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Writing challenge/exercise: long titles


Not sure what to write next? Here's a challenge:

Come up with a title that's at least seven words long (not counting initial "A" or "An" or "The"); for extra credit, have it contain a literary allusion. Then write a story for which the title is relevant but not in a completely direct/obvious way. For more extra credit, have spaceships in the story, but that's not required.

(I realize that for a lot of writers, coming up with a title doesn't have anything to do with writing a story. The point of this exercise is to stretch your brain in an unusual way, and thereby possibly spark an unusual story; but if your writing brain doesn't work that way, then feel free to come up with titles just for fun.)

To get you started, here are some long and interesting titles from published works. I listed several of these a few years back in a slightly different context, but that was at a time when we were seeing a lot of stories with unusual titles; right now we're not, which made me think it would be fun to suggest that people write some.

  • And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill's Side
  • Biographical Notes to "A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Air-Planes" by Benjamin Rosenbaum
  • The Coon Rolled Down and Ruptured His Larinks, A Squeezed Novel by Mr. Skunk
  • The Crime and the Glory of Commander Suzdal
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
  • Dawn, and Sunset, and the Colours of the Earth
  • The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds
  • Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe
  • Golden the Ship Was--Oh! Oh! Oh!
  • The House with a Clock in Its Walls
  • The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories: and Other Stories
  • Night and the Loves of Joe Dicostanzo
  • Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  • Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand/The Splendor and Misery of Bodies, of Cities
  • Three Hearings on the Existence of Snakes in the Human Bloodstream
  • Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones
  • We, in Some Strange Power's Employ, Move on a Rigorous Line
  • What To Do When Your Relatives from Mars Visit Unexpectedly
  • Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light!

Also feel free to come up with titles that you don't intend to use (and/or that you don't mind other people using) and post them as comments to this entry. Also feel free to mention other long and interesting titles that have been used before on published works. (I'm not counting things like the Harry Potter books or the Tom Swift books, where some of the words in the title are predetermined as part of a series.)


A Day in the Death of Joe Egg

I really want Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation to fit here, but it doesn't.

So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish

One of my favourite long titles is for a story by Greg Egan: "Unstable Orbits in the Space of Lies".

Good ones.

Debbie: Yeah, there are a bunch of really cool titles that aren't seven words long (and I agree that that one in particular feels like it contains several more words); to some extent I'm conflating my "I think long titles are often cool" reaction with my "I like cool titles" reaction.

I find it interesting that I especially like the long titles that are some sort of allusion, given that short titles that are famous quotes (usually from Shakespeare or the Bible, sometimes just from common sayings) tend to make me roll my eyes a bit. Titles like "By Any Other Name" or "Best Served Cold" don't do much for me at this point. And most titles of that sort were used by Original Trek episodes. :) Though to be fair, Trek also did some nice allusion titles with less common phrases, like "Dagger of the Mind."

Harlan Ellison was the author that first sprang to my mind; a quick scan through
a database of his short pieces produces, for example:

The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World
I See a Man Sitting on a Chair, and the Chair is Biting his Leg
The Pale Silver Dollar of the Moon Pays Its Way and Makes Change
The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World
The Wine Has Been Left Open Too Long and the Memory Has Gone Flat

"Some Short Stories Were Meant to Be Unwritten"


According to my LibraryThing, amongst the longest titles in my library are

  • For Colored Girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf: A Choreopoem
  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
  • Dr. Fegg's Encyclopedia of All World Knowledge (Formerly the Nasty Book for Boys and Girls)
  • The First Book of Facts and How to Find Them (sadly, an actual reference book for children, but what a great title!)
  • What I Did on My Hypergalactic Interstellar Summer Vacation
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (also gets extra credit))
  • How to Raise Your I. Q. by Eating Gifted Children
  • And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street
  • Please Try to Remember the First of Octember!
  • My Ten Years in a Quandary and How They Grew (extra credit?)
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (extra credit!)
  • A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver
  • Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?

I'll have to put some thought into coming up with new ones. Actually, no I won't, I'll just cheat:
  • The Way of a Ship in the Midst of the Stars
  • The Whole Multitude by the Stars on the Earth
  • Neither Sun nor Stars in Many Days Appeared
  • The Lesser Light to Rule the Night
  • The Sun and the Moon and the Eleven Stars
  • Calling All the Stars by their Names
  • A Voyage with Hurt and Much Damage

Now, that's a writing exercise!


Thanks, Jacob, k_g, and V! (And I can't believe I didn't think of Ellison--agreed that he's another one of those long-and/or-evocative-title writers.)

I like the Biblical titles. Could be the titles of a series. I especially like "The Lesser Light to Rule the Night," 'cause I never noticed before that it rhymed and scanned. Ends up sounding like it ought to have a following line, something like "A lesser light to rule the night / and a star to steer her by." :)

My list of titles that I might use some day has a bunch of evocative phrases (including several from Swinburne), but the only two that are long enough to qualify by the criteria I set for this entry are "'Til Cherries Grow on an Ivy Tree" (from the Irish folksong "The Butcher Boy": "A maid again, I ne'er will be, 'til ...") and "But in My Arms Till Break of Day" (from Auden's "Lay your sleeping head, my love"). Anyone who wants to use those is, of course, welcome to them. (I say "of course" 'cause you can't copyright a title, so I couldn't keep anyone from using them even if I wanted to; and anyway, they're quotes, so it's not like I have any moral right to them.)

The Lesser Light is the moon, of course, in Gen 1:16, but it's not the verb rule in Hebrew, but the noun, er, jurisdiction or dominion? Something like "The Lesser Light for the Dominion of Night", if you'd rather write that one.

Seriously, it's a fun game: pick a word or two that you can make skiffy (I used ship and star and voyage) and search for 'em in the KJV to make titles. I mean, you can't use laser or wormhole or k'thrar'g, but you can search for spear and replace it with laser:

  • With the Spear Laser Even to the Earth
  • With the Hinder End of the Spear Laser
  • The Glittering Spear Laser and the Shield
  • He Laughs at the Shaking of a Spear Laser
  • Both the Bright Sword and the Glittering Spear Laser


'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman - Ellison
Adrift Just Off the Islets of Langerhans - Ellison
Rotating Cylinders and the Possibility of Global Causality Violation - Niven
Assimilating Our Culture, That's What They're Doing! - Niven
What Can You Say About Chocolate Covered Manhole Covers? - Niven
Report of the Special Committee on the Quality of Life - Turtledove
Love is the Plan The Plan is Death - Tiptree
Solomon Leviathan's Nine Hundred and Thirty-First Trip Around the World - Le Guin
"The Author of the Acacia Seeds" and Other Extracts from the Journal of the Association of Therolinguistics - Le Guin

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