Podcast

293 – Titles

The Mythcreant Podcast
Every story needs to be called something, but the title you choose shouldn’t be a last-minute afterthought. Titles are a vital tool for communicating with the audience well before they turn the first page. But how does that communication work? What makes some titles better than others? Those are the questions we try to answer on this week’s episode. We discuss what a title needs to communicate, how you can do that without going too long, and how to make your title memorable. Plus, all kinds of examples to think about, both good and bad.

Download Episode 293  Subscription Feed 

Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Adverbs Podcast

The Great Gatsby

Zelda Fitzgerald

Trimalchio

The Light Brigade

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Hawkeye

Brave New World

Prospero

Miranda

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Macbeth

Finding Nemo

The Priory of the Orange Tree

Dracula

Carrie

Borne

Annihilation

The City In the Middle of the Night

The Hunger Games

The Rise of Skywalker

Gideon the Ninth

Edge of Tomorrow

A Game of Thrones

The Chronicles of Prydain

His Dark Materials

The Expanse

The Murderbot Diaries

The Mortal Instruments

Murder on the Orient Express

This Book is Full of Spiders

The Shattered Ascension

Chaser of Shadows

Deathslinger

Stranger Things

The Haunting of Hill House

Jump down to comments ↓

Transcript

Generously transcribed by Ursula. Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.

Chris: You’re listening to the Mythcreants podcast, with your hosts Oren Ashkenazi, Wes Matlock and Chris Winkle.

[Intro music]

Oren: And welcome everyone to another episode of the Mythcreants podcast. I’m Oren, with me today is Chris and Wes. So I’ve been thinking that we could change the title of this podcast to “Adverbs: A Journey”. [Chris laughs]

Wes: I’m for it.

Oren: I think it’s kind of related, because we’ve talked about adverbs, and you could say we’ve been on a journey since we started and we’re getting close to episode 300. So is that not a good title? Isn’t it mysterious? Does it not just make you really want to know what’s going on with this podcast?

Wes: Oren, I feel like you’re punking me. Because if I saw that book in a bookstore, I would buy it so fast.

Oren: And then you’d probably be disappointed because most of our episodes aren’t actually about adverbs. We have a episode about adverbs, last time I checked.

Chris: Yeah. I can understand why that would be attractive to a copy editor, but it’s specifically the “adverbs” part. When I hear ”a journey”, I just think, [in disappointed voice] oh, it’s a memoir. Maybe it’s it’s mean to punk on memoirs.

Oren: I’ve had a hard time with memoirs ever since I took a memoir editing class and when I asked, what’s the difference between an autobiography and a memoir, I was told in memoirs you’re allowed to lie. And I was like, oh, okay. I’m sure there’s some more to them than that. But that really put me off the whole idea.

Wes: It’s creative nonfiction. It’s not lying.

Oren: It sounds like lying to me!

Chris: I think as a speculative fiction person, memoirs are our natural enemy.

Oren: I get plus two to track memoirs as an enemy.

Chris: And all those academic courses that forbid you from writing speculative fiction, they always want you to write memoirs.

Oren: All right. So anyway, we’re talking about titles today.

Chris: Not memoirs.

Oren: Not memoirs. This is about story titles. We got a little sidetracked. And the reason I wanted to talk about this is because the often quoted saying of “never judge a book by its cover” is practically impossible. There’s just no way to do that, because you will hear about way more books than you have time to even look into, let alone read.

Chris: And also, why not? I mean, the purpose of a cover is to show off the story. So it feels like that’s what it’s there for. It’s for you to judge the book.

Oren: And I mean, don’t get me wrong. I do have sympathy for people who are self published, who can’t afford a really good cover,and that hurts them. That’s not great. In my utopia, everyone would have a great cover, you know, through the universal cover program.

But for the practical purposes of us as readers, now, that isn’t the case. So we have to judge books by their cover and a title is part of the cover. It’s also the part of the cover that the author has the most control over. Especially if you’re doing traditional publishing, in which case you often have no control over what the art looks like. Often you’re not even consulted.

So anyway, title is important, because it is your audience’s first glimpse of your story. And it is very often the thing that will make them think, “hmm?” or, “eh”, and that’s an important difference.

