Sep 21 2008

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

Published by at 3:25 am 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

  • This week, none of them stood out… in a good way, anyhow.

Acceptable

  1. The Dragon at Davina’s.  Dragon is a strong (and very market-friendly) word that identifies this book as fantasy, but “at Davina’s” is not as interesting.  Who is Davina and why should we care about here?  This title was, however, stronger than something like “Davina’s Dragon.”
  2. Alien Entrepreneurs.  Like the previous title, this uses a very genre-specific word (alien).  But why would we care about alien entrepreneurs?  What’s at stake?  What are the alien entrepreneurs trying to do?  Etc.  I think this title would be more interesting if it suggested something about the plot, maybe Buying Earth or, for a more technical feel, Short-Selling Earth.
  3. The Fall of Ganymede.  The typical sci-fi reader probably knows that Ganymede is a moon in our solar system, so this is a functional title that competently identifies the genre and basic plot.  The only thing holding this title back is a lack of style.  How is this book different from other sci-fi invasion stories?
  4. With a Whimper.  This is a reference to a line from a T.S. Eliot poem (“this is the way the world ends/not with a bang but a whimper”).  The average reader probably wouldn’t infer that the book is about the end of the world, but it seems effective for literary readers.
  5. Elijah’s Chariot.  This is a biblical allusion to an apocalyptic revelation (God brought Elijah to heaven in a chariot of fire). I suspect that fans of religious-themed fantasy would get the reference, but this title doesn’t tell us too much about the book.  If I were writing a chilling book about the relationship between religion and science, for example, I might call it something like “Perfecting God’s Image.”  That uses a biblical allusion but says more about the content of the plot and what’s at stake.

Awful (But Fixable!)
  1. The Transmigration of Herakles Duncan.  This is a far more pretentious and arcane reference than “With a Whimper.”  Philosophy majors might know that transmigration is a synonym for reincarnation.  However, changing this title to “The Reincarnation of Herakles Duncan” would still have been awful.  Who’s Herakles and why should we care about him?
  2. ECE.  Acronyms rarely work in titles and this is no exception.  I have no idea what ECE is.  This title has completely failed to sell the book. Next!
  3. Halloween: A Cautionary Acrostic of Nine Horrible Fates that Await the Disobedient Child.  The main problem here wasn’t the length so much as the word “acrostic.”  It mismarkets the work as short poetry, when in fact it’s a 3000 word short story.  I don’t think that Halloween adds anything to the title, either.  Changing this title to just “Nine Horrible Fates that Await the Disobedient Child” would be far more effective.
  4. Nukekubi.  The word “nukekubi” is not actually invented.  It’s a type of Japanese monster.  But I doubt that most readers interested in Japanese-themed stories would know that.   If I had to write a title for a Japanese story, I’d try something like “Shaming the Ninja.”  That’s more accessible and says more about the plot.  [B. Mac adds: I thought that the "nuke" syllable is a red herring.  At first glance, I figured this was about a nuclear apocalypse.]
  5. The Edge of Time.  Time is a word that ruins titles.  It creates ambiguity here.  Is this title trying to say that the story is about time-travel or just that the plot features urgency?  More elementally, what’s at stake here?  Why should I care?
  6. There’s a Sucker Born Every Minute.  This generic phrase doesn’t really say anything about this story.  What kind of suckers are we dealing with?  Why should we care?
  7. The Godess’ Pond [sic].  Misspelling the word Goddess would get this manuscript instantly rejected by any professional publisher. Aside from that, I like the word Goddess but why should we care about her pond?  What’s at stake?  What happens?
  8. A capella [sic].  Capella wasn’t capitalized, but I think that’s more excuseable.  However, this title is still awful because it doesn’t really say anything about the plot or what’s at stake or why we should care.
  9. A Future Among Demons.  I’m having trouble articulating why I hated this one.  The story is set in a postapocalyptic, tribal Earth dominated by demons.  I think the word “future” was problematic because it suggests a more technological, sci-fi story.  It’s a sci-fi red herring in a story that I don’t think would appeal to sci-fi fans.
  10. Cayden’s Quest/Varnak’s Revenge. I’ve never seen a title with a backslash before.  It’s like the author couldn’t decide whether he wanted to name his book Cayden’s Quest or Varnak’s Revenge.  Incidentally, either would have sucked.  Quest and Revenge are far too generic and his imaginary names are slightly grating.  I don’t know who Cayden and Varnak are; why would I care about them?
  11. Green Reaper.  I’m not sure what’s going on here.  Is this supposed to be a play on “Grim Reaper?”
  12. Here and There.  I have no idea what’s going on here.
  13. Crazy Mara.  I think this is a really obscure religious reference (either Hinduism or Buddhism).  Or Mara could be a person.  I love the word “crazy,” but I think that Mara didn’t make the sale.
  14. Cry of the Sphinx.  Sphinx is a very specific and powerful word, but I think that “cry of the” was fluffery.  What’s at stake here?
  15. Element Wars.  Better than “Elemental,” which we had a few weeks ago, but not much better.
  16. Voice of the People.  This didn’t say enough about the story or what’s at stake.  At a literal level, what is the voice of the people?  A character?  A newspaper?  A communist government?  (It sounds like something a Leninist government would call itself).  Something more intangible?
  17. Upstairs.  What’s going on upstairs?  Why should I care?  Why is it relevant that the story is happening upstairs?  This is another one-word title that doesn’t work.
  18. Dead City.  I like the use of dead here, but adding details would probably clarify the title.  Are we talking about a city that’s been killed (like a nuclear apocalypse)?  A zombie story?  A city that has withered away (like a ghost town)?  A city that has undead inhabitants?  A city that’s just very quiet (like Salt Lake City after 9 pm)?  These stories would appeal to very different audiences, so clarifying would probably help make the sale.
  19. Fig.  This might be a type of food or a character, but either way I don’t want to read a story about it.  One-word titles are very hard to use.
  20. Tutootsy the Cave Elf.  Uhh, yeah.  Character names are typically ineffective.  I think this character name wouldn’t fly even in a kid’s book.
  21. Ersatz Balmung.  “Ersatz” is pretentious and should be replaced with a word like “Replacement” or “Substitute.”  But what’s Balmung?  I’m dimly aware of an anime character of the same name.  [Jacob adds: maybe Odin's sword?  But that would be incredibly obscure, I think.]

