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
2nd Place – 16
The Gift, Home, Hunger, Homecoming
3rd Place – 15
4th Place – 14
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
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!
So many LOST episode titles.
Of story !
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.
Michael A. Ventrella
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. 🙂
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.
I google all my characters’ names before submitting to my publisher lest I let myself in for a law suit.
Wendy S. Delmater
Sounds about right.
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).
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.
C Stuart Hardwick
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.
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).
Interesting. The good news is, even the most popular has only been submitted 18 times — 0.036% of the time.
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.
Geoffrey A. Landis
A top ten list with 48 items on it?
Lots of ties.
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.
It’s making me curious to see an anthology with six stories all named Dust, and then another The Box,…
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.
Eric M. Witchey
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.
Wow… just wow… that is quite amazing…in a disturbing sort of way…
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. 🙂
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.
Imagine the slush pile tarot deck with these as triumphs, though.
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)
Feelings / Descriptions (86)
Cliche / phrase (56)
Lost and Found
The Other Side
Deus Ex Machina
Perchance to Dream
I guess I really could’ve broken that down into nouns, verbs, and adjectives.
So, I’m guessing it’s significant that “sweetness and light” aren’t included in the list.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
Where the hell is “Boobs”?
I’d be quite interested to see the full database in plaintext form. All that data would probably keep me amused for hours.
Just looking for a name for story about a kid telling his life story of his parents as lies