The Art of Bad Titles or Words I Swear Never to Use in a Title

There are certain words that make catchy titles, and certain words that make my eyes glaze over if I see them in the title of a book. Basically, if one of the following words is in the title of the book, you’ve got one strike against you in convincing me to read it:

  • Heart
  • Moon
  • Star
  • Crystal
  • Blade
  • Shadow
  • Quest
  • Dream
  • Dark/Darkness

If I ever am tempted to use two of the before mentioned words in a title, somebody please shoot me.

I mean, I’m not the best at titles, but skimming over a list of amateur fiction titles in a workshop, I found at least four to seven titles containing each of those words. I read a couple out to my husband, and he said, “I think I’ve read that book. Like, five times.”

Really, if the best title I can come up with for a story is The Crystal of Dreams, or The Moonblade, or Heart of the Whatever the Hell, then maybe you need to rethink your story. If that really, honestly is the most appropriate title, then, well, I don’t know what to say.

But chances are, it isn’t. Chances are, there’s something more unique and intriguing to your story than the name of the object of power that’s going to save the day when your hero acquires/uses/destroys it. What titles like that tell me, is that this story is about a thing, that’s probably some kind of gimmick that makes the story go, and little more than that. Doesn’t tell me about characters, or anything like that.

Titles that attract me are ones that have more, you know, unique words. Actually, I think the word I’m looking for is specific. Words that refer to something specific, rather than vague ideas. The first thing that comes to mind is the one I keep looking at, and I’m not sure if I’ll read, but the title grabs me, is “Whitechapel Gods.” Whitechapel is a district in London. It has meaning to me. It gives a lot of context to the word “Gods.” The words in my list, they could mean a hundred million things, in context, and paired with another one of the words in the list, it’s even worse, because then you have no context provided by the second word.

Which reminds me, there’s a clause in my vow never to use those words that states that those words may be used freely if they are being used literally. Peter S. Beagle’s story “Two Hearts” refers to the two hearts that a Griffin has, in the world of the story, because both must be pierced to kill it. If a character’s actual heart has been replaced with clockwork, then I’m good with a title like “Clockwork Heart.” I reserve the right to use “Moon” in my title, if the characters are actually traveling to the moon. “Star” and “Dream” would be reserved for sci fi only. The rest, I can’t really think of a good excuse for.

Just my two cents, and just my opinion. Anyone else have anything that makes their eyes glaze over when they see it in a title?


4 responses to “The Art of Bad Titles or Words I Swear Never to Use in a Title

  1. Clockwork Heart (Dru Pagliassotti) is a book, a very awesome book.

    Dark Moon is the second book in the Firebringer trilogy by Meredith Ann Pierce; and my inner thirteen year-old girl will fight anyone to the death who says it was not a good book.

    • See, the title Clockwork Heart, in the market as it is now, makes me think the heart part is going to be literal, and makes me want to read the book – I probably will – I think it’s on my to be read list.

      Dark Moon – I won’t say it isn’t a good book, just that it’s a terrible title πŸ˜›

      I picked up a book a couple of years ago, “Shadow Magic” which, with a title like that, I wouldn’t have touched it with a ten foot pole if it wasn’t the sequel to another book I’d enjoyed.

  2. It’s a year off, but I wanted to comment after reading your blog.

    If you haven’t read it, I found Whitechapel Gods to be a wreck. It was filled with characters that half-way through the book, I didn’t care to remember them, and I certainly did not care when some of them bit it.

    It was an interesting concept, but overall, the story felt flat and two dimensional. When I saw he had another book published, I didn’t bother to get it.

    Thankfully, having read it has reminded me of how not to develop my own characters in my work.

    • I haven’t actually read it, it was just a title that stuck in my mind – I don’t even know if I ever knew what the story was supposed to be about. But the fact that it stuck in my mind proves it was a good title.

      Good title doesn’t mean a good story, of course. πŸ™‚

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