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

40 responses so far

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

  1. Bretton 29 Sep 2008 at 8:36 pm

    Consider this-

    Everstars: Rise of Evil’s Bane

  2. Jacobon 30 Sep 2008 at 2:50 am

    Colon phrases are a bit tricky. Also, Everstars is a fictional word that might not make the sell. Is Everstars a character, a group, or something else entirely?

  3. B. Macon 30 Sep 2008 at 9:51 am

    It may help to give us another detail about the character to help specify and foreshadow the plot. For example, my initial impression about “Evil’s Bane” is that this is a fantasy story about a character that slays evil– probably a knight, a vampire-hunter, a paladin or a dragonslayer. But your use of the phrase “hydrosphere assault cannon” in a previous comment suggests otherwise. I think that your story will probably connect better with its intended audience if you mark out the genre a bit more clearly.

    If you were going to market your book as a hard sci-fi superhero story, I’d recommend tweaking the phrase Evil’s Bane so that it feels more sci-fi and less fantasy. At its most hokey, that sort of title might sound something like “Have Assault Cannon, Will Travel.”

  4. Bretton 30 Sep 2008 at 10:41 am

    Actually, the story was originally mostly sci-fi, but by the time I fleshed it out, it became more fantasy. Go figure. That said, Everstars refers to Everstar Academy, Alex’s school where he learns to use his powers. Everstars is more of series title than a book title.

    Example: The Fellowship of the Ring is the first book of Lord of the Rings, thus The Rise of Evil’s Bane is the first book of Everstars. Im still tweaking though. Evil’s Bane comes from a translation of the elvish word Deveshmarkh, which occupied that space until I read your article about made up words destroying titles. (Good change you think?) Do you really think that Everstars is too hard to grasp? A friend of mine liked it, but I may need to change it if its that bad.

    In light of all this, I may need to remove the H.A.C. in order to unconfuse my genre, because parts of the series orginally read like sci-fi and others like fantasy. Its a cool premise I think, but i decided to play down the sci-fi elements because Im not masterful enough at writing to successfully mesh the two sides. Sci-fi esque stuff will only appear in the second part of the sequel, and that’s the only place that it truly exists (Alex and a friend try to catch a psycho-murderer in a supercity while dealing with a vigilante anti-hero). Comments?

  5. Bretton 30 Sep 2008 at 10:44 am

    A slight change:

    Everstars
    The Rise of Evil’s Bane

    No colons, just a subset, or whatever its called. Like how they have star wars and then the movie title under it.

