Tuesday, February 19, 2008


On his blog "Dot Dead Diary," Keith Raffel has been polling readers with choices for a title for his new novel. He's at the end of the project without one. A friend told me a few weeks ago that a title was the first step in the process for her. The title pointed the way. I have heard of other people who have changed the title on the way to the printer practically.
For me, it works both ways. The title sometimes comes early and sometimes late. Only rarely do I pick one that I really think sums up the story very well. I think some of the best titles are just one or two words:
The Drowning Pool
The Shining
Mystic River
Officer Down
Night Gardener
Brighton Rock
Miami Blues
Miami Purity
The Poet
Tomato Red.
None of these titles tell you much about what the book is about, but they catch your eye and maybe set a mood. Do you find it hard to find the right title? What are some of your favorites?


Todd Mason said...

I lean toward one-word titles for my own work (such as it has been), yet idolize Avram Davidson, who was capapble of "The Singular Events Which Occurred In a Hovel on the Alley Just off Eye Street"...just finished MONEY SHOT, which I cheerfully purchased at my local frou-frou supermarket, which seems to be getting a better selection of Hard Case and other Leisure Books than most of the local chain bookstores.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Charles is a fabulous editor, isn't he? Why can he do more with his line of books than bigger and richer presses. Borders and B & N move them in and out on a conveyor belt nowadays. You have about a week to prove yourself.

Josephine Damian said...

Speaking of QUEENPIN, have you read my blog today? :-)

I'm with your friend.... things just don't gel for me until I have the title. To me, a title should have a subtle irony, and/or a double meaning - one of which isn't clear until the book is done.

To read somewhere that half the books published have the titles changed from what the author picked out. That makes me cringe. I doubt I'd recognize my own book on a shelf if it did not have my original title.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I did read your blog but felt odd thanking you. Megan reads no blogs so I thank you now for both of us. She tried reading blogs for a while, but found it too addictive. So she made a complete break. I am so happy you liked Queenpin. Incidentally Die a Little wasn't her original title. She had something else entirely. The other two she got her choice. I'd be so glad to have a novel in print, I'd let them pick anything.

socalledauthor said...

Sometimes I start with a title, but usually the RIGHT title comes later. And, if the title seems... off, or I can't think of a title, that means the story isn't DONE. So, I do a major revision, and, like magic, I have the *right* title and a finished story. All the little pieces fall into place.

And, I'm with you, Patti, if a publisher wants my book, they can title it "Crap Scraped off your Shoe" and I'll just do a jig that they want it. =)

pattinase (abbott) said...

And sometimes for me, the right title never comes. Then I think of old song titles. I figure if Glenn Miller liked it...

Sophie said...

I'm just awful at picking titles. I usually come up with about 20 of them and let my critique group pick. (one member is a linguist...so she has really interesting insight.) I'm absolutely fine with The Machine changing my title.

Except...I just - for the first time ever - came up with a title for my current ms that I *love*:
It might not appeal to anyone else, but I love it.

Oh- for some reason I don't care for one-word titles. Too minimalistic, I guess.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Drini It Bitter. Good one, Sophie.

Juri said...

As a journalist, I sometimes find it very hard to come up with a catchy title. Sometimes it comes straight at me.

I've written three (unpublished) novels and I've sure had difficulties to come up with good titles for them. I'm just sending one again to the publishers. It's called THE LAST CALL. It's catchy, but clichéd. There's the last call in the book, however. I don't like the title, but can't think of anything else. Just why is this? I can't get it.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think the publisher may have some ideas of his/her own if they don't like it. The Last Call is a good title but it has been used before. Does that matter? Two books with the title A Person of Interest (Schwegel & Choi just came out. I guess when all is said and done, a good book can overcome an ordinary title. And vice versa. What most amazes me is someone who chooses the title before beginning the book.