Wes: A fun anecdote about this that people may have heard before, is the story of the original title for Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Have you guys heard this? Apparently he went through a series of titles, but then when he was basically done, he sent it off to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, and said, here it is, I’m done, and I have titled it “Trimalchio in West Egg”.

Oren: What?

Chris: What?

Wes: And so his editor calls Zelda, Fitzgerald’s wife, and says, “We’ve got to talk some sense into this guy.” So they both pincer striked him and just said, “No. That is an obscure reference. No one is going to even be able to pronounce Trimalchio. They won’t get it. They won’t even pick it up. You need to pick The Great Gatsby. That’s the title.”

Oren: Okay. Admittedly, I was going to say that I didn’t think The Great Gatsby was that great a title, but now that I know what the alternative was, it seems awesome.

[laughter]

Wes: I believe Trimalchio is a Shakespeare character. He was definitely way too far in his own head about the title. He’s like, “Oh, this would be great. It would be an obscure reference to a Shakespearian character, and West Egg is the location where all the action is going to go down and that’ll speak volumes -” And everybody’s like, “No, we’re not going to work that hard.”

Oren: “No, I’m sorry, man. It’s – Scott. It doesn’t – No.” Although there is a way you can work those references into your title if you are very clever.

Wes: Dare we say that might be a type of title, where it is an allusion to another work.

Oren: Yes. But it needs to also work for people who don’t get the reference.

Chris: Such as The Light Brigade.

Oren: Right. I was going to bring up The Light Brigade, because if you don’t know the poem, then the title of The Light Brigade tells you that it’s military of some sort, because it has the word brigade in it. And the Light Brigade implies that it’s going to be something scifi. You probably won’t automatically guess that it’s about teleporting soldiers who move at the speed of light, but you can guess that it’s some kind of military scifi.

Chris: And it seems appropriate because it actually fits the content of the story, besides being a reference.

Oren: Right. And then if you know the poem, then you’re like, oh, I see what you did there, Kameron, I see what you did there. Kameron and I are on a first name basis, obviously. [Chris and Wes laugh]

And you know, honestly, that’s the way all references are. References need to work whether you get them or not. That’s the difference between say, in an MCU movie where they’re like, “Hmm, we have a weird piece of alien tech.” And then someone offhandedly says, “Well, we should get Stark to look at this.” And if you know who Tony Stark is, you’re like, ooh, it’s Tony Stark. But if you don’t, it’s like, whatever, it’s a line. It doesn’t really matter much. You assume it’s some tech that they are going to talk to.

Versus in Thor, where they have this really long scene about this guy with a bow, who may or may not be about to shoot at Thor. And you’re wondering, who? What is happening? And it’s like, oh, that’s Hawkeye. Did you know who Hawkeye was? We all know who he is now, but when this movie came out, most of us didn’t know what that was. And we were like, what is going on?

Wes: A few other good titles as allusions from decades and decades ago. There is currently – or will soon be – a TV show that I probably won’t watch, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Brave New World is an allusion to Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Miranda says, “Oh, brave new world that has such people in it.”

The Tempest is an interesting piece to allude to. A title like Brave New World is pretty bland. It’s set in a future where people are controlled by Soma and genetics and things like that. But The Tempest is all about Prospero orchestrating an artificial world for these people to basically get his revenge, and then matchmake a little bit. So I think that works some of the same criteria that Oren highlighted.

The other one that I liked was, Ray Bradbury has a short novel called Something Wicked This Way Comes. And that of course is from Macbeth: “By the pricking of my thumbs, … ” where the witches say that.

And I think that works because A, it’s cool, first and foremost, right? And then B, since he’s titled his book after something the witches say and they make the prophecy and Macbeth kind of gets brought up into this whole darkness, and there’s a corrupting element – then when that happens in the book, you’re primed for it. You know that there’s these boys and there’s this circus coming to town. That is not a good thing. And then the bad stuff happens.

Oren: I would say that Brave New World, assuming you don’t get the Shakespeare reference, is an okay title, in that what it mainly does is set you up for a subversion. Because it sounds like it’s some sort of utopian story, right? It’s the brave new world. Now, of course, if you say brave new world, it has other connotations, but if that book didn’t exist and you heard “Brave New World”, you’d probably think it was kind of an optimistic scifi story, which is sort of what it seems like when you first start reading it.

