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table 1.

Strategies for creating a working title

str ategy definition examples

Personal For a biography or character-driven Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself


Name novel, the subject’s name—surname Ulysses S. Grant: The Unlikely Hero
only, if famous enough—with or Borges: A Life
without a subtitle signaling the Zappa
author’s point of view

Place Name A place central to the text, or the site Gorky Park
of its climactic action, perhaps with a Animal Farm
descriptor to distinguish the present The Stones of Florence
work Imperial San Francisco

Reportage Common nouns that name the central Guns, Germs, and Steel
subject or conceit Illness as Metaphor

Emblem A well-chosen detail from the text, The Moviegoer


often a concrete noun with symbolic The Bell Jar
resonance

Paired Contrasting emblems that evoke a The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Emblems paradox central to the text

Explicit A metaphor that recurs explicitly The Grapes of Wrath


Metaphor in the text House of Sand and Fog

Implicit A metaphor that does not recur Running with Scissors


Metaphor explicitly in the text but that conveys The Horseman on the Roof
the author’s point of view

Double-Edged An informal phrase used in the text The Night in Question


Colloquialism that takes on deeper meaning when The Big Sleepa
elevated to the status of a title

Pun A play on words that aptly crystallizes The Power of Babel


the author’s thesis

High Concept A surprising combination of descriptor Unforgivable Blackness


and noun that conveys the text’s main Gravity’s Rainbow
concept Pale Fire

Irony A title that states the opposite of what The Age of Innocence
the book is actually about Pragueb

Humor A joke that conveys the author’s point Yoga for People Who Can’t Be
of view Bothered to Do It

Quotation A phrase from the Bible or other foun- At Play in the Fields of the Lord
dational text, implying a comparison, Tender Is the Night
often ironically, with the text at hand
(continued)
table 1 (continued)

str ategy definition examples

Full Sentence A title containing a main verb, usually The Mambo Kings Play Songs
in present tense, that describes the main of Love
action of a narrative Cotton Comes to Harlem

Sentence A phrase or clause cut short, as if the To the Lighthouse


Fragment author were interrupted in mid-thought, Into Thin Air
that obliquely summons the emotional All the Pretty Horses
tenor of the text

Oratorial A phrase with the dramatic flair of Speak, Memory


Flourish formal speech that serves, in essence, I Know This Much Is True
as the text’s opening phrase

Stock An oft-used title formula applied to A Natural History of the Senses


Formula an unlikely subject A Brief History of Time

Genre Formula A stock formula taken from a different Kitchen Confidential


genre than the text’s own
a
The Big Sleep uses a droll (and now extinct) colloquial synonym for death to signal the narrator’s
fearless and ironic stance toward murder.
b
Prague follows a season in the lives of American expatriates who hang out in early-post-
Communist Budapest, never getting around to the Czech city, which they imagine to be more
“authentic” than their Hungarian outpost.

title—one that reflects the recently selected main thesis accurately enough
to guide DE and author during the revision process.
consider titling str ategies. Table 1 demonstrates eighteen
strategies for titling a book (or chapter, for that matter). This list is not ex-
haustive, but it does run the gamut from common nouns to proper names,
from emblems to metaphors, from lowbrow puns to higher-brow humor and
irony, from fragments to full sentences, and from colloquialisms to oratorial
flourishes. A DE struggling to hit upon the Perfect Title can try brainstorm-
ing for at least one example of each of these eighteen strategies.
create a short list of candidates. Suppose the DE has come
up with twenty title ideas. The next step is to reduce that list to a half dozen
or fewer to make the final selection manageable for the author and publisher.
Before tossing an idea, however, the DE should see if it would work better
if it were strategized differently. Imagine if The Mambo Kings Play Songs of
Love had been christened Love Songs of the Mambo Kings, or if Cotton Comes to
Harlem were simply Cotton in Harlem—the active verbs are what make these
titles memorable.

64 chapter three