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Brandi_R
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Topic 58: Titles

A title is a first impression. It can excite the reader to burrow into the pages or inspire indifference, resulting in the browser leaving the book sitting on the shelf. You want to find something that captures the story, entices the reader, and—as Hemingway advised—holds a touch of magic. The search can be a tricky one.

F. Scott Fitzgerald considered the title Trimalchio in West Egg before he settled on the now famous The Great Gatsby. Ernest Hemingway tried They Who Get Shot before A Farewell to Arms. Nelson Algren’s The Man With the Golden Arm could have been Night Without Mercy.

 

Some titles are simple, such as Lorrie Moore’s “Two Boys,” about a woman dating two men, or Joyce Carol Oates’ We Were the Mulvaneys about the disintegration of the Mulvaney family. Others have instant intrigue: David Foster Wallaces’ “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men” and Annie Proulx’s Accordion Crimes.

 

Of course, not all book titles ring with magic. Some might seem downright strange. The Bookseller magazine holds the Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year. Jasper McCutcheon’s I Was Tortured by the Pygmy Love Queen was on this year’s short list. The German on-line magazine Boersenblatt has their own oddest book prize. A recent contender: Josef Winkler’s Ich reiß mir eine Wimper aus und stech dich damit tot. (Translated at the Literary Saloon as I’m going to pluck one of my eyelashes out and stab you to death with it.)

What kinds of titles entice you? How do you choose titles for your own work?

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mandagayle52
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Re: Topic 58: Titles

One word titles apeal to me most often. They're just so... straight forward. Example: YA author Scott Westerback (I hope I didn't screw up his name): Pretties, Uglies, Specials et. al.  (However, I've never actually read more than the first couple pages of Ulysses).

On the other hand, those long bizarre titles do encourage one to pick up a book, if only to answer the pressing question "What the...?!" -- al la "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" (though I definitely wouldn't encourage anyone to ever again attempt a title as long, as, say, Fiona Apple's sophomore album, title beginning "When the Pawn...")

Titles containing alliteration, such as The Great Gatsby (mentioned above), Pride and Prejudice, or Sense and Sensibility have a pleasing sort of ring to them, making one, maybe, want to find out what it's all about. It's fun to say something w/ a certain "ring" to it (another example being nearly any of Lemony Snicket's titles). Many news articles use the alliteration ploy as well.  

For some oddball reason, I really like titles with the word "whom" in them. I don't know.

I myself tend to stick to the short, yet descriptive method of titling: The Diary of Andra Grace, Revolver, The Death of Jake (don't laugh. Those were from a decade ago. I haven't titled much recently) though I tend to have the longer, oddball type of "working" titles.

I HATE, however, titles that really don't say anything about what the plot or theme actually is. As much as I love Billy Corgan (of Smashing Pumpkins fame), this quote of his: "Say you write a song about a chandelier, and the chandelier gives off light. And the light is the color red and red reminds you of the color you're not supposed to wear around a bull. So you name the song Cow."

Sorry, but I think that's just retarded.

Ok, that's my two cents. Or rather, considering the length, maybe it's more like 43 cents...

-agw-
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Clippership14
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Re: Topic 58: Titles

I'm kind of the opposite. One worded titles don't excite my interest. Especially if they take up half the book cover and the author's name takes up a third leaving a tiny space for the cover art. It screams being on the bestseller list, but being on that list doesn't mean I'm going to pick up the book and devour it. Give me a title that says something more about the book or draws my curiosity. I especially like witty titles that illustrate the author has a sense of humor or irony. Most one word titles are blase`.
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Brandi_R
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Re: Topic 58: Titles


mandagayle52 wrote:

 

On the other hand, those long bizarre titles do encourage one to pick up a book, if only to answer the pressing question "What the...?!" -- al la "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" . . . 

 I HATE, however, titles that really don't say anything about what the plot or theme actually is. As much as I love Billy Corgan (of Smashing Pumpkins fame), this quote of his: "Say you write a song about a chandelier, and the chandelier gives off light. And the light is the color red and red reminds you of the color you're not supposed to wear around a bull. So you name the song Cow."

That’s an interesting quote, mandagayle52. Thanks for sharing it. Like you, I tend to like a little more connection between title and material. I like the “What the . . . ?” factor you mention. That initial question—that intrigue—can be such an enticement. Lorrie Moore’s short story title “People Like That are the Only People Here” for that very reason.

