Have you ever wondered just how those appealing and enigmatic titles that call your attention to a certain book are born? Do you imagine there is a title directory where authors can simply drop in, chose what they want, and go blithely on their way?
From the time I wrote stories for class assignments in school right up to today, my hardest challenge has always been the title. Something exciting, suggestive, and, yes, enigmatic is very hard to think up. I want to lure my readers in, give them a suggestive carrot, push the “on” button in their brains and all this in the hopes they will read my blog, my short story, my comments on other blogs, and, of course, my novels.
On my book shelves I have the following titles:
- Queen by Right by Anne Easter Smith
- The Runaway Jury by John Grisham (that’s my husband’s book)
- How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewelyn
- The Song of Troy by Colleen McCullough
- The Witching Hour by Anne Rice
- The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman
- The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence.
Each one of these titles has something that compels the prospective reader to pick it up and crack the cover. Smith’s Queen by Right tells me immediately that this is about royalty and perhaps even about divine right of kings (or queens). There is conflict suggested and a strong female character. All of those things intrigue me.
Grisham’s Runaway Jury suggests a courtroom, rule of law, but also something amiss. Why is that a runaway jury?
A book from my distant past, How Green Was My Valley, has wistfulness in its title. The suggestion is that the valley was green but is no longer. The reader immediately wants to know what happened.
McCullough’s Song of Troy is another in a long line of her titles that I own. We all know the story of Helen of Troy, a mythical tale that has found its way into western literature. Using the word “song” in the title adds another element, a musical lilt with a bit of brightness inherent in it. Love stories always please and Helen’s beauty is at the root of a great one.
By contrast The Witching Hour by Anne Rice suggests the occult or at least something extraordinary. I loved Rice’s witch stories much more than her vampire ones.
Who could look at Penman’s The Sunne in Splendour and not be intrigued? Why is the word “sunne” spelled that way? It looks like spelling used in olden days and, of course, something historical this way comes. “Splendour” heralds the sumptuous read in store for anyone who loves historical fiction.
A few weeks ago I wrote about Margaret Laurence. The Stone Angel has such a lovely title in that it juxtaposes “angel” with “stone”, suggesting an intriguing combination. We think of angels as being soft and supple, not hard stone. What could be the connection?
Takeaway From This Post
Try to come up with titles which use words in a different way and which present such a mental picture that the reader must read your story. Oh, and if you need help with your title, by all means go looking for it. I was told that my working title, Loyal to the King, sounded like a young adult novel. It is not. In another workshop someone suggested The Loyalist’s Wife and the whole group, myself included, fell in love with it. There is the question of what a loyalist might be and the hint that being the wife of one has its drawbacks. If the reader knows any history the American Revolutionary War comes to mind. For Americans this title is intriguing as it suggests those on the other side in that war.
So. Get help if you need it, but look for a title (and a cover!) which entices the reader. Consider leaving a comment below about your favorite titles.
The Loyalist’s Wife by Elaine Cougler
Available at Amazon.com and many other places.