Titles fascinating me, partly because I find them extremely challenging to write—either a title comes to me in a shot of inspiration, or no amount of wringing the ol’ grey-matter brings one—but also because they come in so many forms, from the mundane to the bizarre.
Colum Paget, a member of my writing group, Hopefull Monsters **subliminal message*go read his fiction*subliminal message** elegantly sums up story titles with what I’ll call the “C. J. Paget Title Classification Scheme” (What science nerd doesn’t love a good classification scheme!) Colum breaks titles into two main types:
Type 1. These titles state exactly what the story contains. Sometimes they are direct—Snakes on a Plane would be the epitome of a direct Type 1 title, but so would “A Walk in the Sun”, “The Lottery”, and Ringworld—but other times they contain words that send well-established “signals” to the reader about the type of story that follows. For example, many vampire stories have “blood” in the title. If you’re interested, Tor.com published an interesting article about common words in novel titles; you can you read it here.
Type 2. Colum calls these “WTF Titles”. These titles rarely give a clear signal about a story, but are so comical, lyrical or bizarre that they catch a reader’s attention. Titles like “Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones”, “‘Repent Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman”, and “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” are good examples. This type of title seemed to gain popularity with the New Wave writers of the 1960s. They also seem more common in short fiction than in long.
Personally I think I favor Type 2 titles, as my publication list might suggest. I’m not sure why, but these titles simply appeal to me. Perhaps it’s because I grew up reading the New Wave writers of the 1960s, and I couldn’t resist reading a book called Stars in my Pocket Like Grains of Sand or Left Hand of Darkness or a short story called “The Doors of his Face, the Lamps of His Mouth” or “I have No Mouth, and I Must Scream”. Now, if only I could consistently come up with great titles like these…