Oct 25 2008

Your Title is Bad, But You Can Fix It (Part 9)

Published by at 5:02 pm under Titles,Word Choice,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. 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.

Acceptable

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.”
  5. 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.

Awful (But Fixable!)
  1. 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!
  6. 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?
  7. 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.”
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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?
  12. 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.
  13. Sinew and Bone.  Are two parts of the body.  So what?  Where’s the story here?
  14. 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.
  15. Dead Letter Office.  I don’t know what’s going on here.
  16. Escape from Farside.  Where’s Farside?  Who’s escaping?  Why should I care whether he makes it?
  17. 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.
  18. 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“).
  19. Locked Room.  That’s a place, not a story.  What’s happening in the locked room?  Who’s locked away?  Why should we care?
  20. 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!
  21. 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.
  22. 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.
  23. Life Code from Brooklyn.  I have no idea what this means.
  24. Rat of the Stone Soldiers.  What the hell?
  25. 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.

66 responses so far

66 Responses to “Your Title is Bad, But You Can Fix It (Part 9)”

  1. t3knomanseron 26 Oct 2008 at 6:36 am

    I like these segments, but every once in awhile, you pick on one title that uses something that I would think is generally common knowledge because you don’t recognize the terms. A “dead letter office” is the part of the postal service tasked with dealing with “dead letters”- the undeliverable. Things like letters to God, Santa, and the like, and just plain old “that address doesn’t exist”. (wiki)

    It’s still a bad title, but not because it’s cryptic. While it tells us a bit about the setting, it really doesn’t tell us anything about the story. It’s like naming a story “The Construction Site”, or “The Office”.

  2. B. Macon 26 Oct 2008 at 7:36 am

    If Davis misses one reference a week, that means he makes over 95%. I suspect he compares pretty well to the average low-ranking publishers’ assistant. If a PA has a stack of manuscripts in front of him, he’s probably not going to Google titles in the hopes that one has a reference he missed. He’s going to just toss it and move on. So, in that way, I think that our review process is pretty realistic because it is not very thorough. In an ideal world, the PAs would understand every title, but writers do not live or work in such a world.

    Also, a strong title might work even though the reader misses the reference. For example, I think my “Perfecting God’s Image” would be perfectly creepy even if the reader wasn’t familiar with the reference. If a title hinges on the reader picking up the reference to something that may be regionally or chronologically sensitive, it will probably be particularly vulnerable to summary slushing. (Dead letter offices may be geographically limited– I’m more familiar with “mail recovery centers,” and Wikipedia’s entry suggests that DLOs are a primarily American phenomenon).

  3. Cadet Davison 27 Oct 2008 at 10:55 am

    Yeah, you can see how tired I was by the end. Over the several hours it took to write this article, I grew gradually more dismissive, impatient and annoyed. I generally spent a lot more time offering suggestions for the first few awful titles for the ones at the end. For example, Rat of the Stone Warriors earned “what the hell?” and Life Code from Brooklyn got “I have no idea what this means.” That’s roughly when I dismissed Dead Letter Office.

  4. B. Macon 27 Oct 2008 at 12:57 pm

    Quoting Cadet Davis: “Over the several hours I spent writing this article, I grew gradually more dismissive.” The word Cadet Davis should have used in place of “dismissive” is unquestionably “surly.”

  5. B. Macon 27 Oct 2008 at 2:06 pm

    Say, T3knomanser, how’d your story about the D&D band go?

  6. Miusherion 08 Nov 2008 at 8:43 am

    Maybe they meant “God’s Porsche.” 😉 Although, that would also imply that they don’t know how to pronounce “Porsche.”

    // What does God want with a sports car?

  7. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 08 Nov 2008 at 3:42 pm

    Well, 999 could be 666 upside down. It’s a long shot, but maybe it means that the story about Hell is wrong. The details are twisted or something. Or 999 could refer to the British emergency number, the equivalent of 000 or 911. Maybe a police story? Maybe it refers to a year, or the Dewey decimal system, or it’s part of a file number or number plate. It could have lots of meanings, but I’m guessing that the police one is most likely.

