The Naming of Parts

Well, or of books and stories and such.

When I was at SFWC in February, I was pitching The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller. One of the agents I pitched to thought the title was good. The editor from Random House said it needed to be changed. So you see how subjective these things can be!

I saw this article linked on Twitter today regarding titles. I’ll admit I find TFaRoPS somewhat clunky, but it does sum up the story pretty nicely. And puts a bit of a twist on the old “rise and fall” thing.

My peeves with titles stem from a couple things:

1. Too generic. I really dislike when people use some random idiom or cliché as the title of their book. It tells me very little except that the author is, in actuality, not at all original or creative. If s/he couldn’t do better than such a generic title, what’s the writing and story like? I’m not inclined to find out.

And yes, I do realize the pithy title may be meant as a play on words. But if I can’t get that without reading the book . . . I’m probably not going to read the book just to be able to “get” the title.

2. Too obscure. Sometimes I think people just put a couple words together because they think it sounds cool. Regardless of how cool it sounds, however, if you’ve got some book title that can also be, say, the name of a punk band or something, you’ve failed. Because the title should represent the book, not be interchangeable. Blue Desert. Okay. It’s a book about a blue desert? And? So? (I made that up, btw, though if there is a book titled Blue Desert, well, sorry.)

Do you have any favorite titles? I always thought Victoria Holt did a good job with her book titles. But then, genre does play a part, too. Knowing your audience goes a long way toward knowing what kinds of titles might hook readers. (So long as your title doesn’t sound too much like any and every other book in that genre. Again, if it’s interchangeable with others, you’ve failed.) Nick Hornby, too, has nice titles. And Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant books have interesting titles as well.

A good title (and an interesting cover) can go a long way in getting someone to pick up your book and take a look at it. Don’t put a bunch of work into writing a fabulous story and then undercut it with a lame name.

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M

Writer/Screenwriter

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