  6. Cadet Davison 30 Sep 2008 at 11:32 am

    Ignoring everything else that has been said, “Everstars: Rise of Evil’s Bane” is not quite as rhythmic as “Everstars: The Rise of Evil’s Bane.” When a title has two clauses separated by a colon, I’d recommend making the clauses as independent as possible.

  7. B. Macon 01 Oct 2008 at 12:03 pm

    Oh, OK. So “Everstars” would be the series name? I think that works. Fictional words generally better in series names than novel titles. (The Chronicles of Narnia, etc…)

  8. Bretton 04 Oct 2008 at 8:02 pm

    I didn’t see an appropriate article, so I’ll put it here. I’m trying to decide on a name for a country. Originally I had a continent called Makeris with two countries on it named Haphaor and Nakye. But in the interest of streamlining, I’ve abandoned the “continents” idea and will stick with country names. however, should i let the two countries remain separate or merge them into one? If I merge them, should I use the name Haphaor or Makeris? Haphaor sounds cool, but I think Makeris will be easier to pronounce.

  9. B. Macon 04 Oct 2008 at 10:01 pm

    If the two countries are very different and serve a distinct role, it may be useful to keep them separate. If the book is somehow about relations between the two countries, it would probably be appropriate to keep them separate. On the other hand, if they aren’t so central to the story, you could probably just turn them into two regions of the same country (Northern Makeria, West Makeria, Inner Makeria or whatever). I’m fond of Makeris. Like you noted, it’s easy to pronounce. I also find its sounds more interesting.

    Also, if you’d like to stick with two countries, you may find it useful to write a glossary in the back to help readers from forgetting important details.

  10. Ragged Boyon 05 Oct 2008 at 12:19 pm

    What do you think of the following names:

    Emerilice-A Planet

    Cyborn Moon-Main Evil

    The Omniverse-A “Retitled” Universe

    Wakewave-A Spaceship

    Neocomet City-A city (obviously)

  11. B. Macon 05 Oct 2008 at 3:28 pm

    Emerilice is a good name for a planet. I like it. If you’d like to play with the feel and rhythm, you could also consider Emerillo or Emerice.

    The Cyborn Moon feels very much like the Death Star. It may help to replace the word “Moon” with something that’s not a celestial body.

    I’m not very well-versed in space-based science fiction, so I don’t know what a retitled universe is. The word Omniverse seems slightly stilted, though. It may be more natural just to refer to the story’s whole setting as just “the universe” or “the galaxy.” For example, one of your heroes might claim that he’s “the best pilot in the galaxy” or in the universe. I don’t think that you have to invent a word there.

    The Wakewave is an OK name for a ship. I imagine that this word will probably be used frequently, so it may help to use an actual noun. I’d recommend something like the Echo or the Solace. I think those have a similar feel to Wakewave.

    I think Neocomet City is OK, but Comet City may be more rhythmic. What do you think?

  12. Ragged Boyon 05 Oct 2008 at 3:47 pm

    Well the galactic sector is “Neos” so I thought it would good to add it as a prefix. I was also playing with “Starskimmer” as Jornai’s ship. I can change “Moon”, but the name has to sound big and menacing. As for The Omniverse i just want something that sounded like universe and was the same thing, just with a different name haha.
    It can be Universe.

  13. Bretton 15 Oct 2008 at 5:56 am

    My first book has three parts. (See Brian Jacques) Titles are:

    Book 1- Genesis
    Alex discovers his powers, goes to the Academy, meets his first mentor (The Phoenix Maesirturon. Shh!), and discovers that there is a greater conflict taking place in the world.

    Book 2- It’s…Complicated or Things Get Complicated
    Alex starts trying to make moves on his love interest, only to enter into conflict with her present boyfriend, and later forming a love triangle with his best friend.

    Book 3- The Royal Pain or possibly I Want No Part of It, But Yes I Do
    Alex struggles to take the elvish throne, getting kidnapped by his first bona fide villains in the process.

    Your Comments?

  14. B. Macon 15 Oct 2008 at 1:12 pm

    I like the title Genesis, but it seems kind of generic and not very fresh. You may be able to work in a verb by tweaking it something like “Creating the Hero” or “Enter the Hero.” ETH kind of breaks the fourth-wall, though.

    I’d recommend tweaking “It’s… Complicated” to “It’s Complicated.” I like that, but it seems like a bit of a gamble (will readers associate the word “complicated” with “confusing”?) I think It’s Complicated complements your Book 3 title better than “Genesis.” It’s Complicated has a sort of cheeky, hip vibe that the more conventional Genesis does not. If you’d like to keep It’s Complicated, I’d recommend revising the Book 1 title into something more similar to 2/3.

