Top Ten Most Common Short Story Names

I just noticed that we crossed the 50,000 point in our submissions system sometime in the last month. I thought it might be fun to do a quick analysis of the most popular story titles in that pile. Here’s the results:

1st Place – 18
Dust

2nd Place – 16
The Gift, Home, Hunger, Homecoming

3rd Place – 15
The Box

4th Place – 14
Monsters

5th Place – 13
Lost and Found

6th Place – 12
Sacrifice, The Hunt, Flight

7th Place – 11
Heartless, The End, Alone, Legacy, Adrift

8th Place – 10
Red, Reflections, The Visit, Broken

9th Place – 9
The Other Side, Rebirth, Voices, Genesis, Awakening, The Collector, Disconnected, The Wall, The Prisoner, Deus Ex Machina, Hero, Skin Deep, Memories, Skin

10th Place – 8
The Machine, The Tower, Coming Home, Rain, Going Home, The Dark, Inheritance, The Door, The Choice, Happiness, Perchance to Dream, Last Call, The Fall, Night Terrors

More on story titles here and here.

44 comments

  1. ace says:

    Thank you so much for this! Very happy to say, I don’t think I’ve ever used one of those titles, and now I’ll make sure I never do!

  2. Katie says:

    So many LOST episode titles.

  3. William Stolley says:

    I make it a point to Google my title before I try it out. If it’s been done before, no point in doing it again. Plenty of titles to chose from in the pantheon of language. English is generous that way.

  4. This is a list of all submitted stories and not accepted ones, right? Were any of these stories accepted?

    Please note: The one story I sent to you that was rejected had NONE of these titles. 🙂

    • Neil Clarke says:

      The list was pulled from all stories in our submissions system. That would include the stories we’ve published, but I’m pretty sure none of them were. As was pointed out on Twitter, Dust has been used by a number of successful authors.

  5. I google all my characters’ names before submitting to my publisher lest I let myself in for a law suit.

  6. Sounds about right.

  7. John Barnes says:

    Every single one of those titles seems to threaten me with a really, really dull, amateurish, not-yet-learned-the-craft story. But I did read slush at a couple of places over the years, so maybe they’re just bringing back memories. I would guess I saw 1/3 of those titles in slush, myself.

    One of several unteachables about writing is, IMO, the art of where interest comes from, how it’s generated and maintained. (Of course some people will now cheerfully say “Of course Barnes knows nothing about that,” and they are welcome to think so; nothing interests everybody, but beginner-writing interests nobody, so I guess it’s just one more demonstration that good tends to be subjective and bad tends to be objective).

    • Neil Clarke says:

      Some titles definitely trigger slush flashbacks. There were some 9th place titles I expected to see in the top three.

      Never thought of the art of interest that way, but it makes sense. Thanks for mentioning it.

    • Good point, John. Writers hear about “the hook,” and I’ve seen contests that elevate the first sentence to the point of absurdity–yet we all know great stories where no great or overwhelming “something” happens to hook us, and yet we are hooked. Related, I think, is Dave Wolverton’s comments about “confident writing.” In both cases, it’s hard to define but you know it when you see it. Learning to see it (or not) in your own writting, rather than trying to start with a cliff hanger, as a big part of learning the craft, I think.

      • John Barnes says:

        Well, tragically, a great number of people want to write because they want someone to find them interesting — sometimes in compensation for something that didn’t work out well (like having Mama inspect your booboo and kiss it better) and more often just because humans need attention slightly more than they need oxygen and many of us don’t get as much as we need. So you either talk about your booboo (usually indirectly) or you talk about what you’ve heard other people find interesting (and they see what you’re doing a mile away). It’s a little bit like what Michael Shurtleff says about auditioning actors for a comedy: nearly all of the actors reading clearly get the jokes (i.e. the places constructed to be funny) but the few who get cast are the ones who get the humor (i.e. what’s really funny).

  8. Jake Freivald says:

    Interesting. The good news is, even the most popular has only been submitted 18 times — 0.036% of the time.

