Why Story Titles Matter

Black hole and gas bubbles - NASA image 

effervescence: (1) effect of escaping gas (as in bubbles, hisses, or foam); (2) bubbliness or exhilaration


evanescence: (1) dissipating vapor; (2) act of vanishing like vapor.


incandescence: emission of light from heat


Several dictionaries were referenced to create these definitions.

I don’t know how this works for anyone else, but I won’t remember an author’s name unless (a) I know the person or (b) I’ve enjoyed reading her stories. That puts authors whose work I haven’t yet read at a disadvantage. Fortunately, stories–especially novels–are easily found by their titles.

Unfortunately, some titles are more difficult to remember than others. A title sure to confuse my memory consists of a single multi-syllable word.

Such as the words above.

Consider, if you will, those three words. One is the title of a science fiction novel written by Greg Egan.

I saw this particular novel at a brick-and-mortar Barnes and Noble last autumn. With plenty of free time and little spending money, I stood in the store to read the novel’s opening, which hooked me enough that I put the story on my reading wish list.

Since then, the Barnes and Noble sold or returned their copy, which they haven’t replenished. None of the other bookstores I visit seem to carry the book. The author was unfamiliar to me, so I couldn’t recall his name.

I thought I remembered the title, but that thought turned out to be a joke. Most of the time I’d try to find the novel by searching on Evanescence–or, to be honest, some misspelling of the word. After a few failed attempts, I’d sometimes try Effervescence. That would get me nowhere nearer to the novel, which is titled Incandescence.

All three words are rarely used among average people, contain the same number of syllables, possess roughly similar meanings, and start with a vowel.

Can you see how I get them confused?

There’s a lesson in my minor misadventure. Even a well-known author (as I’m told Egan is) may benefit by naming his story with a word or phrase that’s easy to memorize and hard to confuse with non-titles.

I’m stubborn, and possibly a little desperate for hard science fiction; therefore, I kept looking. Most readers won’t go out of their way to track down a story they once passed up.


4 thoughts on “Why Story Titles Matter”

  1. Good reminder. I find it terribly hard to come up with titles. And I do admire clever ones. Of course, even though you may have thought long and hard to come up with what you think is the perfect title, I’ve heard the editor or publisher may have the last word, especially for debut authors.

    1. I’ve heard of editors discussing or negotiating titles with authors. I think most of the time, authors have as much say in the title as in any other part of their manuscripts. An editor might flat out reject a title or passage, but then the author is left with the responsibility to choose a replacement.

  2. I agree Ann, titles are very important. Something that not only needs to fit the book but also something that will be easily remembered.

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