What’s in a Title?

How significant is a title for a novel, a short story – or a poem? What do we expect of a title?

A successful title will probably grab our attention – hook us in some way -intrigue, surprise or amuse us, or suggest something of the work’s subject or flavour. And what about titles that disappoint? The ones where they capture the imagination, but don’t in the end deliver?

The titles of ‘big’ works from the past: War and Peace, Pride and Prejudice, Sons and Lovers, Middlemarch, Great Expectations tend to be broad, abstract nouns. The more contemporary ones, such as The Road Home by Rose Tremain, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larson, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, by Maggie O’Farrell, The Help, Kathryn Stockett (a minute sample from the thousands available) are more specific, often homing in on a person or a place.

Another curious ‘fact’ – and one of the reasons I’ve chosen the titles above – is that research suggests that the more successful novels have the word the in them. I’ve noticed that is the case, although in last week’s chart for the ten top-selling paperback novels (according to Saturday’s Guardian) only one appears, while in the hardback list four out of the ten begins with The

I’ve been podering the power of titles for some time, while deciding on a working one for a new novel idea that’s rolling round in my head. I’ve provisionally settled on ‘The Inheritance’, but at the Royal Academy for the Hockney exhibition yesterday, I said something about being ‘Two minutes from Eros’ and it struck me that could be a good title. Two Minutes from Eros – what do you think?

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  1. Liz Sharpe says:

    I love ‘Two Minutes from Eros’. It’s a real question-provoker. Eros the statue? Eros as in Freud? It also has connotations of the ‘two minute warning’ which of course denotes some kind of explosion. Write the book!

  2. Lindsay says:

    Glad you like the title. I’ve explained how I thought of it in the post, but it does seem appealing – and yes, the connotations you point up are interesting.

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