Aug 14 2008

Your Title is Bad But You Can Fix It (Part 6)

Published by at 8:30 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. Dragon in Distress. We suggested this title last week, but I love it here. It indicates what the story’s setting and plot are. Because this title twists the damsel-in-distress cliche, it feels much fresher than last week’s Royal Rescue.
  2. Magical Hazmat. This suggests a wacky premise well, but I’d like to know more about the genre. Is this fantasy, magical sci-fi or real-world fantasy?


  1. A Trip to Orbit. This is a passable science fiction title, but how it is different from any other story about a space station? Who’s making the trip? Why should we care?
  2. Crack o’ Doom. This is cryptic and weird, but I’m remotely interested. I’d still like to know more about the genre, though.
  3. The Brass Whoreling. Whoreling is an excellent word, but brass doesn’t modify it in any helpful way. Why would we care about a whoreling that is brass instead of, say, golden?

Awful (but Fixable!)

  1. The Nth Estate. This feels like a bad attempt at an in-joke. First, most readers probably don’t know what the estates are. Even if a reader knew that the first four are organized religion, the wealthy, the masses and the media, why would he want to read this title? What kind of book is this? Who would you recommend this book to?
  2. Myron’s Debarkation. Debarkation seems pretentious here and could easily be replaced with “departure,” but the title would still suffer because it uses a character’s name. Who’s Myron and why should we care about him? Where’s he going and why? What sort of world are we looking at? What sort of conflict is present in this story? This title doesn’t even begin to offer any of the information that might pique a reader’s interest.
  3. Hands of Time. I don’t know what kind of story this is or why I should care about it. This is a prepackaged phrase that fails to tell us anything interesting about this story.
  4. No Signal. What’s the conflict here? Why should I care about this story? Is this a sci-fi story or real-world fiction?
  5. Vicesteed. I think this is a name. I don’t know who Vicesteed is or why I would want to read about him.
  6. George’s Death. Who’s George and why should I care that he has died? This is better than Myron’s Debarkation or Vicesteed, but the average reader will not care about any of these characters until the authors have actually introduced them. Titles should generally stay away from character names.
  7. Lessons Never Taught. This feels pretentious and fails to say very much about what kind of story it is. A slightly better revision would be “Untaught Lessons,” but it would still be too bland. What kind of lessons are they? This title can apply to literally any story in which someone learns something from someone in a non-academic setting.
  8. PermInfant. The premise of this sci-fi story is that a company has figured out an easy way to freeze and unfreeze children so that you only have to worry about them on your schedule. (Taking a vacation? Put your kid on ice!) I think the premise is an intelligent observation on the changing role of children in modern families, but the title wholly fails to sell it. I’d prefer something like Ice Your Kids Today! To make the sci-fi more obvious, I might replace “ice” with “cryofreeze.”
  9. Negative Energy. This feels like an invented phrase, but it’s actually a concept in particle physics. I assume that most readers of hard sci-fi will get the reference, but even so the author could do a better job selling this hard sci-fi story.
  10. The dealing room. This title is not properly capitalized and looks strange. But leaving that aside, what’s a dealing room and why should I care what happens there? What sort of characters and conflict are we looking at?
  11. Induction. This is a horribly ambiguous title. Induction has many meanings— such as initiation into a hall of fame, a style of logic, the start of a play, causing a change in a biological process, electromagnetic induction or a rite of passage. The word induction tells us absolutely nothing about this story. I would recommend building a completely new, longer title.
  12. Time Unwound. The word “time” is rarely helpful in a title, and this is no exception. What sort of story is this? What’s the conflict? Who are the characters and why should we care about them? Adding more details could not hurt this title.
  13. Tree Frog with Stick. This title sounds very awkward. I think it would be much smoother if it were revised to “A Tree Frog with a Stick.” I suppose that might be intriguing on a very zany level, but it could work. The title One Brown-Haired Girl with a Stick was far more compelling, though.
  14. Red Dawn: The Duellist
  15. It’s the Law. This is a prepackaged phrase that has potential but needs another detail or two. For example, compare It’s the Law to something more exotic and specific like It’s the Law, Said the Dragon. Alternatively, you could replace dragon with another genre-specific word like gangster, alien, warlord, barbarian, supervillain, wizard, etc. The original is so bland that it could apply to any crime story. Giving us another detail would help flesh out the story and the author’s style.
  16. The Swan, the Crow and the Sparrow. I have no idea why I would want to read a story about three talking birds. If this book is not about three talking birds, it has completely mismarketed itself.
  17. Twenty-five Perfect Days. This doesn’t feel very interesting. It sounds more like a recounting of an ideal vacation than a real story. In this context, the word “perfect” suggests that nothing troubling or dramatic happens. (Compare 25 Perfect Days to Perfecting God’s Image). What happens on these 25 days and why should we care? What sort of conflict arises during these 25 perfect days? Why would we want to read about anything perfect? Finally, I think that the word “Twenty-five” looks awkward in a title. I’d avoid the hyphen by writing the number as 25 or changing the number to something that can be written out smoothly like twenty or thirty.
  18. The Messenger of Secrets. This feels overwrought and screams “hackish fantasy.” Who is the messenger and what are his secrets? Why should we care about either? The anime series Read or Die has a far better version of this title, I think. It has the same cloak-and-dagger feel but ultimately has much more flair.
  19. Fallen Prophecy. This may have been the week’s worst title. It doesn’t even make sense. How can a prophecy fall? A less awful version of this title would be “Fallen Prophet,” but even that feels entirely hackish. Who is this prophet and why should we care about him? What sort of conflict are we looking at?
  20. Questor. Although this was a rank in ancient Rome, I suspect it’s an invented word in the context of this story. What is a questor and why should I care? If this story is actually about ancient Rome, I think it needs to go further in identifying itself and how it is different than any other story about Rome. Finally, if this title is actually an attempt to make a noun out of the word “quest,” it has epically failed.
  21. Into the Chimera Nexus. This title is disjointed. Nexus sounds like sci-fi, but chimera is definitely a fantasy word. Anyway. Who’s going into the nexus? Why should we care? What sort of conflict will they face? Why are they going? Alternatively, what is the chimera nexus and why should we care? I found Journey to the Center of the Earth a fairly effective title because the setting is self-explanatory and the title has rhythm.
  22. Simple Magic. This is definitely the week’s worst title that uses any variation of magic. Simple is just a terrible adjective here. Why should we care about simple magic more than just regular magic? I would recommend cutting simple and/or magic and replacing them with more specific words. For example, if your readers know that “cantrip” is a word for a trivial spell, then they may find “The Cantripist” intriguing. Alternatively, you could take the idea of beginner’s magic and try to work it into the title in a completely different way. For example, this title reminded me of So You Want to be a Wizard, which is one of my favorite childrens’ titles.
  23. The Scarlet Window. Why would we want to read about a window, scarlet or otherwise? This does not seem very interesting. What conflict are we looking at? Genre/characters/setting?

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

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Your Title is Bad But You Can Fix It (Part 6)”

  1. Diane Duaneon 24 Aug 2008 at 6:20 pm

    🙂 Thanx for the mention.

  2. B. Macon 25 Aug 2008 at 7:43 am

    Any time, Diane. If you don’t mind me asking, which search query brought you to Superhero Nation?

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