On Writing: Titles, Titles, Titles

Just recently I’ve been having a bit of a nightmare with WIP Numero Deux. I don’t know what it is. Probably because it’s Christmas and work’s busy at the moment and it’s cold and it’s frosty and it’s difficult to write when wearing these:

IMG_0219

But I don’t want to take them off because my room is actually a freezer.

Anyway, I’ve been struggling. I’m at that point where I open my word document and scowl at it for a few minutes before snarling and closing it down. I think all writers go through that stage, I’ve been through it so many times I’ve actually lost count.
So to get over the general snarly-ness, I change things. Like, big things. Whether it’s lobbing off an entire story arc, killing off a character or throwing something angsty in the faces of my characters . I like to go drastic.

For WIP Numero Deux, formerly known as Bluebells, I am changing the title. You might be thinking: “Well, that’s not really a big deal. I mean, you’re not published. And… you’ve not got an agent. And actually you haven’t even finished it…”

YES. I know that! But it is kind of drastic because the whole reason I started writing these character’s stories was because of the song Bluebells by Patrick Wolf. It is one of my favourite songs in the entire world and I wanted to write a YA story that made me feel the way I feel when I listen to it.

Does that sound weird? Possibly. But that’s true. The first thing I came up with was the title and the story came second. But now I’ve got a hold on the characters and the story is taking the shape it has… the title just doesn’t seem right any more.

I wanted to talk about YA titles in this post for two reasons. One, because I find them fascinating and I think they’re a very underrated subject. Bloggers and readers always seem to lose their mind when they see a book’s cover for the first time and yes while it is exciting… finding out the title of a book is so much more exciting!
Because you can come up with your own conclusions what it’s about. You get the first hint at what the author has been getting up to behind your back. You know if it’s going to be the same as the books they normally write or whether they’ve gone in a totally different direction.

And two… well, I’m going to let you all help me do my homework. Who knows? Maybe you’ll give me ideas for my new title.

Disclaimer: Although you probably don’t really care, thought I’d better mention that if I say I don’t like a title it does not necessarily mean I don’t like a book. I am being naughty and judging them and drawing conclusions from their titles alone.

I’ve been pondering my bookshelf for a while and I’ve been skimming through the titles on my Kindle and there are definitely trends.

Where She Went, If I Stay, Before I Fall, When You Were Mine.

There seem to be so many titles like this. In a way, I kind of like them because they allude to something happening or something that’s about to happen so already you know bam there’s an actual story. I know it’s hard to imagine because pretty much everyone reading this post will know what If I Stay is about but if you didn’t, what would you think of?
The first thing that comes to my mind is it’s a character that’s uncertain. Why are they even thinking about not staying? What’s happened to them to make them think that going was an option? And I think Where She Went is such a brilliant sequel (or companion book, depending on how you want to look at it) title. It’s different (because there’s nothing worse than sequels that have forced titles… yack) but it’s also linked. Also, intriguing. Who’s she? Who’s telling this story?

I asked the brilliant Nafiza from Bibliophilic Monologues for a list of her favourite titles.

The Summer of Permanent Wants – Jamieson Findley
The Feast of Roses – Indu Sundaresan (okay, this is not YA but dude, such a lovely title!)
The House of Discarded Dreams – Ekaterina Sedia
In the Shadow of Blackbirds – Cat Winters
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Silhouette of a Sparrow – Mary Beth Griffin

I’ve not actually read any of those books and I have absolutely no idea what they’re about. But from the titles alone I would be all about the Silhouette of a Sparrow because it makes me think of shadow puppets and there’s a sense of magical realism and something not quite right about it. Why are we focussing on the silhouette and not the sparrow? This is what I want to know.

Silhouette of a Sparrow

And The Summer of Permanent Wants? Wow. What a title.

When I asked her what titles would put her off a book, Nafiza answered:

What I’m really tired of where titles are concerned is “The _____________’s Daughter.” There are way too many books out there with this title. They annoy me for two reasons:
1. It’s overused.
2. It says that the girl has no identity except for who her father is.

Urgh, finally, someone who is sick of this too. Some of the titles are so convoluted I lose track of who the books supposed to be about. The Fisherman’s Wife’s Dogwalker’s Next Door Neighbour’s Daughter.

Instant bestseller.

And actually, this isn’t a million miles away from my pet hate in YA titles.

