A Title. It’s the first thing you see, pretty much.
That is, unless the book’s cover artwork is so busy or the font is the same colour as the background (in which case you need a new designer). A title might seem like a simple affair, but it’s incredibly important. Like naming characters, it has to embody everything that it is.
It can be very easy for novels to sum up the journey, purpose, setting, or MacGuffin in its title, and there isn’t anything wrong with that. But choosing the most obvious element can lead to a book being seen as dated, stereotypical, immature, or pretentious, especially if it’s too long or contains tropes already overused by its particular genre. There’s an increasing trend now for genre fiction to use much shorter phrases (unless it’s Steampunk, where it’s acceptable to over-explain anything in keeping with the setting’s vernacular), or even butt two words together to form a catchy portmanteau. Romantic, dramatic, and biographic books capitalise on phrases that generate an emotional response. Crime fiction usually has something very serious, or military code. When deciding on a title, it’s important to consider the most prominent theme; the one that you feel is best represented in the story overall. A good way to start is to write one word that describes that theme, and develop it from there.
Using some of our titles as examples: Craig Hallam’s ‘Greaveburn’ uses the name of the city in which the book takes place, not just because it’s a very evocative word, but also because the city itself is a hugely important aesthetic in the book. It’s everywhere, and inescapable. David Wilkinson’s ‘We Bleed The Same’ emphasises the physical bonds between two sides of a war. ‘The Last Time We Saw Marion’ is a brilliant phrase that ties together the narrative structure of Tracey Scott-Townsend’s novel.
There isn’t necessarily a ‘wrong’ way to construct a title
…but keeping it relevant to a tone, theme, subtext, or particular pathway is important, as is making sure the word or phrase you choose isn’t copyrighted, and/or doesn’t have misleading connotations. Even though Greaveburn is Steampunk, calling it ‘Abrasia’s Peril in The Dark and Dangerous City of Rain and Death’ makes it sound like a kids’ Dungeons and Dragons spoof. Likewise, if ‘We Bleed The Same’ was simply called ‘Bleedwar’, it changes the expectation of the book immediately. The former is more representative of the nature of war, the latter seems to focus on the war itself by being a more brutal word in its own right. And ‘Marion’ wouldn’t be enough to describe Tracey’s book. Despite aptly describing the character the story wraps around, it needs fleshing out to act as a hook.
It’s fun to play around with, though.
Coming up with the most drawn-out and ludicrous name you can for you story is a good way of exploring what words and themes come to mind. A title can change at any time up until it’s put into print, as well, and some even change afterwards. The most recent example we can think of was a Tom Cruise movie, released in cinemas as ‘Edge of Tomorrow’, and subsequently changed to ‘Live. Die. Repeat.’ for its DVD release. It would be interesting to see if people viewed it differently. Which would you prefer to watch, based on the names alone?