Good Action Story Titles In Essays

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Titles are very important to me. For poems and stories, I like it when the title adds something to the piece itself rather than labeling. Labeling is effective for essays and sometimes novels (to a lesser degree), but for short, creative pieces, I like to take advantage of that extra line to do something special to the piece. I’m fond of one-word titles that have multiple meanings (maybe as both a noun and verb, for example). I also like it when a poem is about something without ever telling you what it is, but then the title does.

Titles are fun tools, and I wish more writers used them to their full advantage. So many times it seems like a quick afterthought. If the title doesn’t seem perfect, I’m dissatisfied – including my own titles.

I’ve been trying to figure out what to use as a working title for my new horror manuscript, and I keep drawing blanks. Working titles are often changed in the end anyway, but I’d still like to have a good one. It affects the way I think of the book as I’m writing it. And if it’s really good, it might stick around all the way to the end.

In an attempt to unblock my title impasse, I decided to make a list of all of my favorite book titles. It hasn’t helped yet, but it sure was fun. =) Here they are, in no particular order, with a few notes of my own:

1. The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Carrie Ryan
This title is actually why I first picked up the book.

2. Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury
This is a phrase from Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “By the pricking of my thumbs / Something wicked this way comes.”

3. *Where the Sea Breaks Its Back, Corey Ford

4. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë

5. ‘Salem’s Lot, Stephen King
Originally titled Second Coming, but later changed to Jerusalem’s Lot, and finally shortened to its final version to avoid sounding “too religious.”

6. *Exactly Where They’d Fall, Laura Rae Amos
This book isn’t actually out yet, but I had to include it. Even if I wasn’t online friends with the author, I would buy it for its title alone.

7. The October Country, Ray Bradbury

8. Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
This is a phrase from Robert Burns’s poem “To a Mouse,” which reads: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley.” (The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry.)

9. *House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski

10. Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys
The Sargasso Sea is a region in the middle of the North Atlantic where several major ocean currents deposit their debris. Sargassum is a type of floating seaweed. This is a literary “prequel” to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

11. The Dead-Tossed Waves, Carrie Ryan
What can I say? She’s good at titles.

12. *No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy

13. It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It, Robert Fulghum
The author of the collection, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, which was also a clever title until everyone beat it to death.

14. Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? Lorrie Moore

15. *Full Dark, No Stars, Stephen King

16. The Lives of the Heart, Jane Hirshfield

17. The Art of Drowning, Billy Collins

18. *Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul, Douglas Adams

19. A Ring of Endless Light, Madeleine L’Engle

20. The Radiance of Pigs, Stan Rice
Random fact: Stan Rice (deceased) was Anne Rice’s husband.

21. Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov
This is a phrase from Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens: “The moon’s an arrant thief, / And her pale fire she snatches from the sun.”

22. *Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris

23. Queen of the Damned, Anne Rice

24. The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon
Auction items are called “lots.” The auctioneer is said to “cry” a lot when he takes bids on it. This novel ends with the crying of lot number 49. But it’s not as dull as it sounds, it ties into the plot, which is not about auctions at all.

25. The Sky is Everywhere, Jandy Nelson
I must say, this book is even more beautiful than the title – a rare find.

*Denotes books I haven’t read yet.

As you can see, for novels and book-length works I tend to lean toward long, phrasal, and poetic titles. They just really grab my attention and then stick with me. Not to mention that they whisper, “The writing inside is just as good.”

I want a title like that for my new WIP (work in progress). Maybe you can help me get new ideas. What are some of your favorite book titles?

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Titles of individual short stories and poems go in quotation marks. The titles of short story and poetry collections should be italicized. For example, “The Intruder,” a short story by Andre Dubus appears in his collection, Dancing After Hours.

This can get a little tricky when authors title their collection after a story within that collection. Junot Diaz’s collection of stories Drown includes a story titled “Drown.” In this case, the use of italics or quotation marks can help the reader understand what’s being referenced—the entire book or the individual story.

This usage remains true even when titles appear within quotations. Let’s say you write a poem about a poem and you title it this way:

Lines after Reading “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Now, you need to enclose the entire title of the poem within quotations when you mention this poem in a cover letter. The title that appears within the title, then, should be enclosed in single quotation marks:

“Lines after Reading ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’”

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