With the recent announcement by Peter Jackson that the subtitle of the final Hobbit movie has been changed, I was compelled to analyze the importance of a good title. The film, now subtitled “The Battle of the Five Armies” instead of “There and Back Again,” has ignited debates among the Tolkien fandoms and the online forums are full of advocators and haters alike. As a writer I was disappointed by the decision. Calling the film “The Battle of the Five Armies” basically tells the audience (those who haven’t read the books at least) what is going to happen. Although the majority of viewers should know how the 1937 classic ends, the 1950s readers of the original Lord of the Rings novels may have seen the title of the third installment (The Return of the King) and assumed how it also ended. Needless to say, I began thinking about what it takes to make a good title.
Surely the primary goal is to attract readers. Unless you are James Patterson or Nora Roberts whose names alone tells repeat readers to just pick up their latest book and purchase it, a book must speak from its spine. When someone is scanning the bookshelf, what is it about your title that makes them stop and pull it out. Then they see the cover art and read the back or inside sleeve but the initial spark of interest comes from the title.
So how should we go about achieving this? Shorter is better, obviously, since space is prime real estate on a book and especially its spine. In addition to brevity, educate yourself in vocabulary. Thesauri are a great way to learn new words by finding words you already know and then discovering words with similar meanings. Adjectives can be highly valuable within your text but they can be equally powerful in your title. Take, for example,the Young Adult series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl which was recently made into a film; Beautiful Creatures and its most recent installment, Dangerous Creatures. I personally believe this style of title should be used more often because it is most descriptive. There is also the creative use of nouns, but not necessarily proper nouns. Cassandra Clare’s series The Mortal Instruments, is a great example of this (i.e. City of Bones, Ashes, Glass, Fallen Angels, etc). George R.R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire is probably my favorite (i.e. Game of Thrones, Storm of Swords, Dance With Dragons, etc). These are strong words to describe strong literature.
So what inspires your titles? Whether fiction or nonfiction, what key elements drive your narrative? Never settle when it comes to a good title. Always put great and sincere thought into what will ultimately be a representative of your hard work.