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Brandi_R
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Re: Topic 58: Titles


Clippership14 wrote:
I'm kind of the opposite. One worded titles don't excite my interest. Especially if they take up half the book cover and the author's name takes up a third leaving a tiny space for the cover art. It screams being on the bestseller list, but being on that list doesn't mean I'm going to pick up the book and devour it. Give me a title that says something more about the book or draws my curiosity. I especially like witty titles that illustrate the author has a sense of humor or irony. Most one word titles are blase`.

 

Clippership14, that’s a good point about wit. Personality in a title, in general, can be quite an enticement. What are some of those witty titles that have drawn you in? 

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Clippership14
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Re: Topic 58: Titles


Brandi_R wrote:

Clippership14, that’s a good point about wit. Personality in a title, in general, can be quite an enticement. What are some of those witty titles that have drawn you in? 


Off the top of my head:

Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle by Georgette Heyer

Cordelia Underwood: Or, The Marvelous Beginnings of the Moosepath League by Van Reid

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

 

These are examples of personality in a title. Witty titles are easy to find especially in nonfiction. Both make me pick up a book to see what it's about. After that it depends on the book blurb or if the author is familiar to me or not. I tend to be a hard sell on books unless the hook in the blurb really strikes a chord with me. But a good title is the first step to catching my attention.

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KristenS
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Re: Topic 58: Titles

I like titles to relate to the book. If it's a humorous title, I expect a humorous story. If it's a thematic sort of title (or a quote or something) I expect a deeper story.

 

I read Jerry Spinelli's book (I think it was his), "Smiles To Go" ... and was very disappointed. I usually like his stuff. The title comes from one character's misquote of the Robert Frost line about miles to go... and neither the quote nor the misquote had anything to do with the storyline at all. I was left scratching my head and saying, "Huh?" ... and the book wasn't even all that good either.

 

Patricia Wrede's and Caroline Stevermer's "Sorcery and Cecelia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot" is a good title ... you know you're getting humor, and you know you're getting fantasy, from the very title.

 

"To Kill a Mockingbird" is a nice one ... sums up the theme of the book, and since you have to think about it, it lets you know it will be a thought-provoking read.

 

"Once on a Time" by A.A. Milne is a good one ... you can tell it's going to be fairy-tale-ish. (It's a hilarious book.)

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Oceandweller777
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Re: Topic 58: Titles

I like titles that are off the wall, but still have some tie into the story.  While reading I search and search to find out the titles significance since I always have trouble naming my stories.  They're gotten numbers or I just put the heading as two of the characters.

    I like to see alliteration.  I think it puts more focus on the title. 

    I have read a few books that the title doesn't really make sense and whether or not the fact that the title didn't make sense, I still found the books lacking.

    I also like it when I see something original.  There are so many books out there that title sharing is bound to happen, but when three books have the same title I tend to doubt the content.

    One thing that bothers me, when the title tells you everything about the book.  If the title is "the great hunt"  I know they're hunting something and its going to take 500 pages from start to finish. 

     Yet, when you give me "The curious case of the Dog in the Night-time"  I am intrigued.  It could be so much that I have to pick it up.  It smacks of Sherlock Holmes and is about an autistic boy finding the neighbors dog killed and his quest to find the murderer. 

     Creativity should be shown in a title.   

     I’m going to pluck one of my eyelashes out and stab you to death with it.  I'd buy and read it on its title alone. 

 

~Phill

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Brandi_R
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Re: Topic 58: Titles


Oceandweller777 wrote:

    I also like it when I see something original. . .

     Creativity should be shown in a title.   

    

 

~Phill


Good point. That title is the first impression and it can make a difference. A ho-hum title might not break the book, but an intriguing one can linger in a reader's mind and propel him/her into the book. 

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TheClaw
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Re: Topic 58: Titles

When I imagine a title for an essay I write, or a story, I try to think of a word or phrase that expresses the force my soul put into the piece. I hope that the title will give a glancing eye a reason to stare and let it feel what I felt and what I want them to feel from the work.

Titles, in my opinion, should be the peephole to your masterpiece. Let them see enough to arouse their interest, but not enough to state it. Leave them writhing for more.

So loosely we speak of Justice, but rarely do we taste her bitter kiss.