Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Working Title

I hate judging books by their cover- no, that’s not true.  I love judging books by their cover.  What else are you supposed to judge a book by, other than its cover?  All you can know about a book without actually reading the thing is what’s on the cover.  This includes the cover design, artwork and synopsis.  You don’t want the synopsis to say too much- oftentimes I learn too much about the plot and never want to get further into it.  Like when that Mission: Impossible 4 trailer came out and it had Tom Cruise talking to Jeremy Renner about how Renner’s character “is not what he appears”.  Sorry, no matter what happens after that moment in the movie, I really don’t care.  If the plot of the movie is that bad that they don’t care about revealing what appears to be a huge spoiler, then I don’t care to watch it.  It’s just become, unabashedly, a big-budget, special effects laden, money-grabbing Tom Cruise vehicle.
So there’s definitely an art to how you sell your piece of entertainment.  And it usually involves bordering on subtlety.
But this leads me back to how I judge books.  I usually judge them first by their title.  If I find the title interesting, I’ll probably read the synopsis, and so on.  But I’ve become wary of a group of bestselling books which I don’t respect the titles of.  Stieg Larrson’s trilogy of The Girl… novels kinda get my goat, not with any respective title of theirs, but with where I thought the theme of the titles was going.  The first one is of course called The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  What he seems to be implying with this first title is that the next novels are going to be named after some other aspect about her- say: The Girl with the Piercing Eyes or The Girl with the Spiky Hair.  It really wouldn’t have to be anything deep, at least in the literal sense.  But it would have been deep figuratively, because it didn’t tell me anything except that there was probably more to her than that.
But where he does go with these ideas is completely ineffective in enticing a reader such as myself to want to read more.  My first thought at why this could be was that maybe he was thrown by the success of the first book, so the titles were thrown together somewhat haphazardly and that’s why they didn’t have the expected overarching direction.  But then I remembered that he’s actually dead now.  And I don’t think these books enjoyed any commercial success outside of Sweden humously (is that the opposite of posthumously?).  What he does do in calling the next books The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest and The Girl who Played with Fire, respectively, is that he tells us something in the title about what it is she’s going to do.  I don’t think that’s a very good strategy, because as I’ve always found in title or headline writing, the old adage holds true- less is more.  All that should ever be referred to in the title, I feel, is the main character (or characters), and the situation they’re put in. 
I do feel as though I can draw from at least one or two examples of good titles, even speaking as someone who hasn’t read all of these books.  The Bourne Trilogy has a good series of titles, insofar as the titles themselves tell you almost nothing about the plot of the book.  Take The Bourne Identity- there’s a guy named Bourne and he has an identity.  Or something.  But regardless, my interest is peaked.  (Just thinking about that series, it makes me angry that the second movie ends so far into the third one. Gah!)  And in the Hitchhiker’s Trilogy, Douglas Adams names each book after something the reader heard in the first one, and the titles themselves may not have anything whatsoever to do with the characters, plot, or circumstances of the particular novel.  But you still want to read them.

1 comment:

  1. It's probably worth noting that the English titles are mostly not Steig Larsson's doing. The original titles of the books, directly translated from Swedish, are:

    #1: Men Who Hate Women
    #2: The Girl Who Played with Fire
    #3: The Castle Made from Air That (Was) Exploded

    Also, the trailer for "Ides of March" gave away 90% of the movie. Completely ruined that experience for me.