There are plenty of fictional title characters that stand out in our literary memories. Jane Eyre, Oliver Twist, Carrie, Harry Potter, they all take center stage right in the title and their books revolve around their stories.
While I love the directness of a title character, the indirectly named title character can be a way of adding the question of importance to a character in your novel.
Questions naturally arise in a reader’s mind when there is an indirectly named title character. Titling a book based on the character’s occupation like Mario Puzo’s titular Godfather or through an association like D. H. Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover simultaneously draws attention to a character but takes some of that attention away at the same time. There are mysteries packed into these titles. Is Lady Chatterley more important than the lover? We do learn her name right in the title?
One of the books that drives home what an indirectly named title character can do is Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife. The title character, Clare Abshire, is important and a center part to the story, but it’s in her role as a wife and the issue of dealing with the fact that her husband is a time traveler.
It’s hard being left behind.”
“It’s hard to be the one who stays.”
How significant is Clare outside of her role as a wife? A time traveler’s wife? Niffenegger manages to put a lot of depth in just four words.
When used correctly, an indirect title character can get a reader thinking “is this character really important” or “why is this character important” before even reading page one. There we have yet another way how titles can be powerful tools for writers. If you enjoy an indirectly named title character, feel free to share some of your favorites in the comments.