    • Neil Clarke says:

      Yes, that’s a good point to highlight. I should also mention that 88% of the titles authors used were unique. That number pleasantly surprised me, but I suspect thats because I’m doing EXACT matches instead similarities. For example, The Red Dog and Red Dog wouldn’t match. Working on a way to dig deeper into all this data.

  9. A top ten list with 48 items on it?

  10. Chip says:

    Great fun, and indicative of your unique perspective on the world to think of compiling this list! Could be a fun writing prompt to jumble the titles and write to that. The Dust Monsters’ Gift Box. Disconnected Homecoming Skin. Perchance to Dream: Sacrifice. Good thing I’ve got loads of other stories in the queue, I think.

  11. Margery says:

    It’s making me curious to see an anthology with six stories all named Dust, and then another The Box,…

  12. A SENTENCE UTILIZING THE MOST COMMON SHORT STORY NAMES: The monstrous towering wall of drifting flying dust reawakened the lonely heartless voices falling out of the gift box that was lost then found having fallen out of the prison door on the other side of the dark nocturnal sacrificial red machine with its a legacy of terrifying hunger — disconnected from any happy remembrance of Genesis or reflection of Deus ex Machina — that chooses to hunt and break reborn heroes, collecting their inheritance and raining the end on all their homecomings, visiting them with far more than a skin deep last call… perchance to dream.

  13. I’m so excited! I have used almost all of them. Does that mean my stories are popular? Wow. This is great! Thanks, Neil. Now that I know what the number one title is, I’ll use it over and over again. Maybe I can get Edward to collaborate with me! How amazing would that be? It’s like writing SEO copy! Viral Memes here we come.

  14. Wow… just wow… that is quite amazing…in a disturbing sort of way…

  15. […] Top Ten Most Common Short Story Names | Neil Clarke […]

  16. Edward Ahern says:

    Actually, the most common word is “The.” Might be interesting to run the names again, checking for unconscious editorial bias against the article, e.g. “The Downshifting Android” is rejected but “Downshifting Androids” makes the cut. 🙂

  17. Joe Trotta says:

    What I think is interesting here is how so many of the commenters under the story immediately feel the need have to distance themselves from the titles listed (being, according to some of the posters, ‘amateurish’ or something similar). Sorry to express a face-threatening view, but it strikes me as odd how insecure people are about this – there is nothing inherently good or bad about any of these titles (and some of the comments don’t really make sense like ‘I usually Google a title before I use it’ — sorry, but any one word title, even if you combine it with a phrase like ‘short story’ is going to generate a gah-zillion hits and there is no guarantee you will find what you are looking for!) Plus, as the author of the article points out, some of these titles have been used by recognized authors as well (but he doesn’t mention which ones). I also found the following titles (all of which on ‘best of’ lists) that seem just as good/bad/amateurish/prosaic/vacuous/brilliant as those on the list:

    The Terror by Guy de Maupassant
    An Incident by Sarah Barnwell Elliott
    Boys by Anton Chekhov
    A Journey by Edith Wharton
    Hands by Sherwood Anderson
    The Monster by Stephen Crane
    Love of Live by Jack London

    Also, consider the fact that totally unique(ish) titles could also come of as amateurish or vacuous – how about ‘the young, adult male bachelor’, ‘money makes people do bad things’ or ‘I like buttered toast’.

    I think it’s an interesting article and maybe these titles say something about current social trends/anxieties, but let’s not be so valorizing and subjective.

  18. Alexandra Erin says:

    Imagine the slush pile tarot deck with these as triumphs, though.

  19. benjaminjb says:

    Thanks for this list.

    Besides the points already mentioned, it’s interesting to me how else these break down.

