Saturday, January 31, 2015

What's In a Title?

What’s In a Title?


I’m fascinated by book titles, and the stories behind how authors come up with them. Some titles appear to be ironic—The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Some are poetically descriptive—The Winter Journal, Paul Auster. Some explanatory—The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair, Joel Dicker. Some obscurely thematic—The Fourth Rule.

While doing research about secrets in preparation for writing The Fourth Rule, I stumbled across a quote that led me to think of the title. I was scanning through the index to Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and reading entries that related to secrets, when I found the quote “Tell No Secrets”, attributed to King Charles I as the fourth of his twelve personal rules to live by. Tell no secrets is exactly the challenge my hero faces when the CIA pressures him to reveal what happened to his older brother after he returned from Vietnam and disappeared twenty-two years ago.

While “tell no secrets” would have been a good title, it didn’t quite convey the mystery I wanted for my suspense novel. In the next beat, though, when I recognized the phrase “the fourth rule” was as relevant, simple and strong, but its meaning wasn’t as immediately explicit, I had my title.

What are your favorite book titles? Why?

Douglass Seaver, author
The Fourth Rule 


Sharon Arthur Moore said...

Great post, Doug, for challenging us to examine our own and others' titles! For whatever reason, my titles pop into my head unbidden. In fact, I have several dozens of them I will never live long enough to write! But your search process fascinated me. If a future book's title eludes me, I'll go on a search as you did.

John Addiego said...

The Fourth Rule is a great title for the novel you describe! I've often agonized over titles and tried to figure out why certain ones are so perfect. Some of my favorites: Peace Like a River; The Sun Also Rises; Mother Night; The Patron Saint of Liars.

Beryl Reichenberg said...

The right title is as important as the story. It has to convey so much in so few words. Beryl

Amy Bennett said...

I love reading about how authors come up with titles. Margaret Mitchell had considered "Tomorrow is Another Day" as the title for "Gone With the Wind" (she'd also originally had considered Pansy as Scarlet O'Hara's name!) and it's amazing how much more powerful "Gone With the Wind" is!

Carolyn Niethammer said...

I'm awful at titles. As a journalism student decades ago we had to take copyediting and that involved writing headlines for the articles in the college paper. I was no good at it and the editor kept rejecting my headlines until I had a headache. I am so admiring of people who can just whip them out.

Doug Seaver said...

Thanks for comments and the accolades for The Fourth Rule title everybody.

Amy, thanks for the insight into the Gone With The Wind title. Wow!