  8. B. Macon 08 Nov 2008 at 7:59 pm

    These are the first two paragraphs of the prologue of 999.

    After years of drought, the sky swung its arid arm and made a definitive blow to the land East of Arnia. It broke the Green Sea’s water sparing only a couple feet above its center. The earth cried out from the intense pain and suffering… then out of the Green Sea’s womb emerged two pure girls.

    Each girl appeared of twelve or fourteen years in age. The sisters, twins, stepped out of the drained sea and on to the suffering land. One stood slightly taller. Her hair curled like flickering embers of fire. Her sister shared the same hue of red hair, just a shade softer.

    I’m utterly baffled by what 999 means, but I think we can rule out a police story. This title was thoroughly awful.

  9. Ragged Boyon 08 Nov 2008 at 8:19 pm

    Huh, I thought 999 would be something out of a sci-fi story, like it was the number of an android, or something. But it seems like the story is a fantasy tale. 999 makes no since, I think “Crimson Locks” would be awful, but at least a slight improvement.

  10. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 13 Jun 2009 at 5:51 am

    Hmm. I’m just going to think up random titles for fun. Would any of these work? (Not that I plan to use them, haha)

    Satan Loves Ice Cream

    Don’t Annoy the Salmon If You Want to Live

    My Other Cat is a Mountain Lion

    The Lawnmower is Possessed By Napoleon!

    The Emus Are Liars

    I Want to Kill You All With a Pencil

    Those titles were the most random things I could think of. Haha.

  11. Holliequon 13 Jun 2009 at 3:18 pm

    Well, I think we can discount James Patterson and Jacqueline Wilson, because people would buy their books whatever they were called (I’m not sure if JW is well known outside Britain, so for the unitiated she’s a highly successful children’s novelist).

    The others I haven’t really heard of, although “The Wasted Vigil” seems familiar. It also sounds somewhat intriguing, if depressing. “The Book of Fires” is awful, and “This Year It Will Be Different” is somewhat intriguing, but it doesn’t sell the story very well and it’s not interesting enough to make me want a look.

  12. Holliequon 13 Jun 2009 at 3:24 pm

    Also, RW, I have a whole word document full of random titles from the NaNoWriMo Adopt-A-Title thread. Somes gems, in my opinion, include:

    52 Cards Before Joker

    The Silent Word

    Bleak Picture of There

    The Haunt of Roulette Dreams

    24 Hours of Murder

    The Cult of Charming Men

    50 Ways to Steal the Hope Diamond

    Note that due to the randomness of NaNoWriMo, none of these actually have plots attached. These ones are just some of my favourites.

  13. YonTroperon 08 Apr 2010 at 5:37 am

    What “God’s Porch” conveyed to me was sort of the idea of a threshold – maybe stepping into heaven or something? It’s an intriguing idea, but it’s still awful, because it needs more detail.

    Also, haven’t you done some of these titles before?

  14. Dr. Maladyon 13 Oct 2010 at 1:22 pm

    I enjoyed reading these articles, though they made me throw out a few of my titles. *chuckle* But in the end I’m sure it will be for the better.

    A minor note; in the Awful (But Fixable!) section, point #10: Here Be Dragons. There’s a book out titled ‘Here There Be Dragons’. It’s so close I thought I might mention it. (It was a very enjoyable book in my opinion.)

    ~Thank you for your hard work and time.
    Dr. Malady

  15. B. Macon 13 Oct 2010 at 3:16 pm

    These sorts of lackluster titles do occasionally get published. (Especially with authors that are really experienced and/or best-sellers–publishers give established authors more creative latitude). That’s one of the reasons I would probably have hated editing for Michael Crichton. He slipped from reasonably badass titles like Jurassic Park and the Andromeda Strain to Timeline and Next.

  16. Sylaron 04 Aug 2012 at 2:41 pm

    B.Mac, I need your help. I have a story about two men who possess almost Superman-like powers (which are slowly killing them), who are combating each other while struggling to leave in a world that hates them.

