Over at Shawn Speakman’s blog, though unrelated to the original post, he and I started to discuss titles for novels, mostly concerning the two we are working on, and it got me thinking in general about some of my favourite titles out there.

I’ve always been a fan of poetic titles – The Blade Itself, The Darkness That Comes Before, The Wooden Sea, Blood Follows, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, The Lies of Locke Lamora – but they obviously don’t always fit every sort of novel. There are plenty of more traditional titles that I really like as well – The Book of Joby, Faith of the Fallen, The Naked God, Wizard and Glass, The Name of the Wind, To Green Angel Tower.

So I thought to myself, ‘why not ask my readers!’ It was a pretty brilliant idea, so I ask:

What are some of your favourite titles?

and

What, in your opinion, makes for a good title?

19 thoughts on “I Ask You | What Makes for a Good Title?”

  1. anrake says:

    - Malazan Book of the Fallen (and most individual titles)
    - Litany of the Long Sun
    - A Dark & Hungry God Arises: The Gap Into Power (and most Gap books)
    - Water Sleeps
    - So Long and Thanks for all the Fish

    I guess it should sound intriguing or mysterious without too obviously telling you what will happen in the book. It’s even better if it can convey a vague sense of the atmosphere of the book without being too in your face.

  2. aidan says:

    Oooh, Litany of the Long Sun, I really like that one! Stephen Donaldson, who’s novel you mentioned, is also someone that generally comes up with pretty good titles.

    Your definition of a good title seems similar to my own.

  3. Kendall says:

    I read enough of Lynch’s book that I feel The Lies of Locke Lamora is more practical/descriptive than poetic. (I’m not sure about “traditional” since both types are traditional, especially for fantasy.) But The Name of the Wind sounds poetic to me (though it may be very descriptive and mundane, I dunno–haven’t read it yet).

    Anyway, I like most types, but I prefer more poetic ones a bit more, as long as they’re not so surreal that they don’t convey anything to me. The Wooden Sea has a plain but surreal cover (I like some surreal art), but the title itself is so weird, it means nothing to me.. In contrast, I find The Darkness That Comes Before a moody, mysterious title (in a good way!).

    I love Canavan’s Black Magician trilogy (I think that’s its name), but the individual novels’ titles are way too simple/descriptive. But simple can be okay if there’s a recurring word/theme that ties them together, Huff’s Blood books. You know the kinds of patterns I mean?

    I can’t for the life of me think of favorite titles, sorry. I do like Donaldson’s latest two titles. and the titles of the books in Monette’s series, for different reasons. His are poetic, while hers fit together nicely (four fantastical or quasi-fantastical names).

    Okay, enough rambling from me. ;-)

  4. Kendall says:

    Whoops, I meant “like Huff’s Blood books.” Me know English good.

    And I should’ve used first names for the people I mentioned that aren’t in this thread already, sorry: Trudi Canavan (The Magician’s Guild, The Novice, & The High Lord), Tanya Huff (Blood Price, Blood Trail, etc.), and Sarah Monette (Melusiné, The Mirador, The Virtu, & Corambis).

  5. aidan says:

    Re: The Lies of Locke Lamora

    When I first started hearing about the novel I always thought “Lies” referred to the poetic term “Lay” – A long narrative poem, especially one that was sung by medieval minstrels called trouvères. The Lais of Marie de France are lays. – and, even after learning that the plural of “Lay” is “Lays”, the title still stuck in my mind as poetic.

    It’s interesting that what one considers poetic can be viewed as literal and mundane by another. But I suppose that’s the exact reason I wanted to get some discussion going.

    Thanks for dropping by, Kendall!

  6. Dark Wolf says:

    I like those like George R.R. Martin’s “A Game of Thrones”, “A Clash of Kings”, “A Storm of Swords”, “A Feast of Crows” and “A Dance of Dragons”, Patrick Rothfuss’ “The Name of the Wind” and “The Wise Man’s Fear”, but the titles more simple too, like Tim Lebbon’s “Dusk”, “Dawn” and “Fallen”.

  7. anrake says:

    hi, I read the conversation on Shawn’s blog. I’m afraid I have to agree. I’m not a big fan of “Through Bended Grass.” It doesn’t roll off the tongue and after I read it my mind just echoes “Through the looking glass.” Without knowing more about your books it’s hard to say but what about something like “Shadow of Treason” or “Shadow of…” something or “Hint of …” It might be good to pick one key element and see how you can obfuscate it in allusion.

  8. thrinidir says:

    Great examples. I also enjoy Joe Abercrombies titles. Some of the Erikson’s (House of Chains, Memories of Ice, Midnight Tides) & Martin’s titles are great as well (Feast for Crows, Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Dance of Dragons); from the most recent “Steel Remains” by Morgan is a fantastic title.

    How about sf; it boasts with some great examples (left hand of darkness, lathe of heaven, Woken Furies – Richard Morgan again, Canticle for Leibowitz, The Man In The High Castle, A Scanner Darkly, “Hyperion”, Otherland: City of Golden Shadow-Mountain of Black Glass,Sea of Silver Light,Old Man’s War – evocative…)

  9. aidan says:

    Dark Wolf: I’ve always been a fan of single word titles as well. The right word can be very powerful and compelling. Lebbon’s are great examples of this.

    anrake: Thanks for your thoughts on the title. I don’t really like to talk about my own work here (I don’t want to cheapen A Dribble of Ink with my drivel!), but you can find out more about my writing, and Through Bended Grass on my other blog Mightier than the Sword. If you’re interested, of course!

    I will say, however, that the similarities between Through Bended Grass and Through the Looking Glass aren’t wholly unintentional.

    thrinidir: I’m a big fan of The Steel Remains and also Morgan’s Black Man. I’m not sure how much I like Market Forces.

