Here at the playground, I spent a couple of posts talking about that bane of my writing life–coming up with titles! Since I want that process to be less painful with more satisfying results, I went through my booklists to find templates or formulae for titles.
First off, we have the one-word titles. These include names of people (Sabriel) or places (London). Straightforward and fairly safe. They’re not exciting but they get the job done. I prefer a little zing to my titles, so I like seeing more unusual nouns–novels named Dust–or compound words like Stardoc, Wintersmith, Inkheart. Then we have those nouns that are also adjectives. One that works for me is Soulless–a book that’s on my to-read list. I picked up an urban fantasy called Benighted once because of the title.
(Then there are the almost one-word titles that add an article to the noun–think John Grisham novels like The Firm and The Partner. I want to say that there are some historical romances out there with names like The Promise and The Keepsake. I’m not wild about this template.)
Now we come to the [adjective][noun], such as The Black Ship or The Red Wolf Conspiracy. These are workable, too. I’m not seeing any in my lists that has me filled with title-love.
Next up, titles that are [Something] [preposition][Something]. Most often, the preposition will be ‘of’ and we get titles like Prince of Darkness (how many vampires novels and historical novels could that title fit?–ha! I once read an autobiography called The Prince of Darkness!). That formula works for me if it juxtaposes two words your normally don’t see together. One I particularly like is Diplomacy of Wolves. A similar template is [Something]’s [Something], so you have The Singer’s Crown, instead of The Crown of the Singer.
Then we have the [Someone] and the [Someone/Something] title. Nancy Drew and the Case of the Clever Clown! The Hardy Boys and the Trembling Turnip! Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Peter and the Starcatchers. I think this works when you’re trying to go for a certain adventurous almost-retro feel to the book. Sometimes you have [Noun] and [Noun], like Whiskey and Water. If you pick two nouns that go together without being a cliche and throw in alliteration, you have a winner in my book. 🙂
I also noted titles that are allusions to poetry and literature, like Burning Bright (Tracy Chevalier’s novel about William Blake).
Whew. After going through the lists of books I’ve read over the last couple of years, I think that the titles that work for me are the ones that find fresh new words for their genre. Heart, desire and passion are overused in romance. Fantasy is filled with kings and princes (ditto all other royal titles); crowns, thrones, swords. Find some new words, or a startling combination of words. I will certainly pick up a book named Drowned Wednesday or Superior Saturday. Compound words work for me, too. I get a delicious thrill when I see names like Mistborn and Grimspace (regardless of how I feel about the books).
Any other title templates I missed? What are some of your favorite book titles?
Megs - Scattered Bits says
Favorite book titles:
A Ring of Endless Light (line of poetry)
Midnight Never Come (poetry again)
“Darkness Box” (adjective)(noun) with a twist. It’s really (noun)(noun) in a way. It’s just lovely and evocative.
The Gods Themselves (phrase of a quote, similar to poetry) [I’m catching my own trend here. :D]
Other templates (thought LOOOOOOOONG and hard on this):
(verb)(someone/something). Examples: Saving Sarah Cain, Finding Forrester.
Hmm…I’ll never look at a title the same way again.
Megs - Scattered Bits says
Those little quotation ones are short stories, I know. But…at least it’s fiction and they really are some of my favs.
Oh, yes, The God Themselves. That’s one of the few Isaac Asimov books I can remember every after all these years (I went through my Asimov phase in high school).
One of the other ones I really like is “A Great and Terrible Beauty”. It sounds like a literary allusion, but I haven’t been able to track it down as one. Any ideas?
I recently submitted a short story I titled Beauty, Unraveling. I just love that name. I guess that’s the [noun], [adjective/verb] template. 😉
Good call on the [verb][someone/something]. I feel like I’ve seen enough of the Saving [Someone] titles that it’s lost some of the spark for me. Ditto with Redeeming [noun]–or maybe it’s from too much exposure to christianese. 😀
Megs - Scattered Bits says
Yeah, I’m big on the one-word, two-word, or poetry EVOCATIVE. Not real overwhelmed by ANY of the other templates, even if it’s a favorite book.
I read a book once that boasted the delightful title And to My Nephew Albert I Leave the Island What I Won Off Fatty Hagan in a Poker Game. I enjoyed the book but now, maybe 30 years later, I remember nothing of the plot — but I’ll never forget that title!
I like titles that aren’t immediately understandable, so you wonder what the book’s about, and have to take a look to find out — like Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go. I also like allusions to poetry, and clever titles that mean several things at once — but I can’t think of any at the moment … must get off the internet before my brain has a meltdown.
Ha, that is a crazy long title! I like some of those, too, in small doses. I’ve always found the Alexander McCall Smith titles (The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, and others of the series) to be charming.
I would certainly give a second glance to a book called The Knife of Never Letting Go, as long as it had an attractive-to-me cover. Then the blurb would have to live up to the title. I dislike it when I get excited by title only to find that the blurb is not remotely interesting to me.
Thanks for stopping by, Marina. 🙂