    It’s character-driven, dark, and philosophical in several areas. It’s like a combination of Superman-Smallville- and Hancock. It’s got 6 chapters (one is an epilogue).

    It’s got everything it needs… except a title.

    I can’t think of anything, do you have any suggestions?

  17. B. McKenzieon 04 Aug 2012 at 3:45 pm

    One possibility that comes to mind is Death by [Superpowered Word]–e.g. Death by Invulnerability or Death by Invincibility. I think the contrast will help interest prospective readers and the superpowered word will help cue readers that superpowers are involved. “Death” should convey the mood. Depending on your tastes, you could also do [Verb]ed by [Superpower Word]–e.g. Strangled by Invincibility.

    Alternately, depending on the style of the story, perhaps The Caped Coffin (or Caped Coffins).

  18. vvhs89on 04 Aug 2012 at 8:11 pm

    What do you think of “We Are the Mainstay” as the title for a book about two heroes who are Earth’s only line of defense against an invasion?

  19. YoungAuthoron 04 Aug 2012 at 11:12 pm

    vvhs89- I like that title alot. It seems very fitting

  20. B. McKenzieon 05 Aug 2012 at 5:13 am

    “We Are the Mainstay…” It’s okay, but I think adding 1-2 words might help make it more specific and/or stylish. Something which helps tell something specific about the main characters, ideally. For example, a title like “The Reckoning’s Reckoning” helps suggest that these are not super-Boy Scouts joyriding across Metropolis.

  21. vvhs89on 05 Aug 2012 at 10:59 am

    How about “The Predator’s Reckoning”? I’m just throwing all that I can think of out there.

  22. B. McKenzieon 05 Aug 2012 at 12:32 pm

    I think “predator” brings to mind a particular kind of criminal (or perhaps the biological concept–e.g. the movie Predator) rather than anything related to superheroes…

  23. vvhs89on 05 Aug 2012 at 1:05 pm

    Ah ok. Think I’ll go with what you suggested then. Thanks.

  24. B. McKenzieon 05 Aug 2012 at 2:11 pm

    You’re welcome, but I’d recommend that you keep your eyes open for anything which might be more interesting and/or distinct to your work.

  25. vvhs89on 05 Aug 2012 at 3:25 pm

    How about “The Way the World Ends”?

  26. B. McKenzieon 05 Aug 2012 at 3:33 pm

    I think you’re onto something, but I’d recommend making it more specific to your plot. It might help to tweak it to something like “The World Ends With ____” or “The World Ends In _____” or “Ending the World _____ _______”, “Or ______ Ends the World,” etc.

    For example, if you had a super-wacky plot like Dr. McNinja, “Or Thomas Jefferson Blows Up the World” would make sense.

  27. vvhs89on 05 Aug 2012 at 3:51 pm

    hmm……. how about “The World Ends In 36 Days” or “The World Ends With Vigil’s Death”? (Vigil is the codename of the main character)

  28. YoungAuthoron 05 Aug 2012 at 4:10 pm

    How about “Ending the World in 36 days”?

  29. vvhs89on 05 Aug 2012 at 4:48 pm

    How about “Shattering This World of Ours”?

  30. Sylaron 05 Aug 2012 at 8:02 pm

    B.Mac, what if my title was “Terminal Superpowers”?

  31. B. McKenzieon 05 Aug 2012 at 8:45 pm

    Hmm, I like “Terminal Superpowers.” Another variation which comes to mind is “A Terminal Case of Superpowers,” although I’m not sure the clarification is worth the extra words and it may suggest a more medical focus to the story.



    “How about ‘The World Ends In 36 Days’ or ‘The World Ends With Vigil’s Death’?” I like The World Ends in 36 Days somewhat better than “…Virgil’s Death,” although I think the plot that comes to mind first is “it’s about characters getting their final affairs in order after learning that the supposed Mayan doomsday prophecy is real.”

  32. vvhs89on 05 Aug 2012 at 9:05 pm

    Hmm I’ll think more about this later. Is there anywhere that I can post what I’m working on?

