Mar 11 2011 1:00pm

Best of the Decade Data: Common Words in Titles

As the Best SFF Novels of the Decade winds down, we’ve got one final amusing bit of data for you. Among all those fantasy, science fiction (and then some) books, what are the most common terms in use?

We counted [Google Doc spreadsheet download] and the results are fairly predictable, but also pretty hilarious. In fact, if you assembled the most generic fantasy trilogy statistically possible, it’d look like this:

  • The Shadow War of the Night Dragon, Book One: The Dead City
  • The Shadow War of the Night Dragon, Book Two: Dark Blood Magic
  • The Shadow War of the Night Dragon, Book Three: Dream World of the Fire Wolf

Those titles are frighteningly plausible.

Below the cut, take a look at some amusing juxtapositions we noticed in the common word data!

Some notes on how we counted: words like “war,” “night,” “dream,” “man,” “water” were counted if they were part of a compound word in which the meaning is the same. We also included plurals in the count for a singular word.

Here are the most commonly used words in the book titles voted on in the Reader’s Poll. All the words below were present 10 or more times in a title:



We didn’t stop there in our word hunt, though. Curiousity took hold. What, for example, was the most popular occupation?


And what did those most popular occupations love to fight?


Evil vs good was something we looked out for, too. Unfortunately for these fictional worlds (but fortunately for their sense of drama), evil handily wins the eyes of readers.


Although we couldn’t but notice how evenly matched the Above and the Below were:


Fantasy was vastly outweighing science fiction results during our search, so to even it up a bit, we compared the (mostly) SF-only terms. Science fiction is overwhelmingly looking ahead, while fantasy seems to be mostly looking back (at the dragon chasing them):


We also looked at gender comparisons:


And, for fun, elements and body parts. (Parts, it turns out, is not parts.):



Comb through the list and see if you can find any amusing juxtapositions that we missed!

John Scalzi
1. Scalzi
I'm totally going to write the "Shadow War of the Night Dragon" trilogy. Please have Tor back up the money truck to my front door. kthxbye.
3. JLH
Long time since I read it, but I seem to recall that in John Sladek's Bugs, the protagonist works in a bookshop for a while. There's a scene of the shop owner's growing wrath at the interchangeable titles on fantasy novels, and Sladek illustrates this by presenting a list of titles randomly constructed from common fantasy words much as you have here, and, yes, they are all too plausible. Bugs was published in 1989. Not much changes.
james loyd
4. gaijin
But it MUST contain stew. The statistics demand that as well.
5. WeirdVision
I vote for "The Night War of the Shadow Dragon".
John Scalzi
6. Scalzi

I'll do it so long as Tor meets the following demands:

1. Money truck. WITH money.

2. A pony AND a lifetime supply of pony glitter. That's my lifetime, not the pony's.

3. A robot butler that FIGHTS CRIME.

4. Audio book performed by Grover from Sesame Street.

5. Edible ninja stars made from cheese. A couple hundred of them.

Have your people call my people. We can make this happen. Just don't skimp on the pony glitter.
7. Alec Corday
John, I might even read it. And then write the sequels...
Samuel Montgomery-Blinn
8. montsamu
I can't decide if the generic title works better for a tongue-in-cheek parody, or a more earnest, honest-to-goodness epic fantasy. I think I'm leaning toward the parody.
9. Lindsay Ribar
The Shadow War of the Night Dragon? I swear I've seen that in my slush pile....
Jason Henninger
10. jasonhenninger

Always a good idea to involve Grover. Could make it "Shadow War of the Night Dragon at the End of This Book"
11. CarolC
But is the Fire Wolf going to save humanity from the Night Dragon, or will they form an unholy alliance and destroy us all?
12. Hatgirl
Bah, the new site is pretty but buggy. Let's try that again...

"But is the Fire Wolf going to save humanity from the Night Dragon, or will they form an unholy alliance and destroy us all?"
Jason Denzel
13. JasonDenzel
John: If you write it. ...

... and Irene publishes it / does the art...

... I'll totally register and make the best fan site EVER. We'll give out pony glitter as promo prizes.
14. Charissa
This totally has "trilogy project for charity" written all over it. Novelettes? Short stories? Electronic distribution for donations? I'd happily part with some of my money for such things!
15. mordicai
"Dead City of the Dream Wolf" as the sequel?
Del C
16. del
"Juno" is the least popular British D-Day landing site, coming in far behind "Gold" and "Sword".
Irene Gallo
17. Irene
I’m still trying to figure out what John wants to do with pony glitter after the pony is gone....I really shouldn’t go there.
Ty Margheim
18. alSeen

Would a robot Leigh Butler do?

