Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Discussion: What Makes a Great Title?

First off, thanks for the tags everyone. I'll fill those out and probably post them on Monday, and I'll try to make it entertaining, as always. 

Second, I have received two free books in the mail so far from Waterbrook/Multnomah: North! Or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson, and Sir Dalton and the Shadow Heart, by Chuck Black. In exchange for these free books, I must post a review for each of them--on September 14-18 for North! Or Be Eaten, and September 28-30 for Sir Dalton and the Shadow Heart.

Now, on to the main topic. Right now, with my novel, I'm working on
editing and Flaming Pen Press is working on a contract offer.
 Meanwhile, such things are being discussed as what the cover illustrations would be and what the title would be. 

Titles, it seems, are trickier than I once thought. We are making headway, but I want to hear your opinions on what makes a good title. What are some of the best titles you've heard? Keep in mind that great books don't necessarily have great titles. I think once we've read a book, (or heard about it enough times) the title fades into a mere name. For instance, it doesn't matter, at this point, whether or not Lord of the Rings is a great title. At the mention of it, our minds skip the step of acknowledging the title and jump to thoughts of adventures of elves, dwarves, ents, etc.

So I think titles serve mainly to attract new readers. But how can a title be made to better attract readers and catch on? What makes a great title?


Izori said...

I think that one or two word titles, such as 'Eldest' or 'Rakkety Tam' are sort of catchy. Same with the more dramatic titles, like 'North! Or Be Eaten' or 'On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness'.

Those would make the reader think 'Why is the book called 'Rakkety Tam'? Who is Rakkety Tam, and why's he so special?' or 'Why go North to avoid being eaten? Who will eat who?'

Ivorydancer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nathan R. Petrie said...'s my thoughts on the subject.

Titles need to spark mystery, and intrigue. Sometimes, the title can't fit the book as well as the author would like it to. I think LOTR is a good example. Very little in the story is the "lord" or said ring ever seen, and he's not the main part of the story. I more story fitting title would have been something like "The Lost little Hobbit" but that's not as attractive is it?

Any title that gets the would-be readers thinking. "The Door Within". What's that? Sounds fantasy-ish, mysterious, etc. Thing like that.

Also, a point of interest that I was thinking about lately. Sometimes, as writers, it's best not to think as a writer, focusing on the dos and dont's, sometimes it's better to think as a reader.
What kind of name would spike your interest?

:D Hope I can help.

-Nathan Petrie

Ivorydancer said...

Well, one of the most intriguing titles for me was 'The Scarlet Letter'. I also liked '100 Cupboards' and 'Dandelion Fire'. But it really depends on what the story is about, so I don't know if these help. The two stories (one series) that I am working on now started with the titles. I just thought of it and wrote it down thinking I would use it for something someday and I did! It has turned out to be my favorite story so far. My three favorite titles I have come up with are 'Another Once In Time' 'The Unexpected' and 'The Letter'. I am not really experienced in this, but I am attracted to short titles that leave the story shrouded in mystery. It doesn't give any of the story away, but is perfectly understandable when you are done. I don't know... Hope it helps!

Jacob R Parker said...

Izori: Good point. I definitely think the shorter the title the better, in most cases. Especially for marketing purposes; if it's short people will be more likely to remember it.

Nathan: Mystery and intrigue is a must for me in titles. I don't like titles to tell me what the story is about or what's going to happen. I want the title to make ME ask what it's about and what's going to happen. Personally, I've often liked titles that combine two or more words that normally never go together. Such as (as Ivorydancer said) Dandelion Fire or (I know you don't like this one, but I love it) Venom & Song or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Ivorydancer: I love that thought: having a title that doesn't give the story away but makes sense at the end. It's a fine line, because if it pertains to the end it probably will give the reader a clue about that ending, but if executed perfectly that could be wonderfully effective. I'm pretty sure I've seen that before but I can't think of any examples. Can you?

Another title technique I've liked is the sudden twist, such as Four Weddings and a Funeral

Kat Heckenbach said...

I love simple titles--"Oath" and "Three" for example, and certain key words always jump out at me (like "Dragon"--I'll pick up just about anything with dragon in the title and check out the back cover). I'm a sucker for numbers in titles, too.

As for creating a title for a book--my original title for my book was pretty lame. My best friend read it and suggested "Finding Angel" because it has several different meanings regarding the story. I thought she was brilliant! I'm only hoping that some day when I find a publisher they let me keep it!

Evergreena said...

Ivorydancer: I was JUST thinking about the title "100 Cupboards" before I saw your comment! I haven't even read the book! It sounds intriguing.

Sometimes it takes me ages to come up with a title that just fits. For the novel I'm editing now, I was originally going to call it simply "The Rebels," but I ended up with "The Shadow of Rebellion," which has more of a ring to it, I think. (By the way, I posted chapter one on my blog to get some feedback!)

I think I generally like short titles as well, but there are some exceptions to this. For example, "The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread" The title caught my attention while I was wandering through the library. It almost tells the whole story in the title, and yet I wanted to read it to see how all those things would come together.

I almost NEVER like titles with puns. Working at the library, I see plenty of them, especially in the mystery section, of all places. UGH! If I see another title like "Dead, White, and Blue," or "At the Scene of the Grime" I'll, I'll, I'll dial "C" for Corny!