    “The Royal Pain” is good, but I think “Royal Pain” is excellent. Heh.

  15. Bretton 15 Oct 2008 at 5:28 pm

    Instead of “Genesis”, how about “Empowered, But Not Entitled”. You see, Alex’s parents knew about his powers but didn’t tell him until they showed up because they didn’t want him to grow up overly arrogant. (He becomes arrogant anyway, but it would have been worse.) They didn’t want him to be ruined by thinking he was (hehe) a “Homo Superior”. You now see what I mean by “Empowered, But Not Entitled”. Greatness is something you earn, not inherit.

  16. Jacobon 15 Oct 2008 at 5:36 pm

    I think that’s a fruitful vein and it’s a nifty way to make the main character more than a chosen one/homo superior. What do you think about something like “Unlocking His Destiny”? (Or Unlocking Your Destiny). Or you could subvert the cliche that a hero’s destiny is a glorious joyride with something like “Destined for Pain,” particularly if the training process is grueling. “A Heavy Destiny.” Etc.

  17. Bretton 15 Oct 2008 at 6:05 pm

    Thanks.

  18. Justiceon 20 Oct 2008 at 8:02 pm

    How’s “Superheroine Is Not a Kind of Drug” ?

  19. B. Macon 20 Oct 2008 at 8:21 pm

    Superheroine is Not a Kind of Drug. Haha. That’s funny, but the drug reference may make it hard to use in a story that’s not set on a modern Earth. However, in the right kind of story, it could be really effective.

  20. Justiceon 20 Oct 2008 at 8:43 pm

    Well, it’s set in modern day California and follows the story of Eve, a smart, sarcastic fifteen year old girl who gets superpowers. Her superpowers come from one of these sort of “cosmic parasites” who go from planet to planet seeking out new hosts. The parasite (yet to be named) grants her use of its abilities but she does not know of the parasite’s existence. Eve, who is an avid comic book fan, uses her powers to fight crime. The parasite makes its presence known as a voice within her head, but does not tell her why it is here on Earth. Meanwhile, Eve begins to notice that more and more people are turning up with strange abilities, not all using them for good.

    Throughout the rest of the story, Eve discovers that there are two kinds of parasites: the “evolved” and the “primitive” ones. Eve has been infected by one of the evolved ones, which are more intelligent but rarer. Most of the other people have been infected by the violent, stupid, primitive ones. As the walls between her subconscious and the parasite’s begin to fail, and Eve discovers that the evolved parasites plan to wipe out all the primitive parasites and their hosts before the “take-over point”, when each parasite will gain complete control over their hosts body. When this point is reached, the parasites will no longer be able to be destroyed; it will simply move onto the next host.

    The book also focuses on Eve’s high-school life and her friends and also her career as “the world’s first superhero”.

    This may be two books instead of one. The first one would focus on Eve coming to terms with her powers and her battle with her first “super-villain” (parasite infected person) and the second would focus more on stopping the parasite’s plan.

  21. Bretton 21 Oct 2008 at 9:58 am

    Just thought of a couple things to replace Genesis. I took your ideas and reworked them a bit. What do you think of:

    Trials By Fire- It works in a reference to his powers.

    Glory Through Pain- based on “Destined for Pain”. Shows that, contrary to Eragon, a real Chosen One would actually have it HARDER than everyone else, not easier. That’s logic.

    Don’t Get Cocky- random

    Burning the Ropes- word play on “Learning the Ropes”.

    Your thoughts?

  22. B. Macon 21 Oct 2008 at 12:55 pm

    I think Trials by Fire is effective and a cool pun. However, I’d recommend tweaking it to “Trial by Fire.” Even if there are more than one trial, I think the singular makes for a slightly smoother title.

    Glory Through Pain sounds fairly effective. For an alternate phrasing, you could also try “Glorious Pain,” which is smoother but unfortunately feels a lot more masochistic. (It makes it sound like the pain is itself glorious rather than the prerequisite to glory).

    Because of a coincidental four-letter string, Don’t Get Cocky set off my anti-porn filter, which is why your message showed up a day or so after you initially posted it. Heh heh. Aside from that, I’d be concerned because it seems very reminiscent of Star Wars. The Internet Movie Database listed “Don’t get cocky, kid!” in its Memorable Quotes section for Star Wars.

