CHOOSING THE PERFECT TITLE: PART 1
A glance at the venerated New York Times Bestseller List reflects whatever might pass for current “trends” in titling. Alliterative, (Gone Girl, Winter of the World) lyrical (The Light Between Oceans), to-the-point (A Wanted Man), enigmatic (The Casual Vacancy), whimsical (This Book is Full Of Spiders), and generic (Phantom, Down To You). Looking over these, I’m given to wondering if anyone has ever agonized -as I have- over the perfect title for their work.
It seems like a lot of factors to consider. Too pedestrian and it may not stand out as interesting. Too wordy might seem pretentious. A little descriptive might give away plot details. Too simple might give the impression that the author has little imagination. A perfect happy medium then, would hint at the story, offer a poetic hint and be easy to remember. Right? One would think.
If I’m honest, I have to admit that I lean toward the pretentious, or at least the imaginative. My novel PROGENY has at its core, a horror story about a ferocious family of sasquatches. If asked what it’s about, I would be tempted to stress its theme of father/son relationships and the delicate dynamics thereof–and I’d pretty much sound like a jackass. The title makes that point–enigmatically and via a nifty vocab word that makes me sound smart. Now I have to rely on the cover art and word of mouth to convey that it has monsters in it. But I stand by that title. There are enough books and films with the word bigfoot in the title; more than one with that word alone as its title, in fact. Now if only there weren’t a couple of dozen other books called PROGENY.
Still, mine is the only book called PROGENY that features rampaging bigfoots!
Some of you horror fans may have seen a film called Pumpkinhead. Back when that film was first completed, it fell into a sort of limbo. The distributing studio switched heads and may well have gone the direct-to-video route, thanks to the new suit, who wanted to re-title it Vengeance: The Demon, and dump it into video stores. Clearly, that title denotes little imagination and his decision shows no faith in its theatrical potential. Not sure what happened next; but obviously at some point, this guy was no longer in the picture. Pumpkinhead got its original title back and had a nice theatrical run. However, can I honestly say I would have been less interested in seeing it under the Vengeance title? No. I’d have probably seen it anyway. But I’m strange–what of the average filmgoer?
So there’s another facet to my dilemma. How do I know whether my quirky sense of what sounds cool will ring to potential readers?
I’ve submitted scripts to filmmakers who have told me they liked everything but the title. I’ve had the same script dismissed by someone different-who then wanted to do something else with the title! I guess William Goldberg was right: nobody knows anything.
MORE TO COME