Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Writing 101: Mismatched Titles

I'm all for being artistic, and I personally consider myself a "creative type." I like irony and I appreciate authors who want to create a title that will instantly grab readers. But when you knowingly give your book a title that directly contradicts the content of the book, readers are going to get aggravated with you. Some may even give up on you. When it comes to titling your book, literal really is better...and mismatched titles really aren't a good idea.

By Any Other Name...

Don't believe me? Fine, then don't believe me. Believe Shakespeare, truly one of the most prolific, famous and enduring storytellers in human history. Think about the names of his most famous works. Romeo & Juliet, Henry V, MacBeth, The Taming of the Shrew. Suppose that Romeo & Juliet had been about an old church named St. Pat's instead. It wouldn't make much sense, would it? You'd be pretty put-out if you went to the theater expecting to learn about Romeo and Juliet, only to find they aren't in the story at all -- wouldn't you? 

The title is the first impression, and you know what people say about first impressions. Don't start out greeting your readers with deception, not for irony's sake or for any other reason. Mislabeling your book, either to be funny or to be attention-getting, is deliberately misleading. I know because I've been incredibly frustrated with a book I've been reading (or not reading, as the case may be) that I consider to be mistitled. 

The title would lead the reader to believe that someone needs to be found. So I'm ready to join the investigation. I've got my detective hat on and my clue notebook out, and I'm ready to hunt this character down all through the pages of the novel. Imagine my dismay when said character is found in Chapter 1 of the book. The remainder of the story is (so far) taking place in a single setting and it's all conversation. My inner detective is stuck in a living room, and there is no more mystery to solve. Under most circumstances, I'd close that book for ever.  

Mismatched titles aren't cute and they aren't funny and they're not cool and ironic. They're misleading, and the vast majority of readers probably won't like that. Think about all your favorite titles. Fan of Divergent, The Hunger Games, Twilight? All those titles match the content of the book. So don't listen to me. Look back at all the most successful, memorable and popular stories through history...and think about their titles.

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