  33. M. Happenstanceon 05 Aug 2012 at 9:19 pm

    I’d shy away from The World Ends with Vigil or anything too similar to that, as there’s already a reasonably prominent video game by the name of The World Ends With You.

    Perhaps an rearrangement. 36 Days ‘Til the End of the World might work, if the 36 Days bit is important to the plotline.

  34. Meon 28 Aug 2012 at 12:11 pm

    Hello hello! I’m working on a story and I was pretty happy with the title up to this point, but now I think it’s rather bad. The title is My Friend’s Dragon.
    It’s a POV flip on the typical ‘normal person gets recruited to save the world’ plot by focusing on the protagonist’s best friend; she watches him become a hero, use magic, and yes, get a dragon, while she gets left by the wayside. Jealousy is a theme. Is the title okay, and if not, any suggestions?

  35. B. McKenzieon 28 Aug 2012 at 12:22 pm

    Your description of the plot makes it sound more interesting than the title does. As for suggestions, I think it would depend on the plot and tone. One thing that comes to mind is something irreverent along the lines of “My Friend Got a Dragon and I Got This Lousy T-Shirt” or insert something ridiculous in place of Lousy T-Shirt.

  36. M. Happenstanceon 28 Aug 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Based on the title, I’d have skipped your book over completely. Based on the summary you gave, I’d have picked it up.

  37. Sam Hon 11 Dec 2012 at 2:35 am

    How about “Zombie Marie Curie” for a story about historical scientists brought to the future where nobody’s had any formal education, so only the heroes can use the new tech? (and from it gain their powers)

  38. M. Happenstanceon 11 Dec 2012 at 10:28 am

    Do Marie Curie or her theories play a significant role in the story? If not, I’d suggest a different title.

  39. B. McKenzieon 11 Dec 2012 at 2:08 pm

    “How about “Zombie Marie Curie” for a story about historical scientists brought to the future where nobody’s had any formal education, so only the heroes can use the new tech?” Unless it’s mainly a zombie story, I’d recommend staying away from zombie in the title. You were able to describe the premise in one sentence without using the word “zombie,” so my guess is that it is not a zombie story.

  40. Derp Writeron 11 Dec 2012 at 2:35 pm

    For a World War One novel (because I’ve started to think that I might just write the story out instead of waiting to make it into a game (and maybe even abandon the idea of starting my own company for that purpose, but I digress…) what would you think of the name “To End All Wars”?

  41. Sam Hon 12 Dec 2012 at 3:12 am

    Madam Curie is the main of the three main heroes, and does gain zombie attributes, but only her. Other titles that come to mind are maybe
    “the second Curie”
    “the new adventures of the new curie”
    “the post-history of Marie Curie”
    or “the future needs heroes”

  42. B. McKenzieon 12 Dec 2012 at 8:37 am

    Here are some title suggestions, mostly quirky.

    “There Will Be Science,” Said Zombie Curie
    Science Needs a Zombie
    The Future Needs Science, and Science Needs a Zombie
    The Post-Mortem Adventures of Marie Curie
    “Science!” Insinuated Zombie Curie
    A Fate Worth than Death by Irradium Poisoning

  43. J Harrisonon 19 Dec 2012 at 10:20 am

    I’d love help with a title for a fantasy novel that I’m working on. I’ve previously pitched it as “Alice in Wonderland meets Lord of the Rings”, and it follows a young girl who gets transported to a “spirit world”, disguises herself as a man and fights in a war between the residents of this spirit world and a tyrannical god. As it stands, I’ve been calling it:

    Redmane and the Mad God

    “Redmane” being the name this girl adopts when she disguises herself (for her red hair), and the “Mad God” being the villain of the piece. I wanted to create an element of whimsy, but also harken to the more epic aspects of the story. I did previously try naming it for an object in the story, but felt the characters were perhaps more intriguing and important?

  44. Anonymouson 19 Dec 2012 at 10:31 am

    I like “Redmane and the Mad God,” but the story that comes to mind is very different than anything like Alice in Wonderland, Mulan, or perhaps LOTR. My first impression is pirates a la Blackbeard or Bluebeard or perhaps something about a Viking warrior.

