Thursday, July 21, 2011

What's in a Title?

Knowing that perfection is but an elusive goal, the novel must be as close to perfection as it can be.  The query letter must persuade the agent to read the synopsis and the synopsis must capture the essence of the work in order to dazzle the agent into requesting it.
But how about the title??
I titled my novel "Silent Words" the day I started writing.  It captures the main characters mood perfectly as he sets on his journey.   But is it a good title?
I was never convinced.
Choosing a title is exciting in the most excruciating way - it is important because it is the first impression the agent, the editor, and the reader have of the work; it can, if well chosen, capture the essence of the work as it catches the imagination of the reader; and, as a marketing tool it can prompt a purchase.   
But how to choose a title?  What is a title, anyway?
I stood in front of my book case for about twenty minutes, looking for a pattern, a reason, a revelation.
Here it is.
Titles vary by:
A.  length:
(i)  long titles (some form a complete sentence):   Murder on the Orient Express, The Summer Before the Dark
(ii) short titles (some are comprised of one word):  Speak, Twilight
(iii) phrases (a few words, often enigmatic in meaning):  The Rule of Four
B.  conceptual meaning:
(i)   describe a person:  Jane Eyre, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
(ii)  describe an object:  White Oleander, 4:50 from Paddington
(iii) describe an action:  How to Breathe Underwater
(iv) describe a feeling (or two):   An Exclusive Love, Pride and Prejudice
(v)  describe a place:   Bertram's Hotel, Caribbean Mystery
(vi) describe a notion: Thirteen Reasons Why, East of Eden
Perhaps there are other, better ways of characterizing or grouping titles, but such methods escaped my notice in those twenty minutes.
These are books I like and, for various reasons and during various stage of my life, have enjoyed very much.  Setting aside the genre and ignoring the level of enjoyment garnered from reading each story, I stared at the titles, this time waiting for a connection, a pull to any one type of title.  What is it that attracts me most?  Do I want a no-nonsense title that tells me what happens?  Murder on the Orient Express.  Or do I want to figure out what the story is about and how the title relates to it as I live the story? An Exclusive Love.  Does the geography of a place awaken a sense of adventure?  Caribbean Mystery.  Does it even matter what I want?  What about what agents or editors or readers want?
Yes.  An excruciating process.  Yet so rewarding.
In The Shadow of Honey Locusts.

What do you think?


  1. First, I like your title. "Silent Words" is intriguing--how and why are the words silent? Words are most often loud, in their own way. :)

    I don't often pay much attention to the title, unless there's something about it that sticks out, or there's something that repels me. The blurb and the cover are usually the things that draws me in more than the title.

  2. Thank you for commenting.
    I do like Silent Words because it is intriguing and captures the essence of the main character, but I am told it is too much of a cliche...

    Thank you also for your viewpoint on titles - always great to learn what others think!

    Have a great Sunday.

  3. Choosing a title is the worst! At least it is for me. I love your patterns for titles, btw.

    I love the title In The Shadow of Honey Locusts. I think you'll do great with it!

  4. That is a great title. I like it.

  5. Thank you Peggy and thank you Regina. Funny how coming up with a few words can take as long as writing 80,000 words....

  6. I like two word titles for some reason like the Great Gatsby and Moby Dick. So I love your choice!

  7. I honestly like both titles. I'd prefer Silent Words. This title would have me pulling it from the shelf to see what it's about. But I like simple.

    In the Shadow of Honey Locusts is interesting and I do wonder what this story would be about.

    It really depends on your personal style. Short and catchy - Long and mysterious. Remember, the editor might suggest a change anyway, so don't dwell on it too much. (one other thing - the second is different - which may be a great thing to catch an editors eye and pull the manuscript to the top.)

  8. Thank you all so much! Long, mysterious, and different - I definitely like that!