    Note: some overlap and these are just the first categories that jumped out at me, a mix of very precise (i.e., home-related) and more general (like the purely structural “The + noun”):

    The + ordinary noun (139)
    The Gift
    The Box
    The Hunt
    The End
    The Visit
    The Collector
    The Wall
    The Prisoner
    The Machine
    The Tower
    The Dark
    The Door
    The Choice
    The Fall

    Stuff (123)
    Dust
    Monsters
    Legacy
    Reflections
    Voices
    Hero
    Memories
    Skin
    Rain
    Inheritance
    Night Terrors

    Feelings / Descriptions (86)
    Hunger
    Heartless
    Alone
    Adrift
    Red
    Broken
    Disconnected
    Happiness

    Boundary-related (73)
    The End
    Rebirth
    Genesis
    Awakening
    The Wall
    Disconnected
    Skin
    The Door

    Cliche / phrase (56)
    Lost and Found
    The Other Side
    Deus Ex Machina
    Skin Deep
    Perchance to Dream
    Last Call

    Home-related (48)
    Home
    Homecoming
    Coming Home
    Going Home

    Actions (24)
    Sacrifice
    Flight

  20. […] been a bit surprised by all the attention to my list of top ten most frequently used story names has received. I spent some time trying to find the most common words used in titles and then it […]

  21. Michael says:

    So, I’m guessing it’s significant that “sweetness and light” aren’t included in the list.

  22. Danny Adams says:

    Agreeing with the comments about the titles being dull and amateurish, though now I’m starting to think about combining them into story titles. Like “The Rebirth Voices of the Disconnected Collector”. Or “Choice of the Dark Door of Happiness”.

  23. Judith Callison says:

    As someone just beginning to try my hand at fiction I followed this link thinking I might learn something about selecting a title for a short story. So, What did I learn?

    1 )As one of your commentators stated: I have not yet learned the craft. The title of very first story I wrote and submitted was on your top ten. I have work to do.

    2) That editors who look at 50,000 submissions see the same titles often enough to roll their eyes and toss the piece on the trash heap, I presume reading no further. I will try harder at being more original.

    3) I was also called to varying degrees dull, vacuous, uninteresting and amateurish. A less confident person might crawl under the covers and give it all up. Instead, I considered the sources and did some thinking. I have an idea for a new character-driven story now. I even have a title, not on your list: The Bloviator.

    What I didn’t learn: What makes a good title. I’m off to look into that. I enjoyed the discussion.

    • Neil Clarke says:

      Hi Judith,

      I don’t recall saying anything about ignoring stories with these titles. The title is something that can be easily changed if necessary, so it’s not something that will prevent me from considering a story.

      Yes, the name-calling should stop.

      The post was about common story titles, not good story titles or bad story titles. Interestingly, there have been people pointing out good stories with those titles and others pointing out how they find the titles boring. The followup post which contains the Wordle of the most commonly used words seems to have encouraged people to think of interesting ways to combine those words into fun or unusual titles.

      The best title is the one that does the story justice. Sometimes that will be common, but more often than not, it will be unique. (Which is viewed poorly by some people commenting.) Apparently one word titles aren’t very unique (or two-word “the” titles). That’s the most you can to learn from this.

      • JD Anderson says:

        No need to fear, Judith. While this article is only mildly interesting, it gets into some philosophy with out even trying. The short story lover will tell you that titles in and of themselves are mere niceties to short stories, occasionally lending some direction from the author or editor, but that’s it. Just like one can’t judge a book by its cover, even less can be discerned by its title.

  24. […] title frenzy continues. If you don’t know what I’m talking about here are posts one and two about the most common titles and words in titles in the Clarkesworld slush […]

  25. Ben says:

    Where the hell is “Boobs”?

  26. […] If you’re thinking about submitting to either of these markets, perhaps consider naming your story something other than these 10 most common short story titles. […]

  27. […] Clarke, editor at Clarkesworld, published a list of the Top Ten Most Common Short Story Names, derived from the magazine’s first 50 thousand submissions. And, since there were a lot of […]

  28. […] by the recent publication of the Ten Most Common Short Story Titles, we at the literary journal MFA-MRA decided to apply similar analysis to our own submissions pile. […]

  29. […] Las 48 palabras más usadas para titular un relato (de ciencia ficción) […]

  30. […] Neil Clarke celebrated passing 50,000 submissions to his magazines by running a list of the top ten most common short story names. That got so much attention he dropped all the story titles ever received into Wordle and posted he […]

  31. Jonty says:

    I’d be quite interested to see the full database in plaintext form. All that data would probably keep me amused for hours.

  32. […] Neil Clarke is editing a number of magazines that accept short stories, including Clarkesworld Magazine, a […]