Gaffs of Truth

from One Who Creates with Alphabets

06 January 2006

Story Titles

I mentioned before about how every writer is asked where they get their ideas. But has any one been asked "Where did you come up with that title?"

I tend to start with a title and a bit of an idea. Often the title lends itself to the location, a character's profession or a major plot point. While I may fill an outline with CharacterA(M)/Character'sC'sBrother, I'm fortunate in that titles jump at me.

Many other writers are not.

I have at least ten 'Baby Name' books. I also have lists of phrases and word combinations. There is one particular title I really like but have never felt any story 'right' for it. Cameron Crowe said that about "Vanilla Sky". He almost used it for "Almost Famous" but held out until he remade "Abre los ojos".

What if there were a book of random weird words (from various languages) and phrases called Story Titles? I think many writers would be much happier.

Here are 11 things I would put in the Story Titles book:
*I use a lot of film titles as examples. A story is a story.

1) Character Names

Clarke's "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" and Rowling's "Harry Potter and the ..." series are prime examples.

But if you're not writing a particular character-centric story, it might not work. The only time I can readily recall a non-character character title working is "Get Shorty". It referred to procuring Martin (Danny DeVito's character) to star in the movie within the movie. (Hope I didn't spoil anything.)

2) Themes

Don't roll your eyes. This is not English 101.

One word titles reflecting the theme of the story can work. Think "Intersection" or "Betrayed".

But they don't tell a lot about the story and can be hard for readers to get past. However, one I did like is "Reversal of Fortune".

3) Action

Y'all have seen these for movies. "Collateral Damage", "Under Seige", "Hard Target". They are typically two words, an adjective and an odd noun.

They also don't tell anything about the story. As a reader, I would think 'muscled action hero shoot-'em-up' before 'deep compelling mystery'. And I would probably pass; not my thing.

4) Dialogue

Any line or phrase lifted directly from the story can work. I like "Good Night, and Good Luck" (I even knew what documentary Murrow said this at the end of-well before Clooney and Heslov even started working on it). Others are "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang", "It's Like, You Know..." and "Luck, Trust & Ketchup".

These are intriguing and make the reader wonder-generally a good thing.

5) Description

Any character, place or object can be pulled from the story on this. "Masked and Anonymous", "Too Much Sun" and "Cookie's Fortune" are some examples I like.

These can often sound all deep and meaningful. This can make readers curious.

6) Quotations

Quotes can be pulled from obscure or recognizable lines in books, poetry, descriptions, etc. As long as it fits your story and is relevant to the plot somehow. On the other hand, it might night even need context to be brilliant.

One problem is you need to quote the quote. This can be troublesome if the work is still in copyright. Even if its "free" to use, you still need to put the full quote in some sort of author's ntoe at the beginning or end. It can come off as pretentious if its from something obscure or simple if its from something known.

"Fly Me to the Moon" is one example I can remember.

7) Songs

Song titles, lyrics or even disbanded groups' names can be used. Just make sure they're clear legally. The best way is to write them yourself. (grr, I know)

"Supercalafragilisticexpialidocious" would not be a good choice.

8) Metaphors and Oxymorons

Common terms everyone uses. "True Lies" "Catch Me If You Can" and "Cats & Dogs".

9) Times

Days of the week, months, eras...there are many types. "Jurassic Park". There is a current pop song called "When September Ends".

10) Foreign

Combining English and non-English words or using non-English terms to describe something common to English readers is rather neat. It can also be irritating.

Do not do this with swear words. Make sure you know what the word means first.
Do not do this with words from your own constructed language. You are not Tolkein or Lewis--just no.
Do not do this with slang terms. It can date the story and possible offend people.

"Corazón de..." and "Sabado Giganto" are chat shows.

11) Colors

Technically this falls under #5-Description, but color words combined with any of the rest of these suggestions can perk up almost anything.

Who hasn't wanted to live in a "Yellow Submarine"?

This is not a comprehensive list. Add your thoughts and suggestions.

edit: Something that came from the comments.
Googling, looking on Amazon and B&N, and checking Igram's are great ways to avoid getting attached to a title that has already been used (and possibly prominently).


At 8/1/06 13:55, Blogger M. G. Tarquini added...

These couple of posts are excellent. Okay with you if I link them tomorrow?

Story titles always present for me AFTER I'm into the piece. I start typing, next thing I know, there's an obvious title to the story. Think of 'Catcher in the Rye'. Salinger doesn't even get to that line until the very end of the book. I've one title I'm not real happy with and I think about changing, but nothing better presents itself. My one other thought for it, which is pretty descriptive is also already used as a title by William Golding.

I've been thinking lately of doing like Salinger, pulling out a good phrase from whatever story I'm struggling with to use for a title. Then I think to leave well enough alone since none of my titles is being used yet by any fiction being sold on Amazon.

At 9/1/06 06:10, Blogger Alphabeter added...

Link away!

Just tell me how to get the blogroll I spend waaay too much time fine-tuning to appear in my profile?!

I'm not allowed to read Catcher in the Rye. Something to do with Conspiracy Theory. ;)

I should note that when considering titles. Googling, looking on Amazon and B&N, and checking Igram's are great ways to avoid getting attached to a title that has already been used (and possibly prominently).

At 9/1/06 09:50, Blogger M. G. Tarquini added...

Um, blogroll? I just add links manually. My guess is that they'd give you code. But you don't want it in your profile, you've space on the side bar to add things like links and blogrolls. Check your code. I'd think this would be easy stuff for you.

I ALWAYS check my titles out. There's an Italian race car driver named tarquini who drives an mg. He's very famous and people talk about him a lot. We're always coming up together.

One of the Bunions is doing a movie script for a book on spec from the author. She gave us the title, I go checking and I'm thinking - oh dear, this book stinks if the first five pages are any indication.

Right, different author same book title. Best to check.

Shall link when I'm awake enough to post. Might just write today (now wouldn't that be novel? yuck yuck)


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