    Canticle for Leibowitz is one of my all time favourites, though I haven’t even read the novel. I also almost included the Otherland novels in my original post, but left them out in favour of some of the others. Another of William’s titles that I really love is The War of the Flowers, perfectly fits the novel.

  10. Kendall says:

    Dark Wolf: George R.R. Martin’s titles are an example of the patterns I was thinking, though his manage to be poetic as well. I like Tim Lebbon’s titles, though one-word simple titles can be hit or miss for me.

    Thrinidir: Great SF examples, especially the Ursula K. Le Guin ones.

    Aidan: I know you don’t want to talk about it here, but I like Through Bended Grass (and yeah, it reminded me of Grass for His Pillow by Lian Hearn). ;-)

  11. Aura says:

    I prefer scifi titles to fantasy ones. They just seem more creative to me.

    I particularly like Robert A. Heinlein’s “A Stranger in a Strange Land,” “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress,” and “I will Fear No Evil.” Is it just me, or do the titles sound/look like what they mean? For example, the repeated consonants in “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” emphasize “harsh.”

    I also like Iain M. Bank’s “Consider Phlebas” and Philip K. Dick’s “Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep?” These titles don’t make much sense until you read the book and understanding dawns.

  12. Kate says:

    Love “Mostly Harmless,” and a lot of that comes from the fact that every time I use the phrase in conversation I smile internally and think of Douglas Adams.

    Can’t go wrong with “Epic of Gilgamesh” and “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” either. Nice chills for both, just the words.

  13. I enjoy mostly poetic titles as well like Ursula LeGuin’s “Left Hand of Darkness” and Vicki Pettersson’s “Touch of Twilight”, “Taste of Night”. The title has to be somewhat abstract for me, but I really enjoy word play like “Once bitten, Twice Shy” (I forgot the name of the author though)

  14. Lisa says:

    Best titles: I like the title and the book: fiction
    Shadow of the Wind
    Color of Water
    Time Traveler’s Wife may not be mysterious; the idea baits

  15. Jim says:

    I agree that Tad Williams titles are generally very good.

    I usually like fantasy book titles that make it clear that they are, indeed, fantasy books. In other words, a fantasy book shouldn’t have a title that you could confuse with a paperback thriller.

    When it comes to series, the best book titles seem to be those that share a thematic or rhetorical structure. George Martin’s book share the “A [blank] of [blank]” structure. Joe Abercrombie’s share the fact that they are all drawn from classic quotations.

    Pointless repetition, though, usually leaves me cold: Terry Brooks first seven Shannara book share the “of Shannara” moniker, even though as they progress the actually “Shannara” name grows less and less relevant to what’s actually going on in the books.

    Oh, and I second the “A Canticle for Leibowitz” motion. Probably one of the great science fiction books of all time, and yet it seems surprisingly under-read.

  16. Robert says:

    Great post Aidan! For me, it just depends. Sometimes like a title just because of the way it rolls off the tongue. Others, like “A Stranger in a Strange Land”, it’s because of what it does for my imagination. Then there are titles that I think perfectly capture what the book is about. One of my favorites is Dean Koontz’s “Dark Rivers of the Heart”…

  17. Lynette says:

    I love when the name of the book is an otherwise seemingly unimportant phrase that is eventually dropped somewhere in the book. When I first read “Gardens of the Moon” I had a gleeful little happy moment when I finally came across the words :)

    ps I don’t know if you remember me, but I’ve read your blog since last October when you were down for Erikson’s reading at Bolen’s and we all went to 5th St after…

  18. aidan says:

    Kendall - I’m a big fan of Hearn’s titles, so I’m glad that Through Bended Grass reminds you of them!

    Aura – I really like titles like Consider Phlebas, that take unconventional words (like consider) and use them to great effect. Good choice!

    Kate – The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is one of the all time best titles, easily.

    Harry – Word play is nice, but sometimes they seem to go a little over the top, especially when it comes to the women-oriented urban fantasy that’s all over the place these days. I just recieved a novel titled Succubus in the City….

    Lisa – I was going to include Shadow of the Wind, but figured it was too close to The Name of the Wind and decided to just pick one or the other.

    Jim – I think we differ where fantasy titles are concerned. I think that publishers (and authors, for that matter) stick to closely to titles that will only appeal to the fantasy crowd. I think if we ever want Fantasy to see a wider recognition within the literary field we need to start seeing a shift away from those fantasy heavy titles. A lot of the best titles listed here by others work, in my opinion, because they’re ubiquitous: Grass for his Pillow, Canticle for Leibowitz, Mostly Harmless, The Wise Man’s Fear, etc….

    In Brooks’ case, I expect Del Rey had more to do with that than Brooks, unfortunately. That repetition sells novels, despite the fact that, as you mention, the Shannara name has little to do with many of the novels. Del Rey even went so far as to stick the name Shannara on his latest trilogy… which takes place hundreds or thousands of years before the name Shannara even comes about! Gah, silly marketers….

    Robert – Imagination is a very important thing, if a title doesn’t make you think, then you’re probably less likely to actually pick up a novel to read it. That’s one concern that Shawn Speakman brought up about my own title, Through Bended Grass, he wonders if it has enough mystery and imagination to intrigue readers.

    Lynette – Of course I remember you guys! That night with Steve has produce a lot of views for this blog and still stands as one of the most fun/exciting/sublime/surreal evenings I’ve had in a long time. I had a blast hanging out with so many people who had such similar taste in novels! Glad to know you’re still following the blog.

    Have you had a chance to meet Steve again?

  19. Lynette says:

    I haven’t, but James has run into him at the Black Stilt, I’m thinking I’ll have to go down there sometime soon and check it out :)

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