Titles Signal Genre:  Academic Titles vs. Fiction Titles

I scheduled this discussion of titles late in the semester because titles usually are the last part of the paper to find their final form in most people's composing processes.  Having a working title, even a word or phrase that is one step above "Title," is often helpful to guide your thinking about the evolving writing. The main thing to keep in mind is that academic titles appeal to readers who are utterly dedicated to the subjects they study and require little or no teasing or obscurity to attract their interest.  They want to know immediately whether the topic and thesis are relevant to their own work, and if the answer is "yes," they will read it.  If they do not know from the title, they probably will not read what you have written.

        By contrast novelists and playwrights are competing for the attention of a vast and diverse reading public which has many alternatives and tastes which might affect reading choices.  Fiction writers often develop titles that work like riddles to intrigue readers and to capture their interest in competition with all the other writers they could choose to read.  Sometimes, the solution to the riddle is written into the plot, as in the case of Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey, later made into a successful movie by Stanley Kubrick.  The title alludes to Homer's Odyssey, a story of Odysseus' ten year struggle to return home after helping his allies to sack the city of Troy.  In the Odyssey's closing scenes, Odysseus proves his identity by stringing a bow that only he can string.  The protagonist of Clarke's novel is an astronaut named "Tom Bowman" and his favorite reading on the long voyage through space is the OdysseyFor more stories about how famous works of fiction were titled, see Gary Dexter's blog or read his book, Why Not Catch-21?: How Books Got their Titles.