Monday, March 14, 2016

How to Write Book (and Movie and Poem and Everything in between) Titles

Figuring out how to handle titles can sometimes feel overwhelming—everything from books to poems to chapters to TV series to songs is expected to follow specific rules, and it can seem hard to remember which is which.

But the good news is twofold: One, for the most part, it doesn't matter what style guide you need to follow, because they all generally use the same rules. And two, there is some rhyme and reason to the choices, so you really only need to remember very little. Yay!

Book or Chapter: Big and Little Titles

The first thing to know is that the rules generally separate items into two subsets: large pieces of works and smaller pieces of works. For example, a book is a large piece, while a chapter is a smaller piece within the larger piece. Other examples include the following:
  • TV Show --> One Episode
  • Book of Poetry --> One Poem
  • CD --> One Song
  • Play --> One Act
Once you've identified which subset the title you're working with falls into, then you can determine its treatment fairly quickly.

Writing Titles for Books (and Other Large Works)

Titles of larger works are italicized. 

I recently read The Martian so I could compare it to the movie.
I've had Adele's album 25 on repeat for the past three weeks.
I was so excited when Amazon announced it was picking up Dr. Who. (Yes, I'm for real.)


Writing Titles for Chapters (and Other Small Works)

Titles of smaller works are "put into quotation marks."

The scene "Checks Out" from the movie The Martian blew me away.
Adele's voice in "Hello" is hauntingly beautiful. (No, really, check it out. You'll be haunted.)



"Midnight," according to one of my friends, is the best standalone episode of Dr. Who.

A Word on Capitalization

If I tried to explain all the rules there are about capitalizing titles, you wouldn't believe me—unless you were one of the few and the brave charged with ensuring title accuracy on a daily basis. But don't worry—if you're not one of the few, getting capitalization perfect probably isn't all that important. A really easy option is to simply capitalize all words of four letters and longer. Another really easy option is to capitalize all major words. 

The most important thing to remember, though, is to ensure that you're capitalizing all titles consistently.


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