“Last night at the Black Cat Café…”

I remember hearing Ron Carlson quote that line and say that he just loved knowing where a story was set. Titles do this frequently, growing out of setting or place. And I think that setting is always a possibility when you’re searching for a title.

Still, if a title is just the setting and no more, you are missing out on an opportunity to make your title a part of a coherent work of art. Consider two titles from two recent novels:

Golden State, by Michelle Richmond

California, by Edan Lepucki

At first glance, the two titles seem very similar. But Michelle Richmond’s title is doing a little more work. It evokes a certain sense about my home state, a sense that it’s a promised land, a sense that it’s a place where the most extravagant dreams can come true. Edan Lepucki’s title is a little flatter, and it doesn’t hint at the post-apocalyptic story she is telling.

I’m discussing these titles without making judgments about the relative quality of the novels themselves. I have read and admired the work of both authors. My point is that a title that evokes place, and yet also has some thematic resonance, is doing more for your story or novel.

Here are some titles that both evoke a place and also do something more:

“Brokeback Mountain” by Annie Proulx

A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham

The Isle of Youth by Laura Van den Berg

“Rock Springs” by Richard Ford

“Brokeback Mountain” is a story about the strained and tortured lives of two cowboys from Wyoming who discover they are gay while spending a youthful summer in the mountains herding sheep. The story is titled after the place where they had that one summer idyll. I think the title says something about how their relationship will always be broken in some way, will always be stunted, will never become a whole.

When you’re looking for a title, thinking of place and setting is always something to consider. But if you can find a title that will also do a little more work for you, you may have found the right title for your book or story.