I’m going to do one more post about titles before I switch to another topic.
A title of action can be very effective. Sometimes, a title of action can simply and literally relate what happens in the story. As such, it can attract readers directly.
Here’s an example, from that old tramp and miner Jack London.
“To Build a Fire”
The story is, as you’d expect, about building a fire. It’s set during the Alaskan gold rush, and when a miner is caught out in a storm, building a fire becomes a matter of life and death. It doesn’t end well.
Here’s another, more contemporary example, from Tim O’Brien.
Going After Cacciatto
The plot is contained right in the title. It’s a journey story, with an objective – clear, simple, effective at gaining readers.
Here’s another good title of action, from Jules Verne:
Journey to the Center of the Earth
There’s the plot. Sometimes, that’s all a potential reader needs.
Titles of action can contain a character, as O’Brien’s does, and as with the titles I described in “The Who of Titles,” it’s an advantage to give readers someone to be interested in. Titles of action can also contain a place, and have the advantages I described in “The Where of Titles.”
“The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky”
With the title of this Stephen Crane story, we have place, character, and a visitation plot. The name of the town sounds Western, as it is, but think how different it would be if the title were “The Bride Comes to Tombstone.” Crane chose a town name that is doing some work for the story.
Other titles of action:
Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin
“When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine” by Jhumpa Lahiri
Leaving Las Vegas by John O’Brien
For what it’s worth, the word “Fighting” seems to be much in vogue for romance novelists: Fighting for Love, Fighting Fate, Fighting Destiny, Fighting for You, Fighting the Impossible, Fighting to Survive, Fighting Destiny. In fact, there are multiple romance novels with these titles. So you might want to steer clear of that word.
One last point about titles of action – the action does not always refer to something literal from the plot. The action can be more in the realm of the thematic or symbolic. The beautiful title of Wallace Stegner’s last book:
Crossing to Safety
does refer to a return to a place where happiness was once known, but is more an expression of the overall feeling of the book, rather than a literal expression of the plot.
I’ll blog more about titles in the future, and eventually post my “Taxonomy of Titles,” which is admittedly incomplete. But next posts will be on The Journey Story: Theory and Practice.