Saturday, 30 August 2014

Titles on the brain.

Recently, I've had titles on the brain. I'm (allegedly) writing a novel, and one thing that strikes me when I hear you guys talk about your own WIPS is this: you all have titles. I am increasingly wishing I had one of my own, and this has led to the question: what makes a good title? More than ever in friends' houses, holiday homes or libraries I scan the bookshelves, mentally rating the strength of each title I see, so today I thought I'd share some of my title turn-offs and turn-ons. (Basically, I want any excuse to talk about books and make lists.)

Title turn-on #1: Long titles. Just read these titles and tell me they don't make you want to know more. Long titles are always unique and unforgettable, and often promise an amusing or at least unusual read. 
[The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared review here; The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil review here.]
Title turn-on #2: Titles in reference to something. Whether it is a poem, rhyme or saying I always love a title that references something.
By Light Alone by Adam Roberts is a book I'd never heard of before seeing it in the charity shop, but as soon as I saw the title I knew it was in reference to the Bible verse "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word from the mouth of God." Reading the blurb I saw that it was a book about a society in which humans can photosynthesise light through their hair, in place of food, showing that they live "by light alone".
The Pumpkin Eater by Penelope Mortimer references the nursery rhyme "Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater / Had a wife and couldn't keep her / He put her in a pumpkin shell / And there he kept her very well". This rhyme is in the inside cover of the book, and is an interesting choice because being a children's rhyme it is deceptively simple, but it also shows the misogyny prevalent in the book.
The Cuckoo's Calling by JK Rowling (writing as Robert Galbraith) also has a poem in the inside cover, 'A Dirge' by Christina G. Rossetti, and "the cuckoo's calling" is taken from this poem. I've not read the book yet but I'm excited to see how this will tie in!
Come to the Edge by Joanna Kavenna (review here) also has a poem at the front of the book, which I currently can't find, but it sets the tone for the all book. It's a good poem, too. I'm annoyed I can't find it on the interwebz.
[The Pumpkin Eater review here; Come to the Edge review here.]

Title turn-on #3: state of being titles. These titles always fill me with questions about the past and present state of being of the characters! How green was his valley? What colour is it now?? Were they liars?? When?? What did they lie about?? Aren't they liars anymore?? When he was Joe?? Isn't he still Joe?? What's happening??
^^ These are all questions that spring to mind when I read this titles. They make me want to know more. Even now I can't wait to read We Were Liars or When We Were Orphans! (I've read the others. They are all AMAZING. Read my review of How Green Was My Valley here and How I Live Now here.)

Title turn-on #4: the names of institutions/similar.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is, of course, a book that got major hype in both the real and book-blogging worlds, and I'm sure you already have a firm opinion of the trilogy. But just imagine you've not read it or heard of it; isn't The Hunger Games a great title? Contained in the words "hunger" and "games" the scene is set for the poverty of Panem, the brutality of the Games and also the idea that the death involved is no more than a sport to many. 
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: can you hitchhike around the galaxy?? Is this an amusing manual-style sci-fi novel?? Answers: yes and yes. 
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a great title; not only is Miss Peregrine a fantastic name to begin with, the idea of "peculiar children" hooks the reader right in.

Title turn-on #5: Alliteration. I do love some alliteration! For purely phonetic reasons it makes a title sound good. (Notice, though, that these titles are all classics. I'm running a mental blank on contemporaries with alliterative titles; can you think of any? Or are today's author missing out on this title turn-on?)
[Pride and Prejudice review here.]

But, for all the great titles out there, there are many that I view as boring and unattractive. These are my top five title turn-offs.

Note: I've not read all the books in this list, and mean no offense to the authors, publishers or fans of any of these books. In fact some of these books are brilliant; it's just the titles I'm not overly keen on.

Title turn-off #1: Flat, boring one-word titles. There's nothing especially wrong with these titles, but in my opinion, calling a book about the First World War Remembrance and a book about the French Revolution Revolution deserves no prizes. [Reviews here and here.]

Title turn-off #2: Just the MC's name?? This title trend is a by-product of the "flat one-word titles". I'm sorry, but it's not very imaginative to just name your book after your MC. Again there's nothing wrong with this, and I still really enjoyed these three books, with Emma being one of my very favourite books ever, but it just seems like another title could have been more wow-worthy.
[Review of Emma here.]