The [Something Something] of [Girl’s Name].

Blargh.
I can think of at least five books off the top of my head that have this title and, to me anyway, I find I get confused between the books. And, as a writer, I think the last thing I would want is for a reader to pick up someone’s book because they’ve confused the titles.

It seems I’m not alone in this matter because when I asked Reynje from wordchasing about this she said:

Agreed on the “The [something something] of [Girl’s Name]”. I feel like that’s a bit of a trend and it’s going to date. I think you need a really strong character and a really strong voice for a name in the title. Like, ‘Please Ignore Vera Dietz’ and – that’s such an unusual book and in that case, I think the name in the title works. But the Mara Dyer titles? Ugh. No.

However, Mandee from Vegan YA Nerds completely disagrees with the two of us. She says:

The Year Nick McGowan Came to Stay, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Smart Girls Get What They Want, Love Notes from Vinegar House. They give you a good idea of what the book is about compared to single word titles. A special mention goes to the Ruby Oliver titles, they’re long and often have…. well, all the stuff after the title like in brackets and stuff – ha.

Not completely unrelated, this whole name thing in the title leads me onto another thing that I don’t really like. Finding/Hunting/Losing/Searching/Saving/Looking for [YA Lady Name]

What is with these girls wandering off in YA fiction?! Can’t they just stay put for once? Although I guess there wouldn’t be much of a genre if they did.

I have to admit, and you’re all going to recoil in fear when I say this, but I really don’t like the title Saving Francesca. I know, I know, I’m horrible. I think the title is so misleading because to me, Francesca doesn’t need saving and she isn’t saved in the book.
Unless you count that how she saves herself.

I’m going to drag Anna from Anna Scott Jots name through the mud with me on this one because it seems she agrees:

I’m not too keen on Saving Francesca as a title. It just doesn’t do the book justice.

It really doesn’t. Obviously, I love the book like nobody’s business but based on the title alone? Eh.
And while we’re all being grumpy and complaining here are some other of our pet hates when it comes to YA titles.

Anna says:

I just hate those meaningless phrase type titles. I have a Kevin Brooks book on my shelf called KISSING THE RAIN. Ffs. Unless the book turns out to be about people who like kissing rain.

I have to agree. What does Kissing the Rain even mean? It makes me think of one of those songs you get embedded in your head after you hear it on the radio and the more you think about it, the less it makes sense.

Reynje says:

I’m getting a tiny bit over single word titles, particularly when they’re trilogies. Sometimes it starts to feel cheesy, like the author is just trying to come up with another rhyming word.. even if it just barely relates. I don’t like titles where the connection to the story is really thin or almost unrelated. That feels gimmicky to me.

Right, that’s enough of us bellyaching. I feel a bit like the Witches of YA-ville. So let’s move on to the titles that we love!

Anna says:

One that sticks out a being particularly good is Kill All Enemies by Melvin Burgess. That title combined with the picture on the cover was just so RAAAAHHH! Actually Melvin Burgess comes up with some awesome titles – Doing It, Junk, My Life as a Bitch.

Kill All Enemies

So true, I love Melvin Burgess’ titles. They’re so perfect when combined with the grittiness of his stories but also… if you said one of his titles to someone that’s familiar with YA, I bet they’d be able to take an educated guess and match it to Mr Burgess.
Mandee says:

I do like song names or funny takes on song names eg. The Lonely Hearts Club and Hold Me Closer, Necromancer.

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer is such a genius title. That’s the first book I think of when I think of books I read solely because of the title.

Rey says:

I like titles that really resonate with the content of the book, or have kind of a dual application. Like they can be interpreted in a few different ways. I love Courtney Summer’s titles: Cracked Up To Be, Some Girls Are, All The Rage etc.. they’re catchy but they don’t sound cliched or try-hard. And they reflect what’s in the book.

Some other titles I love:

The Chaos Walking titles (Patrick Ness) – I love that they’re all so specific to the books and directly reference Ness’ world building and themes.
The Spectacular Now (Tim Tharp) – it’s an expression that the main character uses, and I like it way it makes you wonder what it means, because it’s an unusual combination of words.
Drowning Instinct (Ilsa J Bick) – Another unusual expression, but one that really fits the story in a couple of ways. I the way your first impressions of the title could change once you finish the book
Six Impossible Things, Notes From the Teenage Underground, This Is Shyness, You Against Me, Nothing Like You, All This Could End.

