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table 1.

Strategies for creating a working title str ategy Personal Name definition For a biography or character-driven novel, the subject’s name—surname only, if famous enough—with or without a subtitle signaling the author’s point of view A place central to the text, or the site of its climactic action, perhaps with a descriptor to distinguish the present work Common nouns that name the central subject or conceit A well-chosen detail from the text, often a concrete noun with symbolic resonance Contrasting emblems that evoke a paradox central to the text A metaphor that recurs explicitly in the text A metaphor that does not recur explicitly in the text but that conveys the author’s point of view An informal phrase used in the text that takes on deeper meaning when elevated to the status of a title A play on words that aptly crystallizes the author’s thesis A surprising combination of descriptor and noun that conveys the text’s main concept A title that states the opposite of what the book is actually about A joke that conveys the author’s point of view A phrase from the Bible or other foundational text, implying a comparison, often ironically, with the text at hand examples Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself Ulysses S. Grant: The Unlikely Hero Borges: A Life Zappa

Place Name

Gorky Park Animal Farm The Stones of Florence Imperial San Francisco Guns, Germs, and Steel Illness as Metaphor The Moviegoer The Bell Jar



Paired Emblems Explicit Metaphor Implicit Metaphor

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

The Grapes of Wrath House of Sand and Fog Running with Scissors The Horseman on the Roof

Double-Edged Colloquialism

The Night in Question The Big Sleepa


The Power of Babel

High Concept

Unforgivable Blackness Gravity’s Rainbow Pale Fire The Age of Innocence Pragueb Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It At Play in the Fields of the Lord Tender Is the Night (continued)




table 1 (continued) str ategy Full Sentence definition A title containing a main verb, usually in present tense, that describes the main action of a narrative A phrase or clause cut short, as if the author were interrupted in mid-thought, that obliquely summons the emotional tenor of the text A phrase with the dramatic flair of formal speech that serves, in essence, as the text’s opening phrase An oft-used title formula applied to an unlikely subject A stock formula taken from a different genre than the text’s own examples The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love Cotton Comes to Harlem To the Lighthouse Into Thin Air All the Pretty Horses

Sentence Fragment

Oratorial Flourish

Speak, Memory I Know This Much Is True

Stock Formula Genre Formula

A Natural History of the Senses A Brief History of Time Kitchen Confidential

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-postCommunist 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 exhaustive, 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 brainstorming 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.

chapter three