47. Book Titles Part 3: Double Meanings and Questions

Author: Nola Published: 5 months ago.
Tags: creativity, titles, double meanings, questions, homophones Category: Writing tips

In Part 2 of this series, I looked at three ways of generating book titles: brainstorming, mining other sources, and creating a unique spin on another title or phrase. You can also dig a little deeper to intrigue potential readers.

Capitalising on Double Meanings

A lot of English words have more than one meaning, even though they are spelled the same. Why not use that phenomenon to add nuance to your title?

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly tells the story of the remarkable African-American women mathematicians who were vital to NASA’s space program. The term ‘hidden figures’ can refer to the women themselves, as their part in history was largely hidden. However, ‘figures’ is also a mathematical term that fits well with the book’s topic. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John Le Carré is another example. ‘Cold’ can describe the climate or allude to the Cold War that forms the background to the book.

You could also use homophones (i.e. words that sound the same, but are spelled differently). Mark Monmonier used a twist on ‘the heir apparent’ for the title of his book Air Apparent: How Meteorologists Learned to Map, Predict, and Dramatize Weather. Jane Christmas used a homophone to add a comic touch to her book And Then There Were Nuns: Adventures in a Cloistered Life. You can click here for a list of common words that sound the same. Could you use any of those to add an extra layer of meaning to your title?

Posing Questions that Demand an Answer

Posing a question can also pique a reader’s interest. The movie Blade Runner is based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? That title raises a number of questions. Could robotics advance to the point where androids would dream? If so, what would they dream about? And how do electric sheep fit into the picture? In the post-nuclear world that Dick envisages, real animals are extremely rare and expensive. Decker, the protagonist, longs to own a real animal but can only afford an electric sheep. That’s not the main theme of the novel, but it shows us part of Decker’s character and provides clues to some of his choices. Other questioning titles include Who’s Afraid of Virginal Woolf? by Edward Albee, Where is God When it Hurts? by Philip Yancey, Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson and Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek. Mmm ... sheep must be good fodder for questions. Could you pose a question that would make people want to read on to find the answer?

If you’ve followed the five tips in my last two posts, you should have a long list of possible titles for your book. Next week, I’ll look at some suggestions and caveats for choosing a winning title from your list. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what kind of titles grab your attention and why?

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