Thursday, August 3, 2017

General Rules for Helpful Titles

Because it’s bad manners to point out flaws without having something positive to suggest as an alternative, as a continuation of the last post I present some rules and examples of books with titles that actually do tell us something about the plot contained within the covers.

Granted, most book titles are not extremely erudite. And the following is, as always, my opinion and therefore up to debate. But once some parameters are set (such as were set forth in the last post showing what might disqualify a title), it becomes a rather interesting game of comparison and analysis.

Conclusion #1: Including a Verb or Otherwise Indicating Action or Movement in the Title Is a Good Start:

Jules Verne is especially good at this:
  • Journey to the Centre of the Earth
  • Around the World in 80 Days
  • From Earth to the Moon

So is Agatha Christie:
  • Murder on the Orient Express, Murder in Mesopotamia, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, The Murder at the Vicarage
  • Death on the Nile, Death in the Skies
  • What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!
  • The Moving Finger
  • Lord Edgeware Dies
  • A Murder is Announced

Conclusion #2: Tell What the Character Does, Is Related To, or Possesses:

Although Jane of Lantern Hill tells me nothing since I neither know who Jane nor where/what Lantern Hill is until I’m reading the book, some Character + Place titles are quite a bit better:
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory*
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
  • The Man in the Brown Suit
  • The Body in the Library

Conclusion #3: Titles Including the Concepts and Themes May Not Tell the Reader What Happens, But Still Tells What the Story is About
  • Crime and Punishment
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • The Red Badge of Courage
  • Vanity Fair

Conclusion #4: Adjectives Help Introduce Readers to Otherwise Unknown Characters and Places:
  • Treasure Island…is evocative enough that we know the action will take place on an island, and that treasure will be involved
  • The Lost World
  • The Secret Garden

Conclusion #5: If You’re Going to Give a Cryptic Title, Make It a Mystery That Reading the Book Will Solve:
This is the category where I place all those strange titles that only make sense when you’re analyzing a story as a whole. It doesn’t always pan out: I’m still at a loss as to what The Lonely Carrot had to do with that book’s actual story. 

But here are some good ones:
  • Far From the Madding Crowd
  • Till We Have Faces
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Gone With the Wind
  • A Tale of Two Cities
  • Out of the Silent Planet

And pretty much any Agatha Christie based on a nursery rhyme, poem, etc.:
  • And Then There Were None
  • Pocket Full of Rye
  • Five Little Pigs
  • One, Two, Buckle My Shoe
  • By the Pricking of My Thumbs

Other Titles Worthy of Mention:
  • Most of the individual titles of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Last Battle, The Magician’s Nephew
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court…though technically this falls into the Character + Place issue, since almost anyone knows about King Arthur’s Court, almost anyone should see that a Connecticut Yankee being there is completely impossible and therefore must involve some time travel and other Twainworthy shenanigans
  • The Mystery of Edwin Drood…when a title begins with “The Mystery of…” it’s a tossup whether it’s going to tell us anything about the plot. In this case, though, I think it’s a perfect title, because the unfinished Dickens book about Edwin Drood is itself a mystery. How was Dickens going to finish the novel? What was going to happen to Drood?! Argh it's driving me nuts! 

*Although let’s be honest, aside from The Chocolate War (which although a good title is entirely misleading. There are no trebuchets filled with Hershey’s bars, for example) I like all books with chocolate in the title.

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