What is Wonder Bubble? Nothing. I just thought it was a great title. Often, if I know nothing about a book, it is the title that I’m attracted. I look down a row of spines at the local book store, and the titles are what I respond to immediately – obviously, since I can’t see the cover art!
Coming up with titles is one of my favorite parts of writing. Usually within three chapters I know what the title of my book will be, because by then I know the scope of the book. I’m one of those writers who likes to know the whole plot before I get too far into writing, so the concept and theme of the story become clear pretty early for me. If they don’t, I stop actually writing the book and do some plotting exercises until I work it all out. Because I work this way, titles start appearing fairly early for me.
Sometimes I like the titles of books I read better than I like the books themselves. One of my own books, an adult nonfiction that I coauthored with another writer, has the great title Love and Loathing – of course, the subtitle is really long and not so interesting: Protecting Your Mental Health and Legal Rights When Your Partner Has Borderline Personality Disorder. Yuck. Unless you are in, or know someone who is in that situation, it’s not a very interesting subtitle.
My good friend and mentor, Tim Wynn-Jones, has some great titles for his books. A Thief in the House of Memory is an intriguing title, and a very good book. Same with Some of the Kinder Planets, and Lord of the Fries. Great titles, great books. Gregory Maguire, creator of Wicked, also has some wonderful titles for both his adult and children’s books. The sequel to Wicked is entitled Son of a Witch. A clever play on words. He also wrote Confessions of an Ugly Step-Sister, which I think is a catchy title. He has a series of children’s books that all take place in the little town of Hamlet, Vermont. They are a hoot to read, and come with titles like Six Haunted Hairdos, Five Alien Elves, or Three Rotten Eggs. You get the idea.
My friend Laura Torres’ first novel was titled November Ever After. My darling friend and writing soul sister, Carol Lynch Williams, has a great book titled Christmas in Heaven – and no, it’s not about spending Christmas in the afterlife.
I love the writer Joyce Carol Oates. Her book titled Freaky Green Eyesis favorite with my oldest daughter. I am also very partial to Jacquelyn Woodson and her book titled If You Come Softly. M.T. Anderson has many titles I love like The Game of Sunken Places, Whales on Stilts, and The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation.
The title plays an important role in a book. It has to carry some meaning, be interesting enough to attract the reader if that’s all the reader can see of the book, and in my mind, it has to add something to the story or draw something from the story so that, once the reader has finished the book, the mere mention of the title will summon the entire reading experience from memory. That’s a big job for such a few words.
There are a number of writers who think that adding a long, convoluted subtitle to their title is the way to go. Actually, I think that’s sort of forcing the issue. It’s as if the writer said, “I don’t trust you to get what I mean by this, and you may not want to read the book if I don’t give you something else, so here is all this extra information.” This should serve as a warning about those books: the writer thinks you might be an idiot, so know what you’re getting into before you read this.
I didn’t title Love and Loathing. If I had, the subtitle would be shorter, or gone all together. I prefer the way Christopher Moore does it. For example, his book Fluke has the subtitle Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings. It’s brief, it’s funny, and it’s a play on another title (go look it up).
Titles are red-haired step-children of the writing process for some people. They get the proverbial short shrift, and they are often left to editors to decide. For me, I have to have a title early on. It keeps me focused, reminds me of the theme, and they’re just plain fun to come up with.