by Linda Thorne
If you follow suggestions for writing book titles, you will be discouraged from writing long titles (more than four or five words). The reasoning, keep them short so they’re easy to remember and easy to post anywhere. I talk about the exception to this, the one-word title, in the next paragraph. After you hear the lecture on size of title, the suggestions go on to include giving your title twists, humor, gusto, anything to find a way to make it memorable and provocative.
When considering short titles, one of the problems with the one-word title is the likelihood of it being duplicated by other people’s books. This is totally legal but many authors don’t want their books competing with a long list of the same title. Another problem is the difficulty of describing your book properly in a single word. Think about how much more defined a book title is when a second word is added. For example:
A couple of two-word titles in Marilyn Meredith's Tempe Crabtree series are Raging Water and River Spirits. The words Raging and River are meaningless standing alone as would be Water or Spirits. The dual words need each other to make sense and give these titles "oomph."
The same holds true of the debut novel by S.J. Francis, Shattered Lies. The two strong words, shattered and lies, would not mean much of anything if not coupled together. Either word as a single title would lose all its zest.
I could go on and on: Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.
Now, having spoken on the negatives of titles too long and one-word titles, does any of this matter in the big scheme of things if you find that perfect title? Take a look at these exceptions to the popular advice:
John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden and Good and Evil.
Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café
Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Alan Brady’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
I had the idea of writing a book long before I actually knew I’d really write one, so I was one of those people (annoying to some) who would occasionally tell others, “I’d like to write a book and I’d call it, The Termination of Jolene Cromwell. My lead character was a career human resources manager, so terminations were part of her job. This was the book in my head back then, in the years long before I started writing. The title is so, so, and rather plain. No oomph, no action, no underlying statement.
When I did start writing the book, the termination of the character named Jolene Cromwell was no longer the story. It was something that happened in back-story, something that gave motivation to my protagonist. The story starts when a no-call-no-show employee is found shot to death. My protagonist, like me, is a career human resources manager and regardless of how any employee leaves a company, they must be terminated. Then death itself is a type of termination. As writers, we’re told to stay away from the word just, but I thought it worked well in my title because it turns out to be anything but just another termination. The addition of the word, just also eliminates duplication of other book titles. When I Google Just Another Termination, I pull up one book and that’s the one I wrote.
The title of my second book, a work in progress, is A Promotion To Die For. My character gets a promotion that requires her to move to a place where she lived close to twenty-nine years earlier. She was in danger then and her move back puts her in danger again. This title is also a play on words. The promotion is a high paying “dream” job that could easily be referred to as a promotion to die for. In this case, the words could hold to their literal truth as well since someone plans to kill my lead character.