Aug 27



Have you ever noticed how many successful books have titles that are quotes, or familiar phrases from somewhere else?

A quick browse on Amazon will show you how many titles have a familiar ring to them. If you are trying to choose a title for your own work it is worth looking at lists of famous quotes to see if anything suggests itself.

This thought came to me with ‘The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time’ by Mark Haddon. The more you think about it, the more it shows itself to be a brilliant choice. It is a quote from a Sherlock Holmes novel: ‘Silver Blaze’ by Arthur Conan Doyle.
The first person narrator, a fifteen year old boy ‘with some learning difficulties’ (unspecified) approaches the investigation of the death of his dog as a murder mystery.
He has traits that suggest to the reader that he has Aspergers Syndrome or Autism. He thinks that he is like Holmes, as he is intelligent, methodical and very focused.
It is a memorable book and a title you are not likely to forget!

A miscellany of diverse writers use quotes as titles and The Bible, Shakespeare and The Classics are favourite sources. Examples include:

  • A Time To Kill by John Grisham ( Ecclesiastes 3:3)
  • Behold The Man by Michael Moorcock (the Gospel of John 19:5)
  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck (Genesis 4:16)
  • The Darling Buds Of May by H E Bates (Shakespeare’s Sonnets)
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (The Tempest)
  • Cakes And Ale by William Somerset Maugham (Twelfth Night)
  • Arms And The Man by George Bernard Shaw (The Aeneid, by Virgil)


(Incidentally, did you know that the sea and seafaring are credited with giving us more phrases and expressions than any other occupation?)

Something that makes you do a double-take has got to be an asset. A title like: A Short History Of Tractors in Ukrainian, by Marina Lewycka, who has a fantastic gift for comedy, is going to make you look twice, if only to see if it has got into the wrong section on the shelves!

Repeated use of a rhythm works for Robert Ludlum whose fixed titling pattern is always ‘The’ ‘Proper Noun’ ‘Noun’. He is an incredibly successful thriller writer of 27 novels, many based on conspiracy theories, with titles such as:

  • The Osterman Weekend (my personal favourite)
  • The Bourne Identity
  • The Holcroft Covenant
  • The Materise Circle

There is a resonance about them, a feeling that they are going to be intriguing, involve twists and turns and solving mysteries.

A book title, particularly if it is paired with a well designed cover illustration, can create expectation, suggest genre, period, style and theme.

You have to think about what arrests the eye when a customer is browsing along a shelf? It has to be something which works quickly to intrigue, amuse, startle, in some way interest the reader. Something short and catchy, maybe? A favourite line from within the text itself that just presents itself as ideal? A phrase or single word that appeals to the senses.
A title may be suggested by the action;

  • ‘Finding….’
  • ‘Getting…..’,
  • ‘Leaving….’,

and there is nothing wrong with simply using the name of a main character in some cases, where it seems entirely appropriate. Has anyone not heard of Heidi by Johanna Spyri, or Silas Marner by George Eliot, or Emma by Jane Austen?

Blog 74 (Category:Advice and Information)Tags:Creative Writing,Styles,Imagination,Language


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