Oct 25 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.
- Terrorist Dance Party. The word terrorist is excellent here; it’s interesting and foreshadows the story’s substance. As for a terrorist dance party, I think that has a lot of style. I’m intrigued.
- And Other Assorted Duties as Needed. This evokes a jobs listing in a newspaper pretty well, but it’s not specific enough. What’s the genre here? The ad might be hiring something mundane (like a babysitter or gofer), or it might be something more outlandish like a wizard’s assistant or a superhero’s sidekick. This title also lacks style, another problem that could be solved with an interesting detail. For example, “And Other Dragon-Killing Duties As Needed” (fantasy) or “And Other World-Saving Duties as Needed” (superhero). I’d also recommend taking out the word “assorted” because it’s mostly redundant with “other.”
- Falsely Accused. This adequately identifies the plot, but lacks style and it’s already been used before. I’d recommend adding a detail to distinguish this story of an innocent man on the run from similar stories.
- Fortune’s Favor. This is mediocre. What’s the genre? Who’s the beneficiary of fortune and what will he do with it? Also, this title makes the main character seem pretty boring by emphasizing his luck. It may help to change the word “fortune” from a noun into an adjective, which would emphasize the main character more. For example, a superhero story might use “The Lucky Sidekick” and a fantasy might try “The Fortunate Barbarian.” Some other interesting nouns that crossed my mind: accountant, taxman, cripple, and vagrant, as well as a few recurring genre-specific favorites like demon, ninja, dragon and knight.
- Guardian Angel. This is totally devoid of style, but it mostly works because I know what the story’s about and who would enjoy it. I’d really recommend adding a detail to modify the guardian angel and differentiate this story. For example, maybe “The Unwilling Angel.”
- Unrequited. Surprisingly, this one-word title is acceptable because it seems pretty clearly to be a story of tragic, unrequited love. That’s a good start. But I’m virtually positive that a noun would improve this title. In fact, pretty much any noun besides something over-obvious like love or feelings would help. For example, “Unrequited Scorn”? I think that has more style.
- Among the Shattered and Debris. Yeah, this title was awful two weeks ago, too. There’s still incongruity between shattered (a plural noun) and debris (singular). What’s the sell here? What’s the book about? Why should we want to read it? Are the main characters shattered? If so, in what way? This title could be workable, but it probably needs to get less artsy and more literal.
- Triage. The lack of a setting here is worrisome. Is this a story about a futuristic society struggling to deal with a sci-fi plague, or a modern hospital dealing with some serious natural catastrophe, historical fiction, or something else? I do like the word “triage,” though. It strongly suggests the story’s subject (how do we deal with this disaster?) and its main character (a doctor or medical professional). Adding another word would probably add style. For example, a superhero story like X-Men might try something like “Mutant Triage.”
- For Eve. I have no idea who Eve is, what she receives, or why I should care about either. This title feels like it hasn’t been written for prospective readers. I’d recommend starting over on this one.
- God’s porch [sic]. This title’s miscapitalization would get the manuscript instantly rejected, so it’s definitely awful. That said, I think “God’s Porch” is an almost acceptable head-scratcher. I think the title is trying to convey that the God of this story is a down-home ruminator. I’d recommend adding a detail to clarify that.
- Frankie’s Joynt. The spelling mistake here is so flamboyant that it must be intentional, but I have no idea what it’s trying to accomplish. This title makes my head hurt. Next!
- Twitch. What’s the sell here? Is this a character name or a reference to a twitching eye or maybe a horse-restraining device? I have no idea what’s going on. If this is about a character named Twitch, this title fails totally compared to something more stylish like “Barbara Bloodbath” or “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” What kind of book is this?
- There Are No Children On the Playground At Night. First, this felt needlessly long. Second, the word “night” generally ruins titles, and it’s highly ineffective here. If this title is supposed to feel creepy, “at night” shoots this title in the foot. Personally, I think it’s OK for a playground to be vacant at night. That’s normal, isn’t it? Not very scary. If the title is supposed to make us feel that something chilling and unnatural is afoot, I’d recommend something like “The Empty Playground” or “Recess at Midnight.”
- Six Hours. This is way too coy. We need more details. What’s six hours a reference to? How long the characters have to spend together on a plane? How long before a bomb will go off? How long a character has to live? For example, “Six Hours to Live” would be OK.
- Crazy Johansen. I love the word crazy, and Johansen isn’t awful, but what is this story about? Surely there’s more going on than just a crazy character. For example, maybe the story is a comedy about whether a relatively normal character can survive his crazy uncle. Then “Surviving Crazy Johansen” might be appropriate.
- Here Be Dragons. There are a lot of stories with dragons. This story badly needs to distinguish itself from them. It also needs more style. For example, “Backyard Dragon” was a pretty decent name for a story about a real-world kid who finds a dragon. “His Majesty’s Dragon” was an excellent name about a dragon fighting for the British government. Rails Across the Dragonlands was a solid choice for a steampunk dragon story.
- Guardian of the Core. I’m not entirely sure why I hate this one. The word “core” really rubs me the wrong way, I suppose. The core of what? What’s he guarding against? Why should I care?
- A Second Life Obsession. That’s a plot element, not a story. Where’s the drama? For example, “Second Life Widow” is much better because it suggests some conflict between the wife that’s lost touch with her husband because of his Second Life addiction.
- Sinew and Bone. Are two parts of the body. So what? Where’s the story here?
- The Haunting Office. The office is haunting? Haunting what? I assume that the author incorrectly meant to use the word “haunted,” but currently it seems to me that the office is some sort of ghost.
- Dead Letter Office. I don’t know what’s going on here.
- Escape from Farside. Where’s Farside? Who’s escaping? Why should I care whether he makes it?
- Dream Trap. Are we talking about someone trapped in his sleep, or trapped by an aspiration like the American dream? If it’s the first one, I’d recommend using a varation of the word “coma” for clarity. If it’s the second, I’d recommend being more specific and smooth. Dream Trap is very awkward.
- Fairytale Country. Not that I’m biased or anything, but this title isn’t as good as “Superhero Nation.” Are we talking about a fantasy country where fairy tales happen, a realistic country that feels like a fairy tale (similar to California or Florida at their best), or something else entirely? In Superhero Nation, I think it’s pretty clear that the nation in question is the United States: the US is the setting of most superhero stories and the country arguably acts like a superhero, with well-intentioned violence and a strong intention that those who can act are morally obliged to (compare Andrew Jackson’s “one man with courage makes a majority” to Spiderman’s “with great power comes great responsibility“).
- Locked Room. That’s a place, not a story. What’s happening in the locked room? Who’s locked away? Why should we care?
- Reaper Kelstarus. I like the word reaper, but I don’t know what a reaper is here. As far as names go, Kelstarus isn’t bad, but I don’t know who he is, either. Next!
- A Man and the Use of His Hands. I have no idea what this means by “the use of his hands.” (No, get your mind out of the gutter). This feels far too cryptic.
- A Phantasmagorical Prediction. I have no idea what Phantasmagorical means. Unfortunately, anyone that doesn’t know what it means has roughly a 0% chance of being intrigued enough to start reading.
- Life Code from Brooklyn. I have no idea what this means.
- Rat of the Stone Soldiers. What the hell?
- 999. This is probably the worst of the week. What is 999 a reference to? Where’s the story here?
This article was the ninth part of a series. If you’d like to read our reviews of other batches of titles, please see the list just below.