Chaoswalking

I say:

I love Rick Yancey’s titles. I love that they’re so strange but they’re absolutely perfect to the story, the theme and, actually, the setting of the book. When I think of The Curse of the Wendigo, I am instantly transported to a foggy street in the 19th century where the street lights are gas and the streets are cobbled and whatnot. It reminds me of all the detective fiction I’ve read and the mystery books I’ve loved and it firmly cements itself into the genre. I mean, with that title, you know you’re not going to get a contemporary romance, don’t you?

Also, I can’t not mention the titles of Sir Terry Pratchett’s books. Yes, I mean Discworld but for the purpose of this post, specifically the Tiffany Aching titles. Similarly to my point back up there ^^ about Melvin Burgess, if you said “Oh, Sir Terry P wrote a book called The Wee Free Men”…no one would say “WHAT?! That doesn’t sound like something he’d write!”

I love how they’re eccentric and a bit odd but also beautiful in their own way. I mean, I Shall Wear Midnight… isn’t that gorgeous?

Finally, and this is one of my all- time favourite YA titles and stories: A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd. I mean, that title gives me shivers and it’s so perfect for the story that it’s attached to. I love how it’s memorable, without being fussy, it’s different, without being too “look at meee!”.

A Swift Pure Cry - Siobhan Dowd.

Right, that’s enough from us.

Now it’s your say. What makes a good YA title? What makes a bad YA title? Is there any trend in titles that make you roll your eyes? What’s the book with the most misleading title you’ve read, whether it was a bad title for a brilliant book or a brilliant title for an eh book?
Help me narrow down my title options, won’t you?

ps. So next week’s On Writing post is going to be published on Friday which…. and I know this will make you sad and weep and cry… will be WtOC’s last post of 2012. But don’t worry… it’s possibly the best thing I’ve ever posted (Yep, even better than the Joetry). But no more clues now. Tell me about titles. Go. Shoo.

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14 thoughts on “On Writing: Titles, Titles, Titles

  1. I have so much trouble coming up with titles personally, but the best one I ever saw was “The Knife of Never Letting Go,” which you mentioned in the “Chaos Walking” series. I still haven’t read this book, but I just love the title so much I plan to for that reason alone.

    • Urgh, I know exactly what you mean. I find it so difficult to find something that sounds good, is memorable AND actually has some relevance to my story.

      TKoNLG is such a brilliant title and like Rey said, really fits in with the story. Perfect example of “Came for the title, stayed for the story.. and had my mind blown” :)

      I’m so jealous that you haven’t read Chaos Walking series, I wish I could unread them so I got to read them from scratch :) . I know you’re a fantasy kinda girl and you will just adore them. They’re so, so wonderful. Let me know how you get on with them, yes?

  2. I agree with so much of the eye rolling going on here. And I’m even with you on Saving Francesca…in fact, I’m just gonna out this out there, I put off reading Jellicoe Road for so long purely cos I disliked the word Jellicoe (it reminds me of weird plastic sandal shoes you wear when you’re little…I think they’re called jelly shoes).

    Coming up with titles (and character names for that matter) is one of the best and hardest things. If the title is right it somehow anchors the story for me. I just titled my new WIP and it makes me so happy and I can’t wait to get into that story.

    Have you looked at the rest of the lyrics in Bluebells for inspiration? Songs and poems are such gorgeous places to find titles. Can’t wait to see what you come up with :)

    • Want to know a secret? That no one else (and anyone who reads this ;) ) I used to called Jellicoe Road ‘Jellicle Road’ for a long time before I read it. As in Jellicle Cats. As in Jonah Griggs in lycra at cat makeup.

      Um.. what are we talking about?

      ;)
      But yes, I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes I can choose them straight away, but others I have to work on. When it clicks it’s the best thing.

      I’m looking at other songs on my playlist for inspiration. I agree, songs and poetry provide the best titles I think.

  3. I adore titles and weird/boring/creepy titles annoy me. Some titles I really liked lately:

    “For Darkness Shows the Stars”
    “The Sharp Time”
    “Cinnamon Rain” (I still don’t really know what that means, but I love it.)
    “Graffiti Moon”
    “Love & Leftovers”
    “The Sky is Everywhere”
    “The Sky Always Hears Me & the Hills Don’t Mind”
    “Love Notes from Vinegar House”

    Basically, if a title sounds mysterious/vague/intriguing, then I’m all over that.

