Tuesday, January 5, 2010

One-word titles

Back in the eighties, I enjoyed the crisp one-word titles of Dean Koontz's books. Whispers. Watchers. Midnight.

Intriguing. Compelling. Terse. And reflecting the content of the books too. I find that to be true of many of his current books as well.

Amanda Quick did this for romance novels as well. I’d gotten tired of flowery titles like “The Pirate’s Passion” and “The Duke’s Desire” (even those do convey information about the time period and the characters), so it was a refreshing change to see titles like Mischief, Mystique and Rendezvous.

Not only are those to-the-point while still being romantic, they remind me of the names of perfumes. Always a good thing. The same goes for novels like Shirley Conran’s Lace.

On the other hand, I couldn’t think of any fantasy novels with one-word titles that I found really memorable. Erewhon, maybe, but that’s because it’s an anagram of nowhere. A one-word title would ideally convey the genre, but that’s difficult to do with a proper noun - when I first picked up Kara Dalkey's Goa, I thought it was a historical novel set in the Indian city.

Even New Crobuzon isn’t as evocative as Perdido Street Station. That hints at something lost, while simultaneously showing the industrialized nature of the setting.

Are there any one-word titles you especially like, of fantasy novels or otherwise?


Bekah said...

That is an interesting question. I've thought about it and even consulted my bookshelf. The only one I have come up with is the beloved Socks from by childhood by Beverly Cleary.

writtenwyrdd said...

I can't think of any one-word titles in the spec fic realm that grabbed me. Perhaps the nature of speculative fiction almost requires that you have a bit of slant in the title, information in it that gives the potential purchaser an idea of what the book is about just to get them to pick teh book up?

I was actually able to visit a brick and mortar store yesterday (not a common occurrence, as it's 120 miles away from my small town) and spent a half hour wandering about looking at random titles to see what looked interesting. Because you sure couldn't spend hours browsing all of them!

And your post reminds me that there were some single word titles...and I didn't pick up any of those, so far as I can reall, as they didn't seem interesting.

Anonymous said...

Not just fantasy, but here are some:


And probably my favorite one word title: Bunnicula

Addis said...

Judith Tarr's Alamut is a fantasy set in the Medieval Middle East. I adore it and reread now and again.

Some non fantasy titles on my shelf:

Filth - Irvine Welsh
Glyph - Percival Everett
Giant - Edna Ferber
Nausea - Sartre
Candide - Voltaire
PopCo - Scarlett Thomas

lol @ Bunnicula. I can't help but think of Dracula meets Watership Down.

Marian Perera said...

Tasha, are those Agatha Christie's Nemesis and Curtain?

I like those titles, especially Curtain, since that was Poirot's final case.

Marian Perera said...

Bekah - I have to take that back, since I did find three speculative fiction books in my collection with single-word titles that I like.

1. Deathworld, by Harry Harrison. Technically, it's Deathworld 1 (the first in a series), but the word alone could still make me pick up the book.

2. Dreamsnake, by Vonda N. McIntyre.

3. Witchwood, by A. R. Lloyd.

None of those are words you'd find in a dictionary (I originally typed that as "fictionary" - Freudian slip?). But they're still single-word titles.

Marian Perera said...

Addis : I keep an eye out for speculative fiction set in the Middle East. Thanks for the recommendation!

Marian Perera said...

Writtenwyrdd - Single-word titles do seem more common in romance, horror and thrillers than in speculative fiction, for the reason you mentioned.

Anonymous said...


Heh heh. Not exactly Watership Down-ish (love that book, btw). Bunnicula is about a cat that suspects the new pet bunny is a vampire.


Yes. Those are from Christie. I think Curtain is very nice symbolic title for Poriot's last hurrah.

Nadreck said...

I generally only have a dislike for several kinds of one-word titles: anything with an exclamation mark at the end; and any gerunds. This latter was because of the flood of crappy horror products with gerund titles that came after The Shining. Google "gerund titles" and you'll see what I mean.

P.S. Did you get my e-mail?

Polenth said...

I don't usually like one word titles, unless it's a made-up word. Real words lack distinctiveness.

It's a bit more apparent in the short story world, when the one word is often something like 'Time' or 'Love'. It doesn't encourage me to look at the story.

Octavia said...

"Perfume" by Patrick Suskind, "Grimus" or "Fury" by Salman Rushdie, "Neverwhere" or "Coraline" by Neil Gaiman, "Dune" by Frank Herbert, "Gormenghast" by Mervyn Peake, "Neuromancer" by William Gibson, "Chrysalids" and "Chocky" by John Wyndham, "Faust" by Goethe, "We" by Yevgeny Zamyatin, "Love" by Angela Carter, "Motherstone" by Maurice Gee, "Genesis" by Bernard Beckett... there are heaps. And I love the title "Borderliners" by Peter Hoeg.

The worst titles are, I think, mostly found in creative non-fiction: "Blah Blah Blah: The X That Changed The World".

Unknown said...

Interesting thoughts, along with much of your, which I've thoroughly enjoyed reading. I've learned a lot. (much of which is about publishing scams, aka PA?)
One I thoroughly enjoyed reading recently is Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. I feel that the title conveys some of the themes of the book rather well, mist is one, as well as being an unfamiliar and intriguing concept, which the book is filled with.
Another series that I really love is the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, which has all one word titles, Eragon, Eldest, and Brisingr. These all convey some the content well, but not about them specifically, but in relation to each other.
I dunno really.

Marian Perera said...

Neutral Fire - Oh yes, Mistborn is a good example.

Also, while China Mieville's Un Lun Dun is three words, it could be combined into one with the same meaning - UnLondon and that would still hint at the genre.

Eragon's title was also a shrewd marketing decision. I've read that many people picked it up because they mistook it for "Aragorn" from The Lord of the Rings. Whether that's the case or not, it still suggests dragons and by association, fantasy.

Glad you've enjoyed my posts. :) Unfortunately there are many more publishing scams besides PA, but PA is, IMO, the most inventive. They never fail to come up with new ways to bleed writers.

Marian Perera said...

Octavia - I'm glad I started this topic, because I'm being reminded of so many good one-word titles that suggest SF. Neuromancer is a perfect example of that.

I hadn't heard of Motherstone before you mentioned it, but that's another title which would intrigue me enough to pick up the book.

Polenth - There are short stories with single-word titles like "Time" and "Love"?

I'm not sure that would even work for a flash fiction where the title was included in the word count. :|

Octavia said...

I always plug "Motherstone" when i get the chance. :) It's the third in a trilogy of children's books by Maurice Gee: "The Halfmen of O", "Priests of Ferris" and "Motherstone" - they're thin volumes, but quite interesting.

Mary Witzl said...

You've already mentioned Neuromancer. Doctorow's Ragtime is another perfect one-word title.

One-word titles are powerful because you have to put a lot into that one word, like you're crafting a poem. And yet, until I'd read your post I hadn't given this much thought at all, so thank you for that.

Catalin Alexandru said...


I keep trying to remember the title of this fantasy novel I read six or seven years ago, something along the lines of Sacrament (not the Clive Barker one), in any case a one-word title.

The few things I remember about it are that it was the author's first book (I somehow managed to also remember the fact that the author was a former software developer), and the protagonist was a drunk who gets conscripted into searching for the titular artifact and runs afoul of a race of reptilian-like beings that can shoot fireballs out of their hands. Also, something about red gems or orbs... The author had a penchant for the word flagon, he must have used close to fifty times throughout the book.

I know, this is probably vague and pointless, but it's nagging at me and I had to give it a shot.