    Possible rephrase: “How [X] Became Redmane” or “How [X] Destroyed* the Mad God.”

    *Or a more ambiguous verb phrase if this would give away too much of the ending.

  45. Nayanon 19 Dec 2012 at 10:59 pm

    @B. Mac.

    Generally, a novel should not have one word title. But why does it work for movies? For example- most of the Nolan’s movies have one word titles (Insomnia, Memento, Prestige, Inception) and many other great films (Seven, Psycho, Sleuth etc.). Is it because movies have other ways to present clues of the stories like trailers etc.?

  46. J Harrisonon 20 Dec 2012 at 3:24 am

    @Anon: Thanks for the input. I suppose Redmane does sound like a pirate or viking name.

    I like the idea of names like “How Emily Evans Became Redmane”, but that perhaps doesn’t allude to the primary conflict? With your other suggestion, I can’t really think of a verb that is ambiguous enough?

    Names are important in the story, as is identity. The protagonist and antagonist are known by several names as the story progresses. So we have Emily Evans, who becomes Redmane and The Red Knight. Then the villain is Deliro, The Mad God, God-King, and Mister Magpie. (Named for the bird that represents him and that he can take the form of.) Maybe there’s something to be found in those names?

    @Nayan: My gut instinct is that films, as a more visual medium, rely less on their titles. We don’t necessarily remember Inception for its name, but for the Escher-esque folding city. But that is just my humble opinion.

  47. J Harrisonon 20 Dec 2012 at 3:34 am

    Edit: Deliro is also known as The Headless God, as he was beheaded after killing his uncle, the king of the gods, before being cast down to the spirit world of the story. Of course, the beheading didn’t kill him.

  48. Nayanon 20 Dec 2012 at 6:51 am

    @B. Mac.
    You replied to my above post under another article. By the way, have you watched ‘Sleuth’? Awesome film showing how to use a very small cast effectively. Only 2 characters and 2 sequences in a 2 hr long film. But still entertaining.

  49. B. McKenzieon 20 Dec 2012 at 8:26 am

    “Generally, a novel should not have one word title. But why does it work for movies?” Movies tend to have much larger marketing budgets than most books do. Prospective viewers will have access to much more information about your book than just the title (e.g. the trailer, any advertisements, the movie poster in the theater, etc), so the title is less important.

    In contrast, when a prospective viewer is browsing through Amazon results or bookshelves, they pretty much have access only to the book title, the author’s name, and sometimes the cover (many bookstores place books on the shelf with the binding facing out rather than the cover). If your name isn’t widely known enough to sell books (i.e. you’re not Michael Crichton or Chuck Palahniuk), one-word titles probably won’t help make readers pull the book off the shelf to learn more. For example, compare the title “Charming” to “Bring Me the Head of Prince Charming” or (hopefully!) “Taxman” to “The Taxman Must Die.”

  50. carloson 04 Apr 2013 at 6:35 am

    999 is the british emergeny number, so thats probably got something to do with the story. (just a guess)

  51. Qwertyon 07 Apr 2013 at 9:59 pm

    At what point can one re-use a title (if ever)? There’s a title I’ve been tentatively using for my story, but after looking it up I see that there’s already a book and a movie with that title. 🙁 The book might be in public domain (the copyright might have expired), but the movie is newer and most likely is still copyrighted. Also, my story is in a completely different genre than the other story with my title. Would this be confusing for readers, or illegal, or both? Any help is appreciated.

  52. B. McKenzieon 07 Apr 2013 at 10:23 pm

    Qwerty, I’m not a legal expert and I don’t even know what the title is. That said, I think it’d be mainly a judgment call by the publisher. The publisher may insist on a change and, if the movie is a recent blockbuster (e.g. Avatar or Up), I’d recommend preemptively changing your title. Aside from that, I’d recommend leaving this issue to your eventual publisher. Titles take relatively little time to change (compared to, say, a major change in point-of-view or characterization), so your title will not cause a publisher to reject an otherwise-publishable manuscript.