And then he’s like, surprise: It’s actually horrible, because everyone can have sex whenever they want and take recreational drugs for free. And I guess also there’s a permanent underclass of genetically engineered subhumans. If you care about that. I’m not convinced Huxley particularly did.

And Something Wicked This Way Comes is just great, based on what you told me about the story, I haven’t read it. Something wicked is approaching, something dangerous, right? That’s intriguing. Even if you don’t get the Shakespeare reference.

Wes: This one is a twofer title, because not only is it an allusion, but also it’s a descriptive title – or maybe not descriptive, but the title is an event or an activity, an -ing is happening. Finding Nemo is at least telling you what’s going to happen. Something Wicked This Way Comes is operating on a similar title level. Finding Nemo. Return of the Jedi: Hey, he’s coming back, in some form.

Oren: Yeah. I mean, Return of the Jedi is definitely there to let you know that this is going to be a more triumphant story. I think The Empire Strikes Back is actually the best title in all of the Skywalker saga, because it very specifically tells you, okay, the rebels won last time, but that’s not how it’s going to be this time. It really preps you for the empire basically going to be on the attack this entire book, and the rebels will have no chance to rest. And that’s what the book is, primarily. Book? It’s a movie, not a book.

Wes: There’s a novelization, right?

Oren: There is. I’m never going to read that, but yeah. So those are some good titles. Can we talk about some bad titles? I love bad titles.

Okay. So I referenced this a couple episodes ago by accident, but I’m currently reading a story called The Priory of the Orange Tree. And the moment I saw that title, I knew there were going to be problems because there is no reason to call your story that if you know what your story is about. Because that title tells me nothing about the story. It’s kind of weird sounding. The most I could get from that title is that there might be some kind of religious thing going on because a priory is mentioned.

Chris: So I think that if we’re going to be talking about titles that are bad, maybe we should talk about what a title should have, so we can put that in context. For instance, we talked a little bit earlier about expectations, and Brave New World setting the wrong expectations. So that’s one thing that we expect a good title to have, to bring the right people to the story. So, for Priory of the Orange Tree, it sounds like that one is honestly missing anything to latch on to that’s intriguing.

Wes: Well, it doesn’t do anything. A good title should do something. I think a good example of a title that on its surface doesn’t do anything, but works, are titles that are just the main characters or a character that features prominently in its name. You know: Dracula. That’s the title. It works. It’s fine. I think Carrie works well in the same regard. It doesn’t have to do anything more than that. It could; maybe there’s a better title, but it’s certainly not The Priory of the Orange Tree. That’s almost like negative information.

Chris: I suspect that Carrie works because it’s now famous and a classic, and not because that was actually a good title.

Oren: Yeah, I do feel like we’re having a little bit of a confirmation bias. Because Dracula at least sort of sounds kind of intimidating, even if you don’t know who Dracula is, it’s sort of a sinister sounding name. But then again, I could be wrong. It might not sound that way in a world where the Dracula novel didn’t exist. Whereas Carrie, I had no idea what Carrie was when I first heard it. I heard the word Carrie and I was like, oh, okay. It’s a girl’s name. Is it a high school drama?

Chris: It has meaning to us because the story did well.

Wes: But I would argue it has meaning to us because it’s a name, and a name is different from a synonym for a small monastery and a fruit tree. I guess that’s kinda my point. If we’re talking about types of titles, there’s lots of titles that are just names, and that at least gives you a something. It doesn’t mean it’s good, but it is ticking some kind of title type criteria.

Chris: I guess I would say that the problem with some of these is that the title should be good teaser, right? It should make you want to read the story.

Wes: I agree with that. Yeah.

Chris: I don’t think either Carrie – I mean, Carrie now is impactful because of the connotation with it, because of that book – I don’t think either Carrie or Priory of the Orange Tree fulfill that criteria.

Wes: A good example of what I think you’re saying is, I recently read Borne. And I liked it. I think it’s a terrible title, especially when you look at a title like Annihilation, you know? They’re both one word things; Borne is the name of a person in that book. And then Annihilation is not only as a title giving you this sense of an abstract idea, but it also has a meaning that’s later revealed, when, spoiler, the biologist meets the psychologist towards the end, and the psychologist starts screaming “Annihilation” at her. You find that that’s a, what’s it called? A word where they’re primed to do something, you know what I mean?

