Now, Miss Jan, “The Ontogeny of Recapitulation”? Methinks someone has been reading the Theology boards!
As everyone has said, your class is so wonderful. I know I will suffer withdrawal. Enjoy your break.
I agree that titles are incredibly important and I usually agonize over them, although sometimes they come in a flash. I end up getting comments on 60-70% of them, but I think lots of folks get comments on their titles.
As I read all of this, I was reminded of my search for a title for my novel last year for the Operation First Novel at Christian Writers Guild. The first draft was done and I was editing and I still didn’t have a title AND the deadline for submission was a week or so away. Interestingly enough, I thought I already had the title for the sequel! Anyway, God gave me the title in a dream. Every once in a while I will have a dream that makes we wonder whether it is a message from God. I will usually pray for the discernment to know whether it is such a dream. It almost always isn’t. But if it is, I then pray for the interpretation. So, I had this dream—which had nothing to do with the book—not the characters, not the setting, not the action. But it was one of those dreams. And as I started to pray, I realized that this one didn’t need interpretation. Rather, in the dream, I had said something like “What a persistent pursuit!” about some people who were hounding me. And the Lord just showed me that that was basis for my title. At first I used “The Persistent Pursuit.” But I changed it for submission to “A Persistent Pursuit.” Now that I am ready to shop for an agent or publisher, I am thinking about just going with “Persistent Pursuit.” If anyone has the time I would love to hear which you like better.
Now, for your questions. There are so many great book titles. The first two that occurred to me were Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi and I Buried My Hear at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown.
The first book is about the Manson family murders and the title comes from the Beatles song of the same name. The Manson family wrote the misspelled “Healter Skealter” on the refrigerator in the victims’ blood at the LaBianca home. “Helter Skelter” was a key term for the Manson family, which whey interpreted to mean a coming race war. The title captures so much of the insanity of the murders, the family, and the times.
The second book is about the history of the American Indians of the West and their wars with the American government and relocation to reservations. The title comes from a line in Stephen Vincent Benet’s poem “American Names.” It captures the poignancy of the last chapter about the Wounded Knee Massacre, which itself serves as a poignant capstone to the entire book.
There are also some authors that I think of as having many good titles. I love how Agatha Christie mixed her “Mystery of” and “Murder Of” titles with titles based on nursery rhymes: One, Two, Buckle My Shoe; Ten Little Indians; Five Little Pigs; A Pocket Full of Rye; Hickory Dickory Dock. She also used titles with literary, and mythological references like The Hound of Death; Evil Under the Sun; The Labors of Hercules (and the stories therein); Taken at the Flood, The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side; By the Pricking of My Thumbs; The Postern of Fate. Some authors have many great titles (although I don’t know whether they controlled their titles or whether editors were involved like they are now), for example, Earnest Hemingway and Thornton Wilder.
As for my Challenge titles, I don’t think I have three favorites—I haven’t written enough of them yet. But my very favorite is Once Upon a Time in a Litter Box
. I wanted a title that did not give away the premise until it was safe to give it away, which did not have to be at the very end—it could be earlier. It also contains a nice play on words once you find out who all the characters are.
To pick up on another of your points, namely long titles, I will mention The Other Reason for the Reason for the Reason for the Season—And How We Ought to Respond
. How’s that???!!!
And I guess for my third, I’ll mention one that is probably in my second tier and that someone mentioned attracted them to the article. It’s The Devil’s Dance
. I probably could have left the “the” off this one. This one just emphasized the bad guy in the piece without giving away the end or the unique mode of telling the story.
One last comment. Jan, you mentioned your suspicion about punctuation. At the National legal Foundation, when we write fundraising letters, we always include ellipses, exclamation points, parentheses, etc. in the “teaser” on the outside envelope because we believe (based on studies) that this helps people read the teaser and want to open the envelop. Obviously, if they throw the envelop away unopened, we don’t get a donation.