Friday, August 9, 2013

On Titles

This past May I had one of my bug stories critiqued at Wiscon. The Pro for our group, Vylar Kaftan was incredibly encouraging as well as generous with her knowledge of writing craft. We spent some of our conversation discussing titles. Because she hated mine.

With good reason. (And that was about the only thing she hated about the story; overall she said very, very nice things and made many perceptive comments toward improving it.)

I struggle with titles. Just like I struggle with names. Sometimes I hit a name/title that I immediately know is exactly right. Once We Were Bears. Scrapie. Odonata. But more often than not I struggle.

Here's what I wrote down as her advice about coming up with good titles.

1) Have movement in the title
    a) Use a verb
    b) Create tension by using two words that don't work well together
    c) Use a title with a double meaning

2) Have sensory images in the title
    a) Especially smell or taste

3) Don't have your title be too long

4) Don't use words that people don't know

5) Avoid one word titles

6) Avoid The ______ of ______. (The Dance of Light, The Pearl of Wisdom, The Fur of the Dog, The Scent of Sour Onions, The Wells of Cyprus, The Hill of Beans...)

7) Keep a title file

8) Know that you can't always come up with a great title; sometimes you have to settle for the best you can do

And here were the pre-Vylar titles for the currently written bug stories:


Look again at her advice and ask whether I've even come close? No, no, and no. I kind of liked the mystery of those titles. They are all cool words and are integral to what happens in the stories, but I do think Vylar's right; they just aren't going to pull anyone in. She came up with the second story's new title "Old Glassy's Way." I loved it as soon as she spoke it. It captures what the story is about and gives a better sense of the world I'm creating than "Exuvia" ever could.

But I still haven't figured out what the other two should be called...

Got any favorite titles that keep to or break Vylar's rules? (The Lord of the Rings, for one.) Comment or Blog away!


Jon said...

I like the new title a lot. "Old Glassy's Way". Good. If you want to, send out the other two stories again and we can try to brainstorm some titles.

I think for my current WIP, I'm going to use The Impossible Virginia Dare: Worlds Tour.

Also, right now I'm reading Zander Cannon's great new graphic novel about a man who discovers a portal to Hell in his estranged and now-deceased Father's basement and he starts a business traveling to hell to deliver messages for people and provide them some closure, while dealing with his own life and family issues. It's called: Heck. It violates one of her rules, but adheres to another.

Mark Teats said...

Nice post, Lisa.