- The Bible. The richness of the literature makes the Bible a prime source for titles. Many classics and bestsellers derive their titles from a Bible verse or snippets of a verse. Some examples of classics include: Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner, East of Eden by John Steinbeck, and The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. More recent bestsellers with Biblical titles include: O Jerusalem by Laurie R. King, Like a Lamb to Slaughter by Lawrence Block, and A Time to Die by Wilbur Smith.
- Shakespeare. The Bard is often quoted so it’s no coincidence that Shakespeare is a plentiful source of book titles. Some of these include: The Dogs of War by Fredrick Forsyth, Every Inch a King by Harry Turtledove, and The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck.
- A Character. A key character of your novel can be ripe for your title, particularly if you’ve written a dynamic or over-the-top character. You can further divide this category into character’s name or title and name and character’s description.
- Examples of characters’ name or title and name as the title include: Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak.
- Examples of characters’ description only as the novel’s title include: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, and The Virginian by Owen Wister.
- A Clever Phrase. A well-known phrase or part of a well-known saying makes a good title. It can be in the form of a question or a declarative statement.
- Examples of a question: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K. Dick, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? by Horace McCoy, and Quo Vadis? by Henryk Sienkiewicz.
- Examples of a declarative statement: Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, and John Dies at the End by David Wong.
- The Setting, Real or Imaginary. Settings can make great titles especially exotic or fantasy locations that evoke excitement and intrigue. Examples of these include: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, and Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane.
- Tiles for a Series. Titles for a series might have a theme or common word running through them. For example, the Crossfire series by Sylvia Day all end in “You” (Bared to You, Reflected in You, Entwined with You and so on). James Patterson’s Alex Cross novels used titles or lines from nursery rhymes. Examples of these include: Along Came a Spider, Pop Goes the Weasel, and Kiss the Girls.
Novel titles can be derived from a variety of sources. A casual perusal of the fiction section of any bookstore will confirm this. In my previous two blogs I mentioned two: the story’s MacGuffin (defined as a plot device that motivates the characters and advances the story) and a snatch of dialog. There are numerous other categories you can use as the source of your titles. Here are a few: