October 13, 2011

Glimpses of Greatness

I just did a post a couple weeks ago on first impressions and some of the opening lines of my favorite stories, the kinds of opening lines that grab you and enchant you into the story. But there is something that creates an impression even before the prospective reader gets to the first page, and it doesn't get nearly the emphasis that "hooks" do: the title. (The cover, also, but writers don't have much say in that department.)

The title, I would venture to say, isn't quite as important as the opening chapter - people tend to be attracted to the cover first, then the first line - but if it is something catchy it will help to grab the interest of the reader. Take, for instance, a few of these:

roll of thunder, hear my cry

gone with the wind

out of the silent planet

towards zero

pride and prejudice

a wrinkle in time

the mark of the horse lord

I don't remember particularly liking Mildred Taylor's Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry when I read it, but that title is one of my favorites. It sums up the feel of the story, but it also has perfect cadence; it (pardon the pun) rolls off the tongue. It's a stirring title.

Then there's Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, one of those books that readers either love or hate. I haven't read it yet - it's sitting on my shelf, waiting for the day I feel like I can stomach Scarlett O'Hara - but I've always liked the title. It doesn't have the same cadence of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, but it does capture the melancholy of the novel and sums up the disappearance of the Old South after the Civil War in a classic way.

Out of the Silent Planet (C.S. Lewis) flows, and it also gives me a thrill and a sensation of mystery every time I see the cover on my shelf. One wants to know what the Silent Planet is, and what it means to come out of it. Towards Zero is one of my favorite Agatha Christie novels and I am currently rereading it, which is perhaps why it made its way onto the list; Agatha Christie has so many good titles that it is hard to pick just one. Towards Zero is a great one, however, because it ties in with the way the story is written to "count down" to the murder, at zero hour.

Pride and Prejudice uses alliteration to great effect, as Jane Austen also did with Sense and Sensibility. Alliteration is a tricky business, though, and often comes off sounding like a children's board book, so it has to be handled with care. Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time is another favorite (there's so much to love about this book); it has rhythm, starts with an article other than 'the', and makes the reader want to know how time can be wrinkled. And then there is The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff, yet another one that gives me a shiver. Apparently I tend to like titles that have "of the" in them.

A lot of people have difficulty coming up with good titles, though perhaps that's because they try too hard. It's amazing how many obstacles you make for yourself when you try too hard. Titles are usually the kinds of things that have to come to you, but if you are still struggling for something to call your story, a few things to keep in mind are cadence (does it sound good?), applicability (does it fit the story?), and subtlety versus the obvious (do you want to use an underlying theme in the story, or something more blatant?). For instance, my novel Wordcrafter was originally going to be "The Wordcrafter," but I chopped out the article because simply calling it "Wordcrafter" was more powerful. I briefly toyed with the idea of calling it The Thousandth Man, but I kept Wordcrafter because I liked the single word title and because I felt that it embodied the story better.

Try to come up with something different that will stick in people's memory, and also preferably not too long - the longer it is, the more likely it will be forgotten. Of course The White Sail's Shaking is fairly long, but I have been debating whether or not to change the title due to the fact that it is a little hard to say. We shall see.

what's the title of your work in progress?


  1. Ooh, I love titles! :D I have several works in progress, actually (naughty writer) and they include:

    In His Image

    and I just finished a short called Physique.

    I like one word titles, in case you can't tell. :)

    I love all of your titles, Abigail, but my favorite is Wordcrafter. That one automatically makes me want to hear more!

  2. I have three titles for three works. Between Earth and Sky is my longest title, but I managed to not have to use the jaded article "the" and, in my eyes, it sums up well the nature of the story and the position of the main character. Adamantine and Plenilune are both unusual, single-word titles which I like since the stories fall side by side, and they focus on the underlying aspects of their plots.

    Some of my favourite titles include Sun Horse, Moon Horse - At the Back of the North Wind - Mere Christianity - Roverandom - The Once and Future King - A Break With Charity and Through the Looking Glass

  3. Grace - Thank you! Your titles are great; I think I like "Physique" best, but they all grab my interest. One word titles are some of my favorites, although I couldn't think of many off hand. Anne Elisabeth Stengl's Heartless is one good example, though.

    Jenny - I should have put Sun Horse, Moon Horse, but it's not on my shelf (grumblegrumble) and so I didn't think of it. I like that Adamantine and Plenilune are both one-word titles. I think, if I ever do a sequel to Wordcrafter, I want to call it Hound or something of the sort so that they go together.

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  5. Posted a comment, noticed a spelling error, and the obsessive-compulsive writer in me had to fix it, but I couldn't figure out how to edit it, so... Take two!

    Title is one of my favorite aspects of a story. It tells so much about the story before you even read the first chapter. I would add The Westing Game (reviewed on my blog) and Till We Have Faces (C. S. Lewis) to the list of notable titles. I agree with Grace Pennington: Wordcrafter is definitely my favorite of your titles so far. It's short, vivid, and memorable and it avoid the tyranny of the definite article! I admit, however, that "the" is sometimes unavoidable.

    My current project's title: The Scorpion Mark

    My just-finished project's title: The Door of Aquarius

    My favorite of my own titles: Shiner

  6. Oh, I meant to put Till We Have Faces on the list - I don't know how I missed it, since I have two copies of it on my shelf. I've not read The Westing Game, but it is a good title. I think I was put off by trying to read it when I was too young. (Creepy!)

    All three of your titles are splendid. Are The Door of Aquarius and The Scorpion Mark companion novels? Since both reference signs of the zodiac, I wondered if they were part of a series.

  7. I have two works in progress and their titles are:

    Come Play With ME

    Within Danger's Core

    I love your titles Abigail!! I love A Wrinkle in Time, And then there were none, N Or M, and a few others I can't think of off the top of my head.

    Thanks for this wonderful post. I enjoyed reading it!

  8. Actually, Abigail, they're totally different books. The Scorpion Mark is my addition to the modern trend of remaking fairy tales (this one's about Cinderella, believe it or not). The Door of Aquarius is a time-travel story with philosophical undertones. However, I'm considering a zodiac series with The Sign of Aquarius as a springboard (being Christian, however, I do NOT plan to take the series in an occultic/astrological direction; they're more like futuristic-adventure-mystery stories). Cancer is the next sign I plan to explore... We shall see!

    Till We Have Faces is a personal favorite; Lewis' remake of the Greek myth is better than the original! Give The Westing Game another shot. I promise you won't be disappointed!

  9. I really like "Within Danger's Core," Londongirl. It's a good title for the story. I actually just reread N or M? a few weeks ago; I like that title too, as well as Elephants Can Remember. A lot of Christie's stories, and titles, were inspired by creepy nursery rhymes.

    Those all sound very interesting, Yaasha. I love writing in a number of different genres, but I find that most people tend to focus on only one; it's nice to see someone else who likes branching out.

  10. Thanks, Abigail!! I thought it was a perfect fit as well.


meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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published writings

The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
finished writings

Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
currently writing

Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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