Oren: A hypnotic trigger, I think is what it’s called.

Wes: Yeah, a hypnotic trigger or something like that.

Oren: I would say that the Southern Reach books are not greatly titled, especially The Southern Reach – that’s a terrible title for what they are. The Southern Reach makes you expect high fantasy, because “the reach” is a thing that you call it in fantasy stories. You almost never hear the word “reach” in a modern story, or in a weird government paranoia thriller.

Area X, on the other hand, is a very good title. And that’s what most people, I think, have been increasingly using. I heard about it as the Southern Reach, but increasingly more and more people are calling it Area X. That is a great title, because that tells you there is a place you’re not supposed to go. Because that’s what you call X, and that’s what the title suggests. And if you are the kind of person who likes stories about places you’re not supposed to go, that gives you a reason to want to read it.

Wes: Circling back to the Priory, Area X is good because it’s a location. The title is named after a location. And there’s other locations, even Jurassic park, or we talked about The City in the Middle of the Night, but it does at least sound cool. I’m not going to get over the Priory. [laughs]

Chris: Well, the Priory doesn’t have any tension to it. But it also isn’t unique enough to have novelty, and that’s why it doesn’t provide any intrigue. Whereas if you have something like The Hunger Games, the “hunger” definitely suggests some level of tension, and what are Hunger Games, right? It has more intrigue and more novelty to it. It’s naming something in the story, but that something has some interest. Whereas the Priory of the Orange Tree doesn’t sound like anything interesting.

Oren: The reason that I was originally put off by this title is that it sounds like what you name a story when you don’t know what it’s about, because it’s a thing from the story and it doesn’t suggest any action. It doesn’t suggest any mood, or themes. And as I started reading the story, I was like, yeah, that’s the problem with the story. It doesn’t know what it’s about. It is four completely unrelated POV characters, each of them doing their own thing, several of which are kind of mysterious. And we don’t even know why they’re doing these things.

And I couldn’t tell you what the story was about. Granted, you know, I’m not finished with it yet. I’m about a third of the way in, at this point. But if you asked me, what is this story about? It would probably take me several paragraphs. Because it’s just not really about anything. And that’s what that kind of title suggests to me.

Other reasons that a title can be bad, can be things like lying about what the movie’s about or the book. The Rise of Skywalker is a bad title for that reason.

Wes: Yeah. Oh no.

Oren: The Rise of Skywalker is not about the rise of any Skywalker, you know, at the end Rey is like, I’m Rey Skywalker and it’s like, no, you’re not. Why are you? You have no particular connection to the Skywalker family. And the other argument you could make is well, it’s supposed to be about Ben. And okay, but Ben isn’t a Skywalker either in any meaningful way. His name is Ben Solo. His connection to the Skywalker family is through his mom, who was also not really a Skywalker in any way that matters. She’s never had any particular affinity for that name. So you’re just left with, who is the Skywalker that is supposed to be rising in this story? And there isn’t one. It’s a title that just misleads you about what the movie’s about. And I mean, it’s also a bad movie, but the title’s not doing it any favors.

You can also have things like Gideon the Ninth, which is another title that’s just misleading because it makes you think it’s about the ninth person with the name Gideon. Okay. That’s kind of interesting. It’s not the greatest, but it at least is kind of intriguing that there’s someone who is the ninth in a long line of Gideons.

Wes: Or it makes you want to know, the ninth what?

Oren: And then it’s like, no, it’s actually just this person named Gideon who is attached to an arbitrarily labeled ninth house. And then the number nine actually means nothing. It’s just that, for some reason, when they were handing out numbers, the ninth house got the last one.

So that’s just kind of a misleading title, not doing the story the justice that it could. Now, clearly the reason why the author did that was because then she wanted to name the sequel Harrow the Ninth, because it’s about Harrow from the same house, but I don’t think that was a good reason to sabotage the title of your first story.

