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Good Story Titles

Article By: Lacy Cornwall

I love me some good titles. But what constitutes a good title? Here's my 2-cents, as well as some titles I'm considering.

Submitted:Jan 12, 2013    Reads: 48    Comments: 6    Likes: 5   

The greatest author of titles, hands down, is Phillip K. Dick.

I'll say that again.

The greatest author of titles, hands down, is Phillip K. Dick.

That's not to say that his novels are good (even though they are excellent), that's just to say that as inventive, creative, and exciting his stories are... The titles of the stories are just as good.

Titles are important to a writer, or they should be. I've never understood why an author would sweat over a story for weeks, months, or even years, just to slap some bland title like "The Decision" on it. (I don't know of a novel with this title, but it was as boring and uninteresting a title as I could think up on the spur of the moment.) As great as his novel may be, what would entice me to read a story called "The Decision"?
He slept thought the choosing-the-title process. Maybe he slept through some of the chapters, too.

Stephen King is probably the most uneven writer I can think of off the top of my head. His work can range anywhere from gripping to pointless. One of his best books, The Stand, has one of the worst titles I can imagine. Yes, it's pertinent to the story, but gee whiz, gosh durn, what a boring title!

So back to Phillip K. Dick.

Two very good movies were made from two of his best books: Bladerunner and Total Recall. But don't look for those titles on the bookshelf. The original title of Total Recall was We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. Now that's a title that makes you want to read the book! Even better (the best title ever, IMHO) was the title for Bladerunner, which is based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Now, I can understand why they changed the title, since that wouldn't exactly fit on a movie marquee, but Bladerunner is only a so-so title for an excellent movie.

Gone With the Wind is an excellent title. So is Something Wicked This Way Comes. And The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.

The Demon With the Glass Hand
To Kill a Mockingbird
Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea
If You Can't Live Without Me, Why Aren't You Dead Yet?

Those make you want to read the book.

I've had some bad titles in my work, too. Some of them were my fault, others weren't. When I wrote articles, the title was often up to the magazine editor. Now most editors aren't writers because they're not particularly talented at writing on their own. Otherwise, they'd write the articles themselves.

I hate one-word titles, or even worse generic titles, and I won't use them on my work. I'm not saying that my titles are excellent, but I like to think I at least tried for creative. I have two that I'm particularly proud of: The House With the Frowning Fencepost and You Can't Dry Your Eyes On a Tissue of Lies. I can't take credit for that last one, though. A fellow writer, known on the net as Big Kahuna, came up with it, based on yet another title, You Can't Blow Your Nose On a Tissue of Lies. When Kahuna said that the title was up for grabs, I grabbed it!

Let me give you the story of how I came up with the other one. The House With the Frowning Fencepost came to me when I was in collge. Just off the Louisiana State University campus was a small burger place called Round The Corner. It's long since gone, but back then, it had some elevated sections inside the dining room. They put a wooden fence up to keep people from falling over, and every fencepost was painted like a turn-of-the-century man with waxed hair and mustache, and they were all smiling... except for one fencepost. For some reason, the artist painted a frown on that one. I asked the waitress, the manager, and even the owner why that one fencepost was frowning, and none of them could tell me. So the mystery sounded like it would be a good title for an old Perry Mason story. The Case of the Frowning Fencepost. It stuck with me over the years, and when I wrote a story and needed a metaphor for an unhappy household, that fit perfectly. Never mind that it took me almost twenty years to come up with a story to match it, I still think it's the best title I ever came up with on my own.

Authors of prose don't think much about their titles these days. Song writers and poets put a lot of thought into theirs, but not we who write short stories and novels. I think that's a mistake, so I work hard on the titles too. I feel that it helps. At least it masks some of my shortcomings as a writer. :)

I often write down what I think is a good title with the intention of writing a story to go with it. Here are some I've written down to consider:

  • The Fire From God's Eye
  • Letting Go of Grandpa Joe
  • The World Is Full of Unpublished Authors
  • Why I'm All About Billy
  • Lesser Bones
  • The Bimbo Invasion of Earth
  • I Said I Didn't Love You and I Lied
  • When The Confederate Army Comes To Burn The Crops, Tell Them I Ate The Slaves

Those I can work with, and I just might. If any of those titles catch your eye, please comment below and let me know which one(s). I'd really like to know.

Please and Thank You.

Peace Out,


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