The Titular Line

October 2, 2012 § 2 Comments

I’ve been thinking a fair bit lately about titular lines—those lines in a book or movie which include the title of the work (the preceding, for example, is the titular line of this blog post).  The working title for the book I’m currently writing is Slash, and though I think it is the perfect fit in many ways, I’m mourning the opportunity to write a titular line.  Since it is just a single word tied closely to the subject of the book, it seems I have the narrator or one the characters saying “slash” almost every other page, so none of the lines carry the important weight of titular line.

The titular line is important, and as such, it has often been made the subject of fun.  If you haven’t seen the Upright Citizen’s Brigade sketch on the subject, do yourself a favor and click the picture to the right for a link to the youtube clip.  UCB gets it so right here, the sketch spawned it’s own tumblr, examples included below.

What makes the fakes so funny is that the titular line is supposed to be important—much too important, as the clerk in the sketch points out, to be given “to some stow-away who arbitrarily walks through the scene.” But it is exactly this importance that the annoying customer is trying to hijack; the titular line is like a flag to the audience, alerting them to a thematically important part of the story, and Titular Line Guy wants to get to hold that flag.

I sympathize with him now that I’m writing a titular-lineless book.  As an author, the titular line is like a special card you get to play once a story, your only chance outside the first and last lines to make sure the reader is paying you their full attention, not just reading for entertainment, but for importance.  It’s akin to announcing to the reader, “This is important!  It was in big letters on the cover—remember?—so listen up!  This is almost as important as my embossed name and the full page photo of me looking thoughtful on the back cover.”

In making you think of the story as a book or a film with a title, the titular line can take you out of narrative.  Even if it isn’t delivered by a random weirdo, this brief suspension of the suspension of disbelief can ruin the story.  If it seems even a hundredth as arbitrary or obvious as these parodied examples, the narrative will seem contrived or shallow.  There’s also the danger that someone will reach the titular line and say, “That’s all this book is about?,” and quit with the assumption there’s nothing more important to come.

When done well, though, I think the titular line can take the reader briefly out of the story in a good way: they might pause for a second and think about the implications; maybe look back at the cover, keeping their finger on the passage while thinking about the expectations it initially inspired; they’ll think of everything that has happened so far, and how it has changed their idea of the novel; and hopefully dive back in to the next paragraph, ready to see how their understanding of those now familiar words might change again before the final line.

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