Chris: Memorability can also be a problem. Especially if your title sounds like a lot of other titles. The thing that we keep referring to for that one is a movie called Edge of Tomorrow. It has kind of a second title added on there, “Live. Die. Repeat.”, which is much better and much closer to what the movie is actually about, but yeah. Edge of tomorrow. I mean, if you just look up a list of movies with the word tomorrow in their title, it is astounding how many movies use it. So that really makes it very forgettable. Also shorter, more concrete names are more memorable. Like if we compare Game of Thrones to A Song of Ice and Fire.

Oren: Yeah. Well, it also helps in that Game of Thrones is very evocative and really tells you what the story is going to be. But also that it’s three syllables.

Chris: It helps that Game of Thrones sounds like a specific thing. It’s also much closer to what feels like it’s happening in the story. Whereas I actually liked the sound of Song of Ice and Fire. To me that’s somewhat evocative, but it’s also just kind of abstract and remote from the actual actions that are taking place. Also it has, I think, less inherent conflict to it. Game of Thrones is obviously a struggle over the throne.

Oren: This is a weird one, but this is a title issue: Don’t put two titles in the same story – or the same franchise or whatever – that shorten to the same thing. This is not a huge issue, but it comes up sometimes, like with The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, they both shorten to “Dark Knight”. And then every time you say Dark Knight, you have to clarify which movie you’re talking about. The only other option is to shorten it to “Rises”, and now no one even knows I’m talking about a Batman movie.

Wes: Talking about Game of Thrones, A Song of Ice and Fire. There’s the TV show that just named it that, but Song of Ice and Fire is the name of the series, which is a title of a title. Title of titles!

Chris: Anytime you have a series, there’s a good chance people will call it by the title of the first book. And I think that’s partly because more effort goes into titling the first book than goes into the name of the series.

Wes: It’s nice though when you get series that are – I mean, the series titles are helpful in knowing if it was planned from the start. The Lord of the Rings is the name of that three books series. His Dark Materials is the name of that three book series. And each one of those books is a dark material. You can feel like it was planned, you know, at least on that level, like, oh, okay. These things make sense. The Chronicles of Prydain, and then you have the five books by Lloyd Alexander.

Chris: I really think that comparing whether or not people start calling a series by series name or by the title of the first book is a great way to test which one is more memorable, and effective. People are now referring to the Song of Ice and Fire series as Game of Thrones. Probably because the TV show is called Game of Thrones, but Game of Thrones is also just more memorable.

Oren: Also, I can attest that we called it Game of Thrones before the TV show. I often forgot it was technically called A Song of Ice and Fire. When I was talking about it in college, I just called it Game of Thrones.

Another example is The Expanse, which is the name of the series, not any of the books. And this is pretty obvious when I tell you what the book titles are. All right, so the first one is called Leviathan Wakes. The second one is called Caliban’s War. The third one is called Nemesis Games. And it’s like, what? What are those? Whereas The Expanse is like, yeah, it’s about space. Okay? Not to be too flippant, but those books are about space. And The Expanse communicates that very well.

Chris: I think a really good series name is The Murderbot Diaries. Nobody calls it The Murderbot Diaries, they just call it Murderbot, but that’s okay. Because clearly the name of the character was put in the series name because the main character is by far the most important thing about that series, and the main character has a very memorable name. So they’re just the Murderbot books. That’s pretty iconic.

Another one. The series title is The Mortal Instruments – can you even remember the first book is called City of Bones? I think the problem with City of Bones is, again, the words in it are just a little too commonly used. If that was less commonly used, that could be an evocative title, but it’s not because I think it just sounds like a lot of other things.

Oren: That’s sort of the territory where The City in the Middle of the Night is, title-wise. That’s a cool thing, the City in the Middle of the Night, that sounds neat, but it’s also kind of hard to remember because it’s kind of long and wordy. So I ended up shortening it quite a bit, I often just call it “City” or “Middle of the Night” or I just don’t refer to it, because it’s kind of awkward to say.

Wes: Yeah, it’s a little bit too long for sure. And it’s easier to have a longer title, I think, if it includes that kind of event or action that we talked about. Like Murder on the Orient Express. There’s a lot of syllables going on in there, but you’re probably not going to forget that one. I mean, she was great at titling her books anyway, but there’s something there that’s working better than The City in the Middle of the Night, which feels static. But “Murder on the location” definitely says, hey, things are about to happen. You’re going to remember this.