ElizabethMarieKauffman said...

That is a really hard question. . . and I'm not even sure how to answer it. I agree with most everyone who has already commented. It has to inspire interest and intrigue, and give you a peek into the story, yet not give away the whole story line. But I also think that it has to flow well, for example the title that you mentioned; Venom and Song. It sounds good, and although they are things that you normally wouldn't put together, they sound good, and have an over all good "feel" about them. Where as if you did something like Venom and Heart, it doesn't sound as good. They too are things that aren't put together normally, so it's not different in that way, it just doesn't have that good feel to it, that firmness that is needed in a title.
I hope that helps. :)

Assr vĂ­sa ykkarr or∂.


Chris said...

Titles are hard. I like titles with less than three words (the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe doesn't count! lol). Titles I have liked: By Darkness Hid and To Darkness Fled are two of Jill Williamson's titles. I really liked them (although I think it's getting a little cliche having the word 'darkness' in a title, especially if you're a christian writer.) Another title I really liked was Inkheart. The way Mrs. Funke named her series--with Inkspell and Inkdeath--really worked. And she even made the titles important in the last book.
Now nobody shoot me, but I never really liked the title The Lord of the Rings until I found out it was fantasy. And I really don't like it when a title isn't appropriate for a book. So think it through until you're happy with it. =)

Ivorydancer said...

'The Last Battle' is the only title I can recall that pertains to the end. I like it, but I think even that gives too much away. I struggle between having titles for my chapters or just leaving numbers. I like leaving the end of each chapter in a very bad spot to where the reader just has to go on. So leaving just numbers makes it even more intense. I was painting in an art class and I messed up on a certain part. I was not happy about it and just smeared black over it. As I did so, the blob to the form of a fire. But it was still black. So I decided that 'Black Fire' would be a very good title for a book or chapter. I also came up with one that seemed to contradict itself 'Talks of Blood and Chocolate' was what I ended up with. I like the idea of them not going together. 'Rebels in White' seemed cool. That isn't a book, it just came to mind while reading Evergreena's comment. Maye a name for a title like 'Sir Dalton' but that character, though very important, wasn't revealed till the last chapter, or even better, the last paragraph that (if there is a second one) would force the readers to continue!

Scott Appleton said...

I'll weigh in with a couple for you to stew over: "Circles of Seven" "Stardust" "Sir Knight of the Splendid Way"

Isirian said...

Wow, what makes a good title... It takes a lot of thought it usually shouldn't come to you before you write a book, because you always add twists to your book that you had not expected at the begining. I really like the titles The Isle of Swords, Inkheart, All my Holy Mountain, etc. I don't think you should be puzzeling over a fancy title for weeks but I do think that it should be a title that catches the audiances intrest.

Joraiem said...

I like one word title's but also titles that mean things and make a reader pick it up, then as they are reading it think, "Oh so "Inkheart" is actually a book in the is book!!

Brianna said...

I like titles that draw the reader's curiosity. "Isle of Fire" by Wayne Batson, "Kingdom's Dawn" by Chuck Black, "Door in the Dragon's Throat" by Frank Peretti; they all use grabber words like "fire", "kingdom", and "dragon" that get us interested in the story, and curious to find out how the title plays into the plot. Once someone I know saw a book in bookstore titled "Crash in Cannibal Valley". I forget the author, but she was so intrigued by the title that she purchased it almost right away for her nine-year-old son. Titles can be powerful in attracting readers; although I must say, cool covers usually have a better affect at attracting me than cool titles do.

Nathan R. Petrie said...

Mr. Appleton, Circles was one of the best titles out there. It sums up the whole of the book and at the same time begs the readers to lol

Great title

Gabrielle said...

I almost never look at or remember titles. If I read something, it's generally because I liked the cover. One title I did like, though, was 'Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports'. It makes me smile. That and 'My Notebook of Plans For World Domination (among other things'

Calico Zak said...

In Reply to your Comment on me blog
I don't know personely but I heard once in the morning once before lunch and once before Supper. But thats just some its mostly random.


Brandon said...

Hey JR :)

I'll give you my two cents.

I think a title needs to be catchy and reflect the story, but beyond that, the title is only icing on the cake of the cover.

What grabs a potential reader is first the cover art, then the title subtly either calls them in or pushes them out, but it isn't nearly as important as the cover art.

I think its also less important than the back of the book blurb that explains the story.

Galadriel said...

Titles fall into one of two catagories--name a main character or hint at the story. One of my pet peeves is 'hook and drop' titles--that use exciting words like 'dragon,' 'elf,' or 'magic,' but have nothing to do with it. For example, my school library has a book called 'American Dragons' about Asian-Americans--no real dragons at all.
I don't have a hard time picking titles, though, because they come with the story.

Anita said...

As someone who recommends books all the time, I dislike titles that are hard to pass on. THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY is a real thorn in my side, for instance. Although, at least it actually has something to do with the book. Titles that have nothing to do with the book are very hard to remember and, thus, very hard to recommend.

My advice: listen to your publishing experts.

Jacob R Parker said...

Thanks for all the feedback everyone! Very good information and I'll be sure to post the prospective title in the near future.