robot. I’m not using Inside Man as his superhero name, just the title.

  10. YellowJujuon 18 Jul 2012 at 8:14 am

    To those that don’t know what I’m talking about, I explained it in What Makes a Character Likable.

  11. YoungAuthoron 18 Jul 2012 at 1:53 pm

    I have trouble coming with titles for anything and my story is my latest struggle. It’s about a Teen hero who struggles with being a good hero and keeping his fast social life in check. Life of a Hero was the best I could come up with 🙁

  12. Wolfgirlon 02 Dec 2013 at 1:19 pm

    How about, “The Moral Transformation of The Sinister Jaguar, and All Those Around Her.”

  13. B. McKenzieon 02 Dec 2013 at 10:37 pm

    “The Moral Transformation of The Sinister Jaguar, and All Those Around Her.” Hmm… I think it would help to show more and tell less. I’d recommend starting over on this one with a more informal tone.

  14. Sera Nocteon 13 May 2017 at 9:07 am

    Another one of mine:

    The Library of Wild Cacophony

  15. KJon 13 May 2017 at 9:09 am

    My friend needs help on the title for a short story on dog heaven. Help?

  16. Sera Nocteon 13 May 2017 at 9:10 am

    How about “Poodles Are Better Than Humans, Apparently”


    “He Who Never Returned Because There Are More Milkbones in Heaven

  17. VigilanteWriteron 23 Jun 2017 at 11:11 pm

    The working title for my fantasy novel is “Renounce”. Renounce in itself relates to the theme of the story, being abandonment and being left behind, yada yada…but I’m generally struggling to find a better title.

    I’m still really young and I’m still in the world-building and character development stage of my novel. I haven’t even hammered down a plot. I’ve seen lots of people claim that the best titles come once the story itself is written, hence why “Renounce” is my working title.

    What else would you suggest for finding/fixing up the title of your book?

  18. B. McKenzieon 25 Jun 2017 at 9:52 am

    When you’ve drafted the story, I’d generally suggest 2-7 words for a title. I think that’d give you an opportunity to convey more information about the plot than “Renounce” provides. I’d recommend finishing a draft before spending more time on the title, though.

  19. Revenge of the small macon 24 Oct 2019 at 8:49 am

    “Glory to Hanuman”, M’Baku, Black Panther.
    Hanuman is a god, presumably of Hindu origin.

  20. B. McKenzieon 27 Oct 2019 at 9:02 am

    If hypothetically you’re submitting to publications where the audience is probably not very familiar with Hinduism, a title that hinges on the reader being familiar with Hinduism probably isn’t a very good title. See also the example on Gethsemane.

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