Thursday, November 11, 2010

By Any Other Name?

Readers tell me that covers and blurbs are big influences on their book buying habits. For me, though, I think that the most important aspect of a book - at least, the property that gets my attention - is the title.

I receive daily digests from about a dozen romance chat lists. I try to scan them all, wanting to find out who's doing what and give encouragement to authors whom I know personally. Occasionally, though, I'll stop and take the time to read a blurb and excerpt. Why? Because the title grabbed me.

Today I read a (highly entertaining) excerpt from a book entitled Broomstick Breakdown, by Eve Langlais. The post was one of more than two dozen in the TRSBLUE digest list. However, it stood out - because of the creative and unexpected title.

To be honest, the majority of romance titles are rather boring. The same words, images and concepts occur over and over. Probably many of the excerpts that appear in my inbox are worth reading. Mostly, however, I don't bother, because the titles do not challenge or excite me.

Note that although I can recognize a great title, I can't necessarily generate one. I really struggle to come up with a phrase that's both appropriate to the story and eye-catchingly original. I guess other authors agree with my evaluations, because "Raw Silk", "Incognito" and "Exposure" (the titles of my first, second and fourth novels) all appear on other books as well!

So, what makes a good title? I think a title should include words with strong emotional impact (e.g. "raw", "fire", "blood", "madness"). Concrete words that stimulate the senses (e.g. "silk") work well. I like titles that have multiple meanings, all of which apply to the book. The main character in "Exposure", for instance, is a stripper, so the concept of being exposed is central to her occupation. At the same time, a roll of film is pivotal to the plot.

Good titles also have a kind of rhythm. "The Turn of the Screw". "The Catcher in the Rye". "The Sound and the Fury". "Portnoy's Complaint". "All Quiet on the Western Front". "Fear of Flying". These are all great titles, I think, partially because of their prosody.

Finally, a great title often includes an element of surprise. Think about "The Time Traveler's Wife". How could you not be curious about a book with that title? When I chose "Necessary Madness" for my M/M paranormal novel, I was deliberately using the apparent conflict between the two words to stimulate a potential reader's interest. Why should madness be "necessary"? I wanted my readers to wonder.

I don't know if I'm unusual in my focus on titles. I'd love to hear from you with examples of what you think is a fabulous name for a book. What titles that you've read have really stuck in your mind?

1 comment:

Mary Preston said...

The title is ALL important. You must pique my interest.

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