Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Before we get started, here’s a little item from my neck of the woods. For the last couple decades I’ve been living, working and writing in Ephrata, Pennsylvania. That’s E-P-H-R-A-T-A, the above sign to the contrary. The above got commissioned, manufactured, okay’d and installed without anybody noticing the spelling error. Your tax dollars at work.
PennDOT says it’ll take about $800-$1200 and a couple of months to fix the sign. In the meantime, we all get to live in the Phart Capital of the Amish Country. Like dodging horse hockey on the roads isn’t bad enough. We’ve got Bird in Hand, Intercourse, and now Epharta. Can’t wait to see the T-shirts.
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Over on my favorite writing forum they’re having a discussion on words everybody’s sick of seeing in book titles. Let’s face it, every genre has its clichés, but sometimes they get out of hand. Advertising them in the title doesn’t help us readers.
Titles of bestsellers follow whatever’s currently big. Next time you’re at the K-Mart, note the number of titles suggestive of 50 Shades of Grey. We’ve got Shades of, Hues of, Tints of, and all the colors of the rainbow. Before 50 Shades got publishers exploring the color wheel, we had The Da Vinci Code and its offspring: Code, Prophesy, Enigma, Templar, Guessing Game. Nicholas Sparks spawned a rash of simple The Noun titles: The Notebook, The Pigsticker, The Colostomy Bag. (Some of the following titles may be made up. You’ve been warned.)
If you’re writing thrillers, you can’t go wrong with a person or place name in your title. The Eiger Sanction. The Ostermann Weekend. The Bourne Identity. The London Derrière. If you add “search” or “hunt” in your titles, you’re Tom Clancy. Better check before you do that; he may have that copyrighted.
Science fiction and fantasy have soooooo many cliche words to pick from. Dragon. Elf. Sword. Quest. Wizard. Witch. Warrior. Mage. And all of them have female relatives for sequel purposes. The Magician’s Daughter. The Wizard’s Wife. The Dragon’s Sister-in-Law. You also get to have fun making up unpronounceable names. The Spawn of Cthulu. Swords of K’ththth. The Warrior-Mage of Epharta. (I knew that sign would come in handy!)
Horror likes simple titles, usually “the” followed by a verb and/or a noun. The Horror. The Haunting. The Killing. Ghostfacers, Hell Hazers and Mannequin III: The Reckoning (thank you, Supernatural!) Words like blood, horror, terror, spirit, wraith, and any monster name (vampire, ogre, Nessie) will work for a horror title. Here’s a Stephen King short list: The Stand, The Dead Zone, The Tommyknockers, The Shining, The Mist. Yeah, I’d say he’s done okay.
And then there’s romance. If any one genre can beat out SF/F for overused words in their titles, it’s romance. I think Harlequin has a title-generating computer program that spits out nothing but permutations of Billionaire, Virgin, Secret and Baby. (I’m still waiting to read Her Virgin Billionaire. Or The Virgin’s Secret Baby. Hey! The second coming just happened! Maybe Dan Brown can write that one. The Virgin’s Baby Code?) Back in the ‘70s we had a rash of Sweet Savage Love, Love’s Tender Fury, and all sorts of Savage, Untamed, Tempestuous, Unbridled, Unhousebroken Love. Those were the days.
Note to horror fans: romance has co-oped vampires, werewolves, and even zombies as well as the one-word title, so you’d probably better read the opening pages to make sure you’re getting what you want. Twilight has vampires in it, but it’s not horror, and the title’s not going to help you. (A lot of people think it was horrible, but that isn’t the same thing.)
With a little practice you should be able to figure out which genre any given book is by its title. Shades of Austrian Silver is mainstream would-be erotica, especially if the cover shows a single item of clothing. The Austrian Code is also mainstream, possibly a thriller. Hunt for the Austrian Code is a Tom Clancy technothriller. Quest for the Swordmaster is fantasy. The Swordmaster’s Virgin Daughter is also fantasy, but The Billionaire Swordmaster’s Virgin is romance. The Blood Sword is fantasy, The Blood Sword of G’narish is science fiction, and The Bloody Dagger is horror. The Virgin’s Horrible Austrian Sword could be anything. Got it now?
I’m going to make a file of all the overused title words from various genres. Then, if I ever get hit by writer’s block, I’ll pull it out, put ‘em in columns, add “the” or “of the” or “for the” and play mix and match. One of those titles is bound to spark a plot.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go write Shades of the Billionaire Templar’s Enigmatic Virgin Vampire Code.