Creative Titles For Essays About Death

In honor of William Shakespeare’s birthday tomorrow, we’ve teamed up with Uncommon Goods to create a printable party kit to celebrate the Bard! (Oh, and we're reposting some of our favorite Shakespeare stories to get you in the mood.)

In creating some of the most beloved and enduring plays in the English canon, Shakespeare’s influence on writers can hardly be overstated. Some works—like 10 Things I Hate About You and The Lion King—take explicit inspiration from The Bard by adapting characters and storylines; others draw attention to relevant themes by using a Shakespeare line in their titles. In addition to creating new words and coining still-used phrases, Shakespeare wrote the titles of dozens of films and books before their authors did. 

1. BRAVE NEW WORLD BY ALDOUS HUXLEY: THE TEMPEST, ACT V, SCENE I 

Oh, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in ’t!” - Miranda

Aldous Huxley took the title of his famous dystopian novel from a speech in The Tempest, delivered by Miranda when she first sees new people arrive on her island. The phrase is later uttered in the novel when the “savage” John looks at a society consumed by its fixation on technology and hedonistic pleasure.  

2. INFINITE JEST BY DAVID FOSTER WALLACE: HAMLET, ACT V, SCENE 1

“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy…” - Hamlet

The famously long and complex novel, laden with footnotes and endnotes, has become a mainstay accessory for the hipster and literary masochist alike. Hamlet utters the titular line while holding up the skull of his childhood jester; perhaps fittingly, Wallace’s working title for the book was A Failed Entertainment.

3. WHAT DREAMS MAY COME BY RICHARD MATHESON: HAMLET, ACT III, SCENE I

“To die, to sleep. To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub, For in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause.” - Hamlet

Richard Matheson’s 1978 novel was adapted into a film in 1998, directed by Vincent Ward and starring Robin Williams and Cuba Gooding, Jr. The book and film, which deal with a man’s journey post-death, take their title from Hamlet’s famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy. 

4. THE SOUND AND THE FURY BY WILLIAM FAULKNER: MACBETH, ACT V, SCENE V

“That struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” - Macbeth

Faulkner’s stream of consciousness novel about the Compson family in Mississippi is frequently ranked as one of the best works of the 20th century. Critics often point to the preceeding line in the Macbeth soliloquy from which Faulkner took his title, “told by an idiot,” as a subtle reference to his story’s narrators: Benji, Quentin, and Jason.

5. UNDER THE GREENWOOD TREE BY THOMAS HARDY: AS YOU LIKE IT, ACT II, SCENE V

“Under the greenwood tree, who loves to lie with me, And turn his merry note unto the sweet bird's throat, Come hither, come hither, come hither:” - Amiens

Thomas Hardy originally published Under the Greenwood Tree, the first of his Wessex series, anonymously. Although Hardy believed the book should be called The Mellstock Quire (which would later be the subtitle), it was released with a name inspired by a song in As You Like It.

6. BAND OF BROTHERS BY STEPHEN E. AMBROSE: HENRY V, ACT IV, SCENE III

"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother" - Henry V

Stephen E. Ambrose’s 1992 WWII novel was made into a 10-part television miniseries of the same name, produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, who had previously collaborated on the World War II film Saving Private Ryan. The phrase “band of brothers” comes from the St. Crispin’s Day Speech in Henry V, delivered by Henry before the Battle of Agincourt. 

7. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS BY JOHN GREEN: JULIUS CAESAR, ACT I, SCENE II

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” - Cassius

John Green’s uber-successful novel about two teenage cancer patients was turned into a 2014 movie starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort.  While Shakespeare’s tragedy resulted from betrayal and war, Green wrote a more intimate tragedy about young love. 

8. THE MOON IS DOWN BY JOHN STEINBECK: MACBETH, ACT II, SCENE I

 “The moon is down. I have not heard the clock.” - Fleance

John Steinbeck’s novel, about a military occupation in Northern Europe by an unnamed war enemy, was published illegally in Nazi-occupied France and secretly all across Europe with the intention of motivating resistance movements. The Moon is Down earned Steinbeck the Norwegian King Haakon VII Freedom Cross.

9. REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST BY MARCEL PROUST: SONNET 30

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste:

Proust’s seven volume novel is famous both for its length and the famous episode involving reflection on a madeleine cookie.  Although it gained fame in English under the title Remembrance of Things Past (in translation from C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin), the literal translation of the French, À la recherche du temps perdu, or, In Search of Lost Time has also grown in popularity. 

10. PALE FIRE BY VLADIMIR NABOKOV: TIMON OF ATHENS, ACT IV, SCENE III

"The moon's an arrant thief, / And her pale fire she snatches from the sun…" - Timon

Pale Fire is both the title of the postmodern novel itself and the 999-line poem with which the novel opens, written by the fictional character John Shade. Although Nabokov points out that Shade titled his poem from Timon of Athens, some critics have noted a possible secondary reference to the Ghost’s comment in Hamlet on the glow-worm ginning “to pale his uneffectual fire.” 