    • Yes, I know what you mean. As much as I like different titles, if it’s TOO out there, it really puts me off.

      Been seeing ‘For Darkness Shows the Stars’ every where recently and while I don’t think I’ll ever read it (just not my kind of book) I love the title so much. It’s beautiful.

      I also love The Sky Always Hears Me & the Hills Don’t Mind too. It’s so intriguing!

  4. Wonderful article! The [something] of [Girl’s name] is very common but if Jaclyn Moriarty writes it, I have no problem with it. I think authors need to be very careful about what they are naming their books because like it or not, it is a reflection of their book. For instance, Louise Rennison’s books. You know what you’re getting into simply by the title. I am having trouble renaming my current WIP too.

    • Thanks Nafiza and thank YOU for contributing so many brilliant suggestions. Just had a look at them and added pretty much all of them to my TBR list!

      Louise Rennison’s titles are great, they fit so well with the tone of the story.

      Best of luck with your titles! I hope you find the perfect one. If you need any help narrowing it down, give me a shout! :)

  5. Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe books have excellent titles, i.e: ‘The Big Sleep’, ‘The Long Goodbye’ and my favourite, ‘Farewell, My Lovely’. Just hearing them makes me want to break out my husky voice, check out some dames, and brood in an alley way. You know, girl stuff.

    More great/odd/intriguing titles:

    How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford
    To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje
    An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
    The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
    Darkness, Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane
    The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
    There is No Dog by Meg Rosoff

    BRILLIANT books with dodgy titles:

    Anna and the French Kiss/Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
    Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead (okay, this one is factual but a bit off-putting, maybe?)

    • I love love love the title. Farewell, My Lovely. I’ve never read it (I’ve read The Big Sleep though!) but it brings to mind such a bittersweet tinge to the book. Is it like that?
      Titles that make me brood in alley ways are always the best kind of titles though.

      There is No Dog always makes me laugh and To Kill a Mockingbird is also one of my favourites!

      And Anna and the French Kiss? Gah… just no. :

      • I don’t remember Farewell, My Lovely being all that bittersweet. The Long Goodbye is though, lots of passages to underline and go ‘uh huh, symbolism, nostalgia, I got you Chandler’ (in pencil and for class. I would never deface an innocent book!)

        It’s a shame about Anna and the French Kiss. People would see the title and think that it’s a generic chick-lit when really it is lovely and warm and so, so sweet. Yeah, there’s kissing in France and kissing of a half-French man but that’s not everything it is!

        Thanks for linking the Patrick Wolf, by the way. He was new to me this morning and now I’m making my crappy computer crash by watching his videos on Youtube!

        If your blog is anything to go by, your books sound like they will be a pleasure to read.

  6. I absolutely detest ‘The {insert profession here}’s wife/daughter’.For the exact same reason as Nafiza! It defines the character by her relationship with that other figure. i hate hate hate them! It could be titled ‘The Doctor’s Wife” (and there probably is a book out there called that but I am only using an example) then you kind of expect the DOCTOR part (the most important part) to have some bearing on the WIFE, but no, she’s not a doctor, in fact she wouldn’t be caught near a big blue police box!

    Oops, seemed to mix up what I was saying there. Anyway, the title evokes what it’s supposed to be about and it ends up not being about what it says. Kinda like Kissing the Rain. If there’s no rain love in that book, why is it called that?

  7. I wish you the best of luck with re-naming your 2nd WIP. Like Trin, I was going to suggest looking the lyrics for another title but others songs might hold the key for you!

    And it’s so funny what works for some people, doesn’t work for others. I suppose it’s the same with covers as well (all those girls in dresses must sell books, even though they are the WORST!)

  8. 60% of my love for a novel at first glance will be the title of the novel. If it has a brilliantly catchy title then I will be more likely to pick up the book to read the blurb. I always tend to love Courtney Summers’ titles as they are catchy and make me want to read the book more.

    Some of my favourite titles include:
    “Some Girls Are”
    “Lovely, Dark and Deep” – The beautiful cover art helps with this book as well!
    “The Fault in our Stars” – Always love a Shakespeare reference
    “The Future of Us” A shame the book didn’t live up to my expectations
    “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”
    “Before I Fall”
    “Free Fall”
    “Thirteen Reasons Why”

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