No two authors will agree on this. That can safely be said of any aspect of the writing process that you can think of, but it’s especially true on the philosophy of titles, because the author doesn’t always get a say as to how their books are titled. Chelsea Quinn Yabro, one of my favorite authors, has had a number of the titles of her Saint Germain series changed due to the political climate of whatever country her books were translated into, just to name an example.
My philosophy is that the theme of the book should be summed up by the title. Think of the title as a Twitter hashtag game, where the tweets that get the most attention are the ones that show the author’s ability to express the theme of the game in the fewest words possible. Interview with the Vampire is literally about a vampire telling his entire life story, in an interview. The Time Machine immediately invokes questions of what the future brings and what secrets the past holds. Dracula, even if you don’t know that it’s a fictionalized version of the historical figure, is clearly about a man named Dracula, as seen through the eyes of what would be considered the modern world at the time.
I’m also the sort of person who gets a special thrill out of seeing the title somewhere in the narrative of the story, usually as a line of dialogue. But if that title still doesn’t capture the theme of the book, then any old line simply will not do.
Survive by the Sword is about a stage combat trainer who gets caught up in a murder investigation. The only reason he’s even asked to help the police is that the wife of the victim was a fan from when he had starred in a Highlander-esque, post-apocalyptic trilogy of the same title. And in fact, the only reason why Nicodemus ever got involved with the police in the first place, was because once he had all of his weapons confiscated when he was believed to be a serial killer stalking the backwoods of New England.
The title serves two purposes. In one scene, where I presented the climactic battle of the film, the movie’s antagonist does the title drop I love so much. But in the modern world, the sword is an ancient and outdated tool of combat and survival. Yet stage combat training, which often involves the use of such weaponry, is the best investment of time and money that you can make, if you want to get paid work as an actor. The theme of the book is about a guy who makes his living teaching aspiring actors and ancient weapon enthusiasts how to properly wield a sword, and must literally and metaphorically survive by the sword.