  53. Qwertyon 07 Apr 2013 at 11:18 pm

    I’m very cautious about copyright issues, and if I’d known my title was already taken I wouldn’t have gotten so attached to it. Fact is, I’d never heard of the book (published in 1905) and movie (made in 1991) until I looked it up, and I still thought my title was okay because it’s based on a saying: “Where Angels Fear To Tread.” My book is a long ways from being published, and I am open to changing the title if need be.

    Incidentally, what kind of story comes to mind with this title? (This title may be so generic-sounding that I have to change it anyway, but I would appreciate a second opinion.)

  54. B. McKenzieon 08 Apr 2013 at 7:02 am

    “What kind of story comes to mind with this title?” I’m having trouble coming up with something specific–e.g. “Some protagonist does something dangerous.” I suspect it’d be possible to come up with a title which provided more information about your story.

  55. Qwertyon 08 Apr 2013 at 10:26 pm

    “I suspect it’d be possible to come up with a title which provided more information about your story.”

    Yeah, I decided it’s just a placeholder title until I find something more specific to my story.

    My story is a sort of dark, contemplative sci-fi story with some superhero elements. The main character is a teenage girl who’s always been something of an ignored underdog because she’s not very exceptional in any way, and she lives in a world where one almost has to be exceptional to survive. The family that adopted her from childhood is part of a giant union of smugglers who protects endangered innocents from the harsh, overbearing government; thus, all members of the union must be strong, smart, quick-thinking, able to work well in teams, etc – all of which Katrin (the main character) continually fails at. She’s always felt like an outcast – so when a mysterious stranger offers her the chance to gain superpowers, she impulsively accepts. However, all this stranger wanted was a lab rat for one of his risky scientific experiments – an experiment that has killed hundreds and hundreds of other deceived teenagers in the years this scientist has been working on his project. Katrin miraculously survives the experiment, and soon finds that she does indeed have superpowers – but, strangely, this becomes a curse rather than a blessing, and haunts her continuously as her goal becomes to find a way to get rid of her powers before they consume her.

    The title I’d tentatively chosen (“Where Angels Fear To Tread”) sort of worked along with the concept that Katrin rushed into this situation without really thinking about it first, the consequences of which haunt her for the rest of her life. (The full saying is “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”) However, this title doesn’t tell anything to prospective readers about the plot/genre/main character of the book, except for (as you said) probably a dangerous situation of some sort. Titles have always been hard for me to come up with, especially for books in a series. (This book is first of a three-book series, plus a potential four-book sequel series from another character’s point of view.) Last time I wrote a series of books I had one title for the entire series and just called the individual books Book One, Book Two, etc. I’m not sure if I can let myself off that easily this time, though. 🙂

  56. Wolfgirlon 13 Dec 2013 at 1:49 pm

    Would someone please rate these titles? They’re all for different stories.

    1. If we’re All Going to Die Eventually, Why Live?
    2. My Double Life: Lies, Breast Feeding, Theft, Play dates, Murder, and Potty Training
    3. The Secret Agent’s Guide to Surviving Gym Class, Lying for the Government, and Becoming Prom Queen.
    4. Time Travel, Heartbreak, and Junior High.

  57. edgukatoron 14 Dec 2013 at 12:02 am

    @Wolfgirl – Take this with a grain of salt (I haven’t even be able to name my own story yet) but I like your third title… However, are the words “Lying for the Government and Becoming Prom Queen” necessary? It seems to me your title is a self-help book parody (“The Complete Idiot’s Guide to…”), in which case mentioning the government is unnecessary. “The Secret Agent’s Guide to Surviving Gym Class” or even “The Secret Agent’s Guide to Becoming Prom Queen” would secure the parody and identify what, I presume, makes your story different.

    From that alone, I could guess this is a story about a teenager (changing it to “prom-queen”, teenage girl) trained as a secret agent and trying to deal with the usual complications of high school.

  58. Cat of Darknesson 14 Dec 2013 at 11:56 am

    @Wolfgirl

    I’ll rate these on a scale of 1-10

    1. I think that this explains a little of the plot well. It sounds great, so I would read it. However, it’s a little wordy, but I still give it a 4.5 for being awesome. Try and cut out a few words. Otherwise, I think it’s a great title.