11. THE DARK TOWER SERIES BY STEPHEN KING: KING LEAR, ACT III, SCENE IV

“Child Rowland to the dark tower came, His word was still “Fie, foh, and fum, I smell the blood of a British man.” - Edgar

This one also came about a little indirectly: Stephen King was inspired for his fantasy series about a mysterious gunslinger and a Man in Black by a poem by Robert Browning, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.”  If there’s any doubt where Browning got the title, the epigraph of the poem is “See Edgar’s Song in 'Lear.'”

12. TIME OUT OF JOINT BY PHILIP K. DICK: HAMLET, ACT 1, SCENE V

“Let us go in together, And still your fingers on your lips, I pray. The time is out of joint. O cursèd spite, That ever I was born to set it right!” - Hamlet

Philip K. Dick is most famous for his novel, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, which was later adapted into Bladerunner—but it’s his 1959 novel that takes its title from Shakespeare. 

13. SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES BY RAY BRADBURY: MACBETH, ACT IV, SCENE I

“By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes.” - Second Witch

Compared to Macbeth’s trio of witches, the mysterious carnival at the heart of Ray Bradbury’s 1962 fantasy novel only employs a single witch.

If you want to celebrate the Bard's Birthday in style, don't forget you can up the Shakesperience with one of our Shakespeare Soiree Printable Party Kits!

literature

Coming up with a killer book title is hard. There’s a lot at stake in a title: It’s your readers’ first impression of your work, and it’s got to be evocative, unique, and precise. The pressure can be overwhelming!

But we at Writer’s Relief have got some great tips to help you come up with the perfect title for your novel or your nonfiction book. And you can apply these concepts to your short stories and poetry as well. With a little preparation and brainstorming, you’ll land on the perfect title for your book!

Elements Of Great Book Titles

Poetic language. Some of the best titles—the ones we remember—use evocative language to make a statement. Sometimes, the language verges on poetic. Consider elusive and somewhat vague titles like: Gone with the Wind; Of Mice and Men; Grapes of Wrath; Snow Falling On Cedars; The Fault in Our Stars.

Action words. Titles that showcase strong verbs leap off the shelves. Things Fall Apart is clear and haunting. Gone Girl is energetic and in-your-face. A Game Of Thrones sets a precedent for tension.

Inherent mystery/conflict. Great titles hint at the story to come. They point to the main conflict: What’s at stake? When a title can concisely encapsulate action, you’ve got a great shot at getting a reader’s attention in just a few words.

Consider Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: It’s a long title, but it’s so good. It suggests an epic battle between powerful archetypes, but it also offers the quiet, quaintly creepy image of a garden at night. The Light in Ruins does something similar.

Character’s names. Often (but not always) titles that make use of character names have an element of mystery attached to them as well. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; The Secret Life of Walter Mitty; The Picture of Dorian Gray; Harry Potter And The [Fill In The Blank Here]. Books with character names can also be whimsical, such as: Where’d You Go, Bernadette?; Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day; Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

Place names. If your book has a great setting (a setting that has strong branding), you might want to use that to your advantage. The Last Time I Saw Paris showcases the City of Lights with a touch of nostalgia (it also hints at conflict, at something lost and longed-for). Death Comes To Pemberley makes great use of the estate that’s familiar to all readers of Pride and Prejudice, but adds a modern layer of mystery and drama.

Quirky titles. Some titles embody contrasts that make readers say, huh? And, of course, that leads them to read the back cover to find out what’s going on: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; One of our Thursdays is Missing; Pineapple Grenade; Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The one-word title. These titles tend to work best with really strong cover art. Here are a few one-word titles: Slammed; Affliction; Stranded, etc.

Titles And Book Genre

If you’re writing in a commercial book genre, be sure you have a good understanding of how titles within that particular genre work. And we wouldn’t recommend straying too far away from the conventions of genre book titles; fans of specific genres use titles as a kind of shorthand when they’re deciding what to buy and whether a book will live up to their expectations.

For example: Your thriller might be called Death At First Light. Your romance might be To Kiss A Lady. But you wouldn’t want to switch those titles around.

Just for fun: Check out this book title generator. And here are Goodreads users’ favorite book titles.

Title And Copyright Law

As of this writing, authors can’t copyright their titles in America (which is why if you plug certain titles into Amazon, you’ll come up not only with multiple movies but also multiple books of the same title).

That said, we don’t recommend using the same title that someone else has previously used. It makes it more difficult for your book to stand out.

When In Doubt, Get Help

If you’re coming up with a title, ask friends and family for help. Host a brainstorming session. Sometimes, a new perspective is the best way to hit on just the right title for your book.

But remember: If you’re hoping to publish with a traditional publisher, there’s some possibility that you might not be able to keep your title anyway. Publishers tend to change them (and, don’t worry, your publisher will fret about the perfect title right along with you).

Photo by Trevor Coultart.

QUESTION: What’s one of your favorite titles?

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