Oren: Sometimes, if your story has a very straightforward plot, you can just say the plot in the title. That’s sometimes a thing you can just do. Not always though. Sometimes your plot is a little more complicated and abstract and there’s not really a way to put it into a title that’s not comically long.

And, you know, for some books that works because they’re comedies. You can call a book “This Book is Full of Spiders. No, Seriously, Dude, Put it Down” if it’s a comedy book, but if you had a serious book or a serious story of any kind –  like one of the stories I have on the website, it’s called The Shattered Ascension. The reason we called it that is because I just couldn’t figure out a way to condense the actual plot into something that didn’t sound very silly. Ideas that I had were things like “An Air Ship Goes and Finds an Atomic Bomb”. You know, that’s the story, but you don’t want to call it that. And so we ended up with something else, we did our best to bring across the mood of the story rather than the specific events that occur in it.

Chris: In my experience, some of the stories that are the hardest to title are when the things that are technically in the story don’t sound like what the story actually is. So I have this short story, it’s actually a light, fluffy feel good story, but the language is formal and it’s about shadows.

And I just had a hell of a time trying to come up with a title for that that just didn’t sound overly dark, but still was somewhat accurate to the story. I ended up landing on chaser of shadows, which is not perfect, but did the job at least. At least it doesn’t sound super dark. But that’s when it’s really hard.

And even if your scifi story is about swords, you probably still shouldn’t put sword in the title. Because that’s just going to mislead people into thinking it’s a fantasy story instead of a science fiction story.

Oren: Sometimes you get a real easy mode one, where your story is about a gunslinger who fights necromancers and you’re like, ah, it’s Death Slinger. There you go. I did it. One Hugo please.

[Wes laughs]

Chris: My favorite in that vein – idioms and common sayings can be really good titles – I think Stranger Things was really clever and a great title because of the common saying. So that’s great.

Oren: Right. Also, for some reason, even before I saw Stranger Things, it communicated to me that this was a story with creeps, but it wasn’t going to be full horror mode. And that’s what it was. And it was really well communicated with a very short title. I was impressed.

Chris: I have to say, I think it’s easy to mix up what the title communicates with the title font and the opening theme of Stranger Things, because those things are so well done that now, when we think of Stranger Things, you automatically think of those other atmospheric details that were added to the intro. I’m not sure if I actually saw “Stranger Things” in isolation without those, I would really think about that midway level, kind of dark and creepy, but not slasher.

Oren: Yeah. I am probably filling in from advertisements that I saw from the show or what have you.

Chris: It’s the Carrie problem.

Oren: I do think communicates creeps though. I think it communicates creeps, but to me it doesn’t sound like a slasher movie. But then again, I wouldn’t have thought Friday the 13th was a slasher series either until I heard what it was. So who knows?

Chris: Yeah. I mean, I think that it could potentially work for a slightly lighter story, but you know, I have to admit that my calibration for what is creepy is a little bit off. I like really creepy dark things. So I tend to think everything is lighter than maybe other people think.

Wes: Do you guys have any favorite titles? And can you articulate why?

Oren: I mean, I already did The Light Brigade and Game of Thrones and The Empire Strikes Back, I’m supposed to think of another one? Oh boy.

Wes: Those are all excellent choices.

Oren: I think those are all just really good titles. Here’s one that’s kind of funny in that it’s very good as a title, but it’s weird in setting or in-story. And that is Star Trek: Voyager, because “Voyager” sounds like they are going to go on a voyage, right? And the fact that other Star Trek shows haven’t been called that before, even though they’re all technically on journeys, suggests to me that it will be more extreme than other voyages.

But in-universe it’s a little silly that the ship that got pulled across the galaxy and has to find its way home is called Voyager. You know, it could have been called anything. This could have been the USS Chernov. But no, it was called Voyager. And that’s a little on the nose there. A little bit.

Chris: I personally really like titles that are statements that automatically ask questions. If they start with why or how or where, any of those words. Like Where the Wild Things Are, or Where the Sidewalk Ends. Those imply a question. I also like this one, because it just feels incomplete: To Kill a Mockingbird. That suggests that there is more, that’s only one half of the statement.