    2. No offense, but it doesn’t really grip my attention. Maybe take away the “Breast Feeding”, and “Potty training”? I am going to give this a 3.

    3. WAY too wordy. I think it would be more interesting if it was shorter. I give this title a 3, too.

    4. That is quite a good title. I liked it a lot. This one I won’t ramble on about. 5.

  59. Deon 18 Mar 2014 at 2:11 pm

    welp hope this isnt a neco post,

    im making a comic for my graduation project, the baisc premis of it, a boy sees his mother, whom is a mercanry by the way, “killed” by the man who hired her, and called out for the power to a avenge her. and heven heres him and grants him seven powers one for each of the virtues (note Heaven is a member of an omniscient race in the comic called the wryd like wise with Hell) but as he falls to each of the seven sins he loses the resptive power, there is a foil charter who will be his love interst, and the very ending is a doulde suiced.

    any way, i would like some input how is the tittle

    “Sets of Seven: virtue and vice” or “S.o.S: V.a.V.”

    and if it thoroughly stinks any other ideas?

  60. B. McKenzieon 30 Mar 2014 at 8:56 am

    De, especially for an academic project, I’d recommend proofreading more aggressively. Generally, school projects hinge more on written mechanics than on superior creativity.

    The premise strikes me as interesting.

    If this were a professional project, I’d strongly recommend starting over from scratch on the title. For an academic project, I don’t think it’s a major problem.

  61. Anonymouson 03 Apr 2014 at 11:33 am

    alright thank you, i do plan on using this as a professional project. and i am sory for the grammatical mess,i have disgrapha which makes it difficult to spell things some times. and again thank you for your input.

  62. B. McKenzieon 03 Apr 2014 at 6:47 pm

    “I have dysgraphia, which makes it difficult to spell things sometimes.” Congratulations on your (upcoming) graduation. I imagine dysgraphia would be quite a challenge.

  63. Deon 04 Apr 2014 at 4:09 pm

    it can be, it mostly anoying, some time i forget how to spell simple words like sorwd, but yet can spelling word like aracnaphobia… ya

  64. Sera Nocteon 18 Aug 2017 at 11:20 am

    Thoughts on these titles

    I Promise I Will Not Kill You, Even if it Looks Like I Might.
    [About a girl who finds out her college roommate is a hitman for the government]

    The Egotistical Wallflower
    [A girl with passive aggressive disorder]

    A Hacker’s Guide to Robbing Banks
    [A hacker and a kleptomaniac meet up]

    James, I Swear if You Die Again…
    [Demigod son of Prometheus, only inherited the”dying each day” thing. Narrated by his girlfriend]

    Always Look Before You Jump off a Rooftop
    [Parkourist who doesn’t look and warns all other prospective freerunners not to do the same]

    Try Not to Die. I Don’t Have a Shovel.
    [Two overly sarcastic secret agents (partners) who hate each other and try to get one another killed]

    It’s Always a Prius!
    [A boy who is basically a jerk so he’s punished by God to get hit by a car every day. And it’s always a Prius]

  65. Sera Nocteon 18 Aug 2017 at 11:21 am

    Oh, and
    The Library of Wild Cacophony
    [A library in an asylum]

  66. B. McKenzieon 18 Aug 2017 at 12:46 pm

    “I Promise I Will Not Kill You, Even if it Looks Like I Might.” — Way too long. Suggested “I Promise Not to Kill You” Or “Promise Not to Kill Me” instead.

    “James, I Swear If You Die Again” -> Unfortunately, the much smoother “Die Another Day” is already taken. 🙂

    “Try Not to Die. I Don’t Have a Shovel” -> Recommended “Try Not to Die” if that’s untaken.

    “It’s Always a Prius!” –> This doesn’t introduce the plot or characters all that well, I think. As far as using a brand name in a title, contrast to “The Devil Wears Prada” or “The Devil Reads Pravda” or whatever it was.

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