Title turn-off #3: Super-obvious romance. Whilst the first two title turn-offs in this list are pretty innocuous, this is where I get more judgemental. I know that the covers of these books make it obvious that they are romances, but even the titles in isolation make it clear that romance is the central theme. I can't buy into a book like this, as it seems to me like the female MCs are defined only by their relationship with boys.

Title turn-off #4: Super-obvious crime titles. On the flipside of romance we have these overly dramatic crime titles. Yes, yes, yes, crime, murder, blood, detectives. I get it. Yawn. I'm really not into crime fiction anyway, but these titles are about as subtle as a brick and ensure that these are books I will not be reading.

Title turn-off #5: THE DREADED 'DAUGHTER' TITLE. THIS is by far the BIGGEST TITLE TURN-OFF for me, as you may have guessed by my EXCESSIVE USE OF ALL-CAPS. A Clergyman's Daughter by George Orwell was published in asdfasdf, and since then the ball has just not stopped rolling. In my opinion this is the biggest cliche of them all for a title, and I'm not quite sure why contemporary writers still haven't got the message: this trend is so overdone that it can no longer be taken seriously.
Well, that was some insight into the (questionably sane) zone of Emily's brain. What are your title turn-ons and turn-offs? Do you agree with me? Or do you wildly disagree? Let me know!

Emily x


  1. SUCH a good post. I love titles, and liked reading your thoughts on them. Also, we have similar taste in literature, and that always makes me happy. :)

    1. Thanks Lydia! It makes me happy too. I love seeing other people who like the books I like :D

  2. I totally agree with you in every way! :) Well, except for the main character's first name thing, because sometimes it can be catchy, like with Coraline. But if the MC has a boring first name, *snore*.

    For me, I love longer titles, but I often forget them or get confused when I try to tell my friend about them (like with Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, which I had to Google just now in order to remember it). So while I like them, they're a little hard to keep straight.

    As far as WIPs go, sometimes I know what the title is going to be right away, and other times I discover it as I go, sometimes one turning up only when I finish the third or fourth round of edits! ;P My favorite titles from my books are The Adventure That Started With Nuts, A Cherry Pie, an Iguana, a Silver Dollar, and a Spitball Fight, Cosmo--an MC's name, I know!--, Flightless Birds, and Beneath the Moon and Stars. Most of these titles I came up with later, so I had more time to think about it and make it really good. So I wouldn't worry if your WIP doesn't have one yet. :) That just means it'll be awesome later.

    1. I agree that Coraline is definitely the best of those titles - with Coraline being an unusual name - but sometimes they're pretty boring >.<

      Long titles are so great! But yes, sometimes they are difficult to remember/make you feel like an idiot when someone asks you what you're reading and it takes you several minutes to tell them!

      Haha that gives me hope, I really wish I had a title for my novel but I don't! I LOVE your book titles; long titles for the win! Hahaha 'The Adventure That Started with Nuts, A Cherry Pie, an Iguana, a Silver Dollar, and a Spitball Fight' sounds like a book I'd like to read!!

  3. Oh I love this post!! I've never really given much thought into giving titles, but after reading this, I can think of some *hideous* things that I've called a few of my unfinished novels. Shudder. I could not agree with you more though, you've opened my eyes the the power of names. I'm especially intrigued by "The Giant Beard That Was Evil..." I think I noticed that you included a link, so I may have to go on over find out more about that :)

    1. Thanks! Haha titles are so important for a book. The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil completely hooked me (though it was actually pretty depressing :( ).

  4. Alliteration makes me so happy!! :D The gigantic beard that was evil sounds great - I'm gonna have to look for that! Great post :D x

    1. Yes yes yes I love alliteration! The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil *does* sound great -- showing the power of titles!

      Thanks Althea :) x

  5. This is such a brilliant post. :D
    Yes, long titles are so unique and always stand out. Often I just pick up a because of its interesting title.
    However I am also a fan of one word titles. Just as long as it's a very peculiar word or catchy or a cool name.
    The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared review sounds really good. ^_^

    1. Thanks :D

      Long titles and one-word titles are both great. Some words just hook you in!

      The Hundred-Year-Old Man (yes I'm too lazy to type it all out!) is pretty good ^_^


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