. This week I went to see two authors give a chat in a bookshop (Mark Billingham and Christopher Brookmyre – very funny, and very good authors too). These events are always good. I do like knowing that other authors work the same way I do (half the story being created whilst doing other things, for example) and it’s fascinating to see how other authors work, and what are the good and bad sides of being adapted for television, for example.
And they always mention something I haven’t thought about before. This time it was about titles – hardly surprising, as these two have very good titles to their books.
I’m not very good at titles. I tend to call my stories things like ‘The Bridge’ or ‘The Lake’ which doesn’t actually tell you much about the stories. But if I try to create a title that actually gives a hint of what happens, I’ll end up with something like ‘The Gruesome and Horrific …Horror By The Bridge! With a Twist!’.
They talked about how titles give a flavour of the mood of the book – humorous, or dark, or thrilling. They also talked about getting trapped into titles – it’s all very well starting with A is for Alibi, but what is Z going to be?
A title like Jane Eyre pretty much tells you this is a story about a woman called Jane Eyre – but Wuthering Heights gives an immediate sense not of people, but of a wild and bleak place.
It also helps if titles catch the eye. If a title includes the words ‘dark’, ‘mysterious’, ‘gruesome’ ‘ghost’ or the name of a historical or literary person, I am pretty much guaranteed to pick it up and see what it’s about – and that’s the first hook. (In fact, if a book was called ‘The Dark, Gruesome History of Queen Victora’s and Sherlock Holmes’s Mysterious Cabinet of Ghosts’ I’d grab it, run to the counter and have it home and reading at top speed).
Nonsense titles work too – ‘The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag’ caught my eye – and I read it solely because of that title (as it turns out, it was wonderful. And the title did have a reason, in the end).
I really have to work on my titles. All those plain, factual titles might work for plain, factual books, but I’m writing ghost stories. I really have to find a way to get the atmosphere of the tale into the title itself.