Wes: That’s a good one in the vein of “title comes from line of dialogue in the story” because you’re right, it does feel incomplete. Atticus – I think Atticus is the one who says that line – but it’s surrounded by other words, you know?

Chris: Right. He explains what it means, and it’s obviously the central theme of the story. Pulling that out as a title, that’s not uncommon. We have something of central importance to the story, and we’re going to take that little tidbit line and make it the title. But in this particular case, I think it’s really effective. Because, again, it feels like an incomplete statement. We know that there’s a fill-in-the-blank that needs to happen. And so it’s intriguing.

Oren: Wes, what about you? We can get yours before we end the podcast.

Wes: There’s a lot that I like. I like the action oriented ones, but I think one of the more subtly brilliant titles that I have always loved is Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Because we get the location, there’s an action in the haunting, and there’s the alliteration of the repeated H sounds throughout the entire title. I do love that. I think it’s tight and elegant. It doesn’t quite make you ask why, but it’s easy to remember, for me anyway. I think it’s well-crafted.

Oren: Look, I just appreciate a title that tells me what the story is about, okay? I hear about a lot of stories. Please tell me what your story is about. Don’t make it hard for me to find out.

[laughter]

All right. Well, with that we are going to have to end this podcast. Those of you at home, if anything we said piqued your interest, you can leave a comment on the website at mythcreants.com. Before we go, I want to thank a few of our patrons. First we have Kathy Ferguson, who is a professor of political theory in Star Trek. Next we have Ayman Jaber. He is an urban fantasy writer and a connoisseur of Marvel. And finally we have Danita Rambo. She lives at therambogeeks.com.

Enjoying our podcast? Thank us with a review on iTunes or Stitcher.

 

Comments

  1. Bellis

    Best title for a movie: Snakes on a Plane! Tells you what the movie is right away :’D

    As for Stranger Things, that title gives me the same impression of “spooky but not extreme horror” you talked about and is very memorable and intriguing, even though I have never watched it and don’t know what the font and title music are like off the top of my head. So, yes, it works on its own.

    As for titles in a franchise that are annoying because they are so similar to other titles of the franchise: Star Trek: Enterprise. First of all it’s the least memorable or important Enterprise of them all, so it hasn’t earned its name. Second, we call the original series “Enterprise” and TNG “the new Enterprise” (this might just be a german thing though idk. Translations are tricky.) Anyway, it is super annoying to have to specify “which Enterprise?” “no, not the ship, the show” and then everyone is disappointed.

    • Cay Reet

      If I, as a fellow German, remember it right, the original Star Trek was called “Raumschiff Enterprise” in Germany (Spaceship Enterprise) and TNG was called “Raumschiff Enterprise: Das Nächste Jahrhundert” (Spaceship Enterprise: The Next Century, but I could be a little wrong here). When “Enterprise” was released in Germany, it merely ran by that title, which can indeed be misleading.

      • Bellis

        Yes, those are the official names of the series in germany. We just shortened them sort of colloquially. Either way, just naming the Entersprise show “Enterprise” is annoying imho.

    • A Perspiring Writer

      And also, the title “Snakes on a Plane” implies that there will be a campy, b-movie feel, and from what I know about the film, it certainly does.

      • Bellis

        I saw it and yes, it does have that feel

    • SunlessNick

      I thought Enterprise was a nice nod to NASA and the impact of the original series. The first space shuttle (the one you see on the back of the 747) was called Enterprise, after the TOS Enterprise – but in show, the NX01 is named the Enterprise after the shuttle, hence the second ship of its class being called Columbia.

  2. A Perspiring Writer

    We’ll just have to agree to disagree on The Priory of the Orange Tree, because that’s actually one of my favorite book titles of all time. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the title is paired with one of my favorite book covers of all time.

    And about The Rise of Skywalker; I saw it as being about, not the rise of any one skywalker, but the rise of their legacy, which Rey is carrying on.

    Also, one minor (ok, major) nitpick: The Lord of the Rings is NOT a series of three books. It’s ONE book most often published in three VOLUMES. I see this mistake made quite often, so I’m almost willing to let it slide.
    But, I see this mistake made so often that it just aggravates me to no end.

