Alphabet Blogging Challenge Day 20
It’s day 20 of my September blogging challenge.
The letter is T
and the topic is TITLES
The title of a book/story is something writers often struggle with. And yet, it plays a significant role when a book is trying to reach out to its potential readers. A reader might decide whether to pick up the book of a novelist they don’t know, or read a short story by a writer they’ve never heard of, because of the title. It might just be the thing that influences them to take the novel off the shelf, or start reading that particular story in an anthology or magazine.
Creating a title is as important as any other piece in the narrative puzzle. But sometimes writers can’t find an appropriate title for their work or beginning writers might say I haven’t bothered with a title yet. But it’s been said that’ssimilar to calling your child Hey, you until he or she starts walking!
Titles lie at the heart of a work, shaping its identity, its personality, and hinting at its layers of meaning. David Lodge says ‘The title of a novel is part of the text – the first part of it, in fact, that we encounter – and therefore has considerable power to attract and condition the reader’s attention.’
For that reason, it’s a good idea to avoid summary titles. If the story is about a boy called George who runs away, it’s better not to call it ‘George runs away’ or ‘George escapes’. The aim should be to let the title enhance the subtext of the work or prompt the reader to consider the story in a new light.
Sometimes titles are only the name of the main character – probably more common in titles from the past. Though this can convey something of the flavour of the novel, suggesting the power and individuality of the character, I think this sort of title lacks the intrigue that a more complex title can offer. Compare ‘Emma’, ‘Jane Eyre’ or even ‘Anna Karenina with ‘I Know Why the Cages Bird Sings’, ‘Light in the Snow’, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. These convey more vividly the mysteries of the world inside the book’s covers.
I would say the same thing hold true for novels that have place in their titles: ‘Mansfield Park’, ‘Washington Square’, ‘Wuthering Heights’.
Other titles point up the underlying themes of the novel: ‘Sense and Sensibility’, ‘Crime and ‘Punishment’, ‘Atonement’. But I’m not sure that I want my ‘take’ on the book’s morality forced on me so much by the title.
Titles are sometimes only one word: Rushdie’s ‘Shame’, AL Kennedy’s ‘Day’, Jim Crace’s ‘Quarantine’, Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn’s ‘Unravelling’. If successful, these can pack an initial punch, but also reveal the subtleties the novel has to offer.
Some time ago, I remember reading that the majority of novels in the top ten best-sellers had the word ‘The’ in the title – and that was after I’d decided on the title ‘The Piano Player’s Son’ for the title of my next novel. Certainly, this was true on the occasions I checked the paperback novel charts. The Fifty Shades phenomenon has somewhat skewed those results, but even so, Saturday’s Guardian weekly charts, four out of the ten top-selling books began with the word The.
I would be interesting to know what you think makes a great title. As a reader, what draws you to a title? If you write, what do you try to achieve with your titles? Do you give them enough thought?
I’ve mentioned a novel I read over the summer – ‘Painter of Silence’. I enjoyed the book and I love its title. It feels poignant and full of possibility. I don’t completely understand it and am drawn to its ambiguity. The idea of painting silence is puzzling, and therefore intrigues me.