Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Sunday, 16 March 2014

What's That Book Called Again?

My daughter is terrific at titles. Clearly a subeditor in the making, she can turn them out for fun and is in demand among her peers when it comes to their projects. A discursive essay on the merits and demerits of prison was snappily titled Jailhouse Flop; Red Card for Footballers' Fortunes tackled the thorny problems of £300,000 a week; and a third asked Do Exams Always Pass the Test?

It’s a talent I wish I had, because for me the title is the hardest part of writing. It has to give the reader a feeling for what they’re getting without giving too much away; it has to communicate the genre; and it has to make you want to read more. Somehow I can’t capture the feel of my stories in the titles and what I come up with is, at best, pedestrian.

I can’t be alone in this because there are plenty of random title generators out there. I tried one and it certainly came up with the goods. The Burning Stars. Roses in the the Gate. The Prince’s Wife. And (puzzlingly) Year of Window. Clearly these have issues in that they’re computer-generated and perhaps need a human eye. Though of course there are some real titles out there which might never have got through even the computer filter. (I’m thinking of Not Not While the Giro, which is a great title but a somewhat puzzling one.)

When I did NaNoWriMo last year I discovered a wonderful resource on their forums - a thread where people posted suggested titles for others to use. This has the advantage that real people thought of them, not computers. And while I didn’t use any for my own NaNo work (which is still on working title number two while I wait for inspiration) I did like the idea. I’ve started my own book of titles now. Here are just some of the ones I like: Magic Abroad; One Day You’ll Leave Me; Someone Else’s Song; The Koala Keepers’ Friday Night.

The problem here is familiar to many; it’s all about finding the perfect match. At Manchester United David Moyes is struggling to find the ideal partner for Wayne Rooney (on the pitch, that is). Somewhere on Saturday night television, producers are gamely attempting to find a happy couple in Take Me Out. Bachelors the world over are sighing over boxes of single socks wondering if they dare wear those two not-quite-the-same-blue socks as a pair. And at my computer I’m trying to match just one of those titles - and how I love those titles! - with the right plot.


So far I’m failing miserably, so badly that the current work in progress (which I’ve been wrestling with for months) is still lurking in a folder labelled ‘New Story’ and is currently provisionally titled ‘Version 2’. But I remain confident that one day the right plot will meet the right title and they’ll live happily ever after.

16 comments:

  1. Hi Jennifer, I sympathise. I need the right title because it keeps me on track and draws me back to what the story is about. It's one of the things I need to sort really early in the process. Anne Stenhouse

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    1. Yes - it ought to be easy once you have the book or the story but somehow it never is!

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  2. A title usually comes to me when I'm not thinking about it. If I'm particularly happy with a title for a short story it's a bit cross-making when a magazine changes it. I get over it by thinking I can use it in a new story. Your daughter's titles are terrific!

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    1. I'll tell her - she'll be chuffed! I wonder if you're right and I should stop worrying about finding titles and let them find me instead?

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  3. For me, sometimes they come and sometimes they don't. Anne's right - they do crystallise what the story's about - but then again, sometimes the best one is a wee phrase from the book - and that can only come after it's written!

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    1. I also find that if I'm set a title to write to, as an exercise, there's no problem. It just doesn't work the other way round

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  4. Stick with the battle Jennifer. I'm there with you. Current wip is masquerading under the title 'A Knitted Christmas' and somehow I don't think that's going to set the markets alight!

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    1. In a funny way, Gill, I quite like that title!

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  5. In my first submission to the New Writers' Scheme of the RNA my reader loved the title but wondered what it had to do with the story. When I read her crit I realised it wasn't a match made in heaven. My problem is usually my inability to find a title to suit the story. I think I'll take a look at a title generating site on the web - thanks for the tip, Jennifer.

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    1. Joan, I remember having a conversation with someone about publishers changing titles. He was appalled at the idea that anyone would take liberties with a writer's work. I'm afraid my own view was more along the lines of 'Phew - something for someone else to worry about!'

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  6. Hi Jennifer,
    Thats a very interesting thread. We dont think much about titles when writing for anything, even beyond books. At all leverls it really can make or break traffic to your product, in thsi case books.

    Wendy

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    1. Hi Wendy - thanks for dropping in. Yes, I think you're right and I'd love to know if there's any research on this. It might make us a little less lazy about titles if we knew that it made areal difference.

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  7. I hate thinking of titles whether for a story, poem, piece of journalism or book. Nice to know I'm not alone!

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    1. I'll hire out my daughter for journalistic title generation!

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  8. I love thinking of titles but can't get on with a book until I choose the right one. It's names of characters that often causes me more angst!

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  9. I'm a little late to the party.....but here now. When I started out on this novel-writing lark a multi-published author gave me a tip.....think of the book cover you want to go with this and it will help encapsulate the story....works every time for me now....:)

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