    • SunlessNick

      I’d hoped that Rey and Finn would go on to found a Skywalker Order to replace the Jedi Order.

    • A Perspiring Writer

      I realize it’s probably unfounded, but the near total radio silence I’m getting on this comment makes me think that I said something wrong.

      • Bellis

        I don’t think you said anything wrong, in fact I agree mostly.
        Without knowing if it fits the book, I kind of like The Priory of the Orange Tree as a title, it seems interesting to me (although admittedly I didn’t know what a priory is until now). If the book has a cosy, character driven rural feel (which is my subjective association with the title), then all is well. But tastes vary and it is true that the title is vague rather than gripping.

        I interpreted the end of Rise of Skywalker in the same way, but I still don’t feel like it’s a good title for the movie. It did feel like Rey’s statement was more a justification for the title than anything. I guess they had to have the title long before the plot was developed?
        I’m also a big fan of chosing one’s name so Rey calling herself Skywalker was an amazing moment to me

  3. silverware

    I’m sooo bad at naming things! My best title is Liquid Love, which is a fantasy romance involving love potions. But i checked it online only today, and there’s already a book with this title. Sigh.

    • Julia M.

      Your book sounds interesting. How about Love in a Bottle?

      • Silverware

        Thanks! I’ll take it to consideration.

    • Runewritten

      A lot of your decision is going to rely on the tone of the story, but you could do “Love Drunk Deeply.”
      If there’s a lot of hijinks involved, that might sound too stuffy, but ‘drunk’ as a word in general fits both love and drinking quite well.

  4. Bunny

    If I remember right, the actual titular city of bones in City of Bones appears in only one scene (maybe two) and is pretty inconsequential to the story. It’s been a loooong time since I read that book, so I don’t remember much about it, but I do recall thinking “Really? That’s it? Why did they name the book after this place?”

    One of my personal favorite titles is The Hate U Give because of how evocative of the story it is, the significance of the acronym, and the feeling of an incomplete statement it gets across, like the podcast discussed. It’s got an impressive amount of layers for such a short title!

  5. mysterious ghost

    I actually got the feeling that they had Rey call herself Rey Skywalker at the end of the movie solely to justify the title. I’m probably wrong, but that’s how it felt.

  6. SunlessNick

    I can’t remember where I saw this – it wasn’t a sketch on a comedy show, but some kind of intro snippet on a TV channel – but more than that escapes me. But it had someone asking a friend if she wants to go see The Mummy Returns.

    “What’s it about?”
    “Well, see there’s this mummy.”
    “Uh-huh.”
    “And he returns.”
    “Cool.”

    All said in perfectly neutral tones.

    • Cay Reet

      Well, it is about this mummy and he returns, so that’s a pretty good summary.

  7. joe

    Can I just say, maybe a bit off topic, thank you to the people who invest their time in transcripting the podcasts! As someone who is not a native english speaker, it’s often a great help, being able to read the passages I didn’t get right away from hearing. Your work is very much aprreciated

  8. A.R.

    I’ve been agonizing over titles (books 1 thru 8 plus a series title), so when I saw this I clicked on it ASAP. It’s pretty helpful! I think my current title is pretty good, judging by the podcast and the comments. Pronounceable, check. Connected to the story/main character, check. Catchy? Hopefully. (Would any of you read a YA fantasy called “Moondark”?)

    A few of my favorite titles: Wings of Fire (series title, references a prophecy in the first arc “…the power of wings of fire”. Also all the books in that series have titles that reference the events/characters well), A Series of Unfortunate Events (and each book title relates to an unfortunate event– and is alliterative to boot), and The Quiltmaker’s Gift (which is indeed about a quiltmaker and her gift).

  9. Kenneth Mackay

    Philip K Dick has some memorable and intriguing-sounding titles that refer to events or things in his stories.

    For example, ‘Flow my tears, the Policeman said’, ‘Repent, Harlequin! said the Ticktockman’ and, of course, ‘Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep?’

    I can still recall the titles, though it’s years since I read the books!

    • Loopa

      “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” is by Harlan Ellison. But I agree with you about Philip K. Dick’s titles. “Beyond Lies the Wub” is great. “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” as well.

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy (updated 03/28/20) and our privacy policy for details on how we moderate comments and who receives your information.