    Burning the Ropes could be effective, but probably not as effective as a clearer pun like Trials by Fire. I don’t think the Burning< -->Learning wordplay will necessarily be immediately obvious, which may cause readers to wonder when ropes will make their appearance in the chapter.

  23. Bretton 21 Oct 2008 at 3:40 pm

    I find your wisdom refreshing.

  24. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 21 Mar 2009 at 8:57 pm

    On the list of writing articles, this appears as “Your Title is Bad, But You Can Fix It (Part (sunglasses smiley)”.

  25. B. Macon 21 Mar 2009 at 9:07 pm

    I know. It was one of the consequences of switching over to emoticons. The shaded smiley appears every time I do an 8 followed by a parentheses, even if it’s the eighth item in a list. 8) < -- DAMN YOU, SHADED SMILEY.


    Thanks for letting me know, though.

  26. Davidon 21 Mar 2009 at 9:21 pm

    I still need help with my story title.

  27. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 22 Mar 2009 at 4:35 am

    It’s okay. Maybe you could get around it by renaming the article “Your Title is Bad, But You Can Fix It (Part Eight)”.

  28. David M.on 17 Dec 2012 at 7:50 am

    Try mine:

    Rosa Magenta (Rosa is Spanish for Rose and Pink, which is also a similar color to Magenta)

    Is about a postapocalyptic future where only a woman survived, like a chosen woman. Think “Y: The Last Man”, but with a girl.

  29. B. McKenzieon 17 Dec 2012 at 9:01 am

    “Rosa Magenta”–I don’t feel like this tells me anything substantial about the plot, the characters, what’s at stake, the mood, etc.

  30. Kirbyon 17 Dec 2012 at 3:23 pm

    Here’s the working title for my story at the moment: “Becky Harding Really Needs to Stop Asking Questions”. Good? Too long? Doesn’t say enough?

  31. Nayanon 17 Dec 2012 at 8:31 pm

    If I say that the title of my comic book is ‘The Beast Lurking Inside’, what impression would you get?

  32. Dr. Vo Spaderon 17 Dec 2012 at 8:57 pm

    Small town werewolf drama, but modern TV has corrupted my view on things.

  33. Nayanon 17 Dec 2012 at 9:12 pm

    I knew the title will give the impression of a werewolf story. But it’s not. Actually it is a story about a anti hero suffering severe depression. ‘The Beast’ refers to his depression. The title also represents those bad people who pretend to be good. I think, I have to change it. May be ‘The killer lurking inside’ since the hero kills the criminals.

  34. YellowJujuon 17 Dec 2012 at 9:59 pm

    Nayan, your title sounds like a scary version of my story’s title, A Man on the Inside.

  35. Nayanon 17 Dec 2012 at 10:16 pm

    YellowJuju, my story is dark and complex. So, the title must have a scary touch. But I did not know about your title. Your story is about a agoraphobic person, right?

  36. B. McKenzieon 17 Dec 2012 at 10:55 pm

    “Becky Harding Really Needs to Stop Asking Questions”–I think it’s effective, although I suspect “Becky Harding” could be replaced by a more title-friendly phrase introducing the character to prospective readers. For example, compare “Gary Smith Must Die” to “The Taxman Must Die”–I think “Gary Smith” is generic enough that it doesn’t tell us as much about the character as “The Taxman” would.

    A variant phrase would be “You Really Need to Stop Asking Questions.”



    If you’re uncomfortable about the length, you could shorten “Really Needs to” to “Must”, I suppose. I don’t think it’s necessary.

  37. B. McKenzieon 17 Dec 2012 at 11:06 pm

    “If I say that the title of my comic book is ‘The Beast Lurking Inside’, what impression would you get?” First impression: serial killer. Second impression: supernatural (e.g. a werewolf or demonic transformation).

    What do you think about “The Killer Within” vs. “The Beast Lurking Inside”? Do you feel like it’s a clearer take on your plot?

  38. YellowJujuon 17 Dec 2012 at 11:06 pm

    Nayan, indeed it is. Not quite as dark and complex as yours I bet. haha

  39. Nayanon 17 Dec 2012 at 11:47 pm

    ‘The Killer Within’ is better. It removes the supernatural impression.
    If a title is given in first person (example:- The Killer Within Me), is it necessary that the storytelling should be in first person?

  40. B. McKenzieon 18 Dec 2012 at 2:12 am

    I’m not sure it’s “necessary,” but I’d be a bit disoriented if a book with a first-person title (e.g. The Killer Within Me) were third-person. In contrast, a third-person title (e.g. The Killer Within) could work for either first or third-person narration.

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