I think you, Sanderson and Rothfuss should co-write it.
19. Rowanmdm
I'm envisioning The Shadow War of the Night Dragon as a triology of short stories or novellas, one each written by Scalzi, Sanderson and Rothfuss and published in one volume. How awesome would that be? :)
Chris Lough
20. TorChris
Don't worry, Irene, I've got everything on Scalzi's list covered* except for #4. Turns out Grover's agent is a real S.O.B.

*Don't ask me about the pony glitter. Just help me clean up the mess afterwards.
Steven Halter
21. stevenhalter
Way to go Chris!
OK Scalzi--start writing. We know you just finished a book and you have no Coke Zero, so ...
22. Julie Wright
scalzi, you never cease to make me laugh. Poor pony is going to feel like a jackass once covered with all that glitter . . .
23. mischief
I'll opt for the Golden Shadow Sword
24. RachelAKA
Fire Dream. Moon Time. Star Storm. Good pony names, too.

TorChris, there's no "cleaning up" pony glitter. It is eternal.
JOhn Johnson
25. smileyman
I'd totally buy a trilogy titled The Shadow War of the Night Dragon if it was co-written by Scalzi, Rothfuss and Sanderson.

Reminds me of Butcher's Codex Alera series which came about because of a bet where he was challenged to combine two cliched ideas into a great book.

Thus you have the lost Roman Legion, comined with Pokemon. You can also toss in zombies and vampires as well, but it's skillfully done and very entertaining and it's one of my favorite fantasy series.

I really think that Tor could have a great little series here if they tapped the right authors.

Butcher explains the origins of Codex Alera
26. Professor Beej
I want to write a terrible, moodifier-intensive, parody novella titled "Star World of the Sky Goddess, Book 1: By the Light of the Dragon Prophet" now.

I could make a million dollars.
27. akicif
Still have to go a way to beat "The Dragonhiker's Guide to Battlefield Covenant at Dune's Edge: Odyssey Two", though!
Nicolai Buch-Andersen
28. Nicolai Buch-Andersen
Just saw the following two books at a local bookstore:

Cinda Williams Chima - The Seven Realms Book 1: The Demon king
Cinda Williams Chima - The Seven Realms Book 2: The Exiled Queen

Apparantly there's a thid book comming out in september, titled (of all things):

Cinda Williams Chima - The Seven Realms Book 3: The Gray Wolf Throne

These titles are almost as good as yours!

(joking aside, I might actually pick up one of these, as I like a dose of young adult/coming of age stories once in a while)
Michael Walsh
29. MichaelWalsh
Needless to say, the El Supremo Limited Edition (With Pony Glitter) will have to be published by Subterranean Press.
30. Fergus
Surely 'hunter' should be under death-dealing as well?

I'd include 'saint' and 'prophet' under 'magic/sorcery', too, but I realise that might be slightly more contentious...
Brent Longstaff
31. Brentus
Why not use them all?

The Last Dream Hunt for the Red Fire Magic Demon Dragon God Time Lord King’s War Knight’s Wolf Sword in the World of Moon Shadows of the Gates of Dead City’s Dark Black and Blue Night of Storms and Gold Stars: Book one
32. kersley
I think you just used up your entire word count on the title.
33. Cinda Williams Chima
Nicolai, I wrote the books you mentioned. I need a title for the fourth book in the series. Any ideas?
BTW, The Seven Realms is the name of the series, like Song of Ice and Fire. The Demon King, for example, is the title of the book.
John, BTW, Dimitri Martin says that glitter is the herpes of craft. Just sayin'
34. Michael Zavis
Hilariously close to the list of "words that are hereby decreed Illegal in teh Titles of Works of Fantasy" in Steve Boyett's Write Now blog last October.
36. WAM
Please make these books real! It has all the ingredients, just add plot.
38. kimberly coman
i did not like but it just need a little more work i did like it a little so just keep it up and try your best GO BATTLE OF THE BOOK :) LOL
39. lalalalala
I LOVE IT but :( it just need a little more work i think it was a little funny :) hahahah but just keep trying your best :) LOL GO BATTLE OF THE BOOK GO TEAM WORK I ROCK THE HOUSE JK THE BOOK WAS UGLY
40. lololololo
bitch mother fuck :) jk
41. JDsg
Oh, you so totally stole my titles! I'm gonna sue! ;)

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