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Thread: The Agony of a Title

  1. #1
    Mid-Leap asmira's Avatar
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    The Agony of a Title

    Do any other short fiction writers find titles nearly impossible? I can never figure out how to come up with something that it catchy without giving away too much of what is to come.

    What tricks do you guys use, or what advice do you have about naming your works?

  2. #2
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    I always, no matter what I'm writing, start with a title I like. The title itself generate steh story.

    I come up with titles much teh same way Ray Bradbury did. In fact, I stole his method, and di just a bit of adapting. I make a list of nouns verbs, and lately, colors, Then I mix and match until something sounds good.

    It's always title first, story second.

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    Mid-Leap asmira's Avatar
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    That's interesting. For me a story is usually born out of a character beat. Who is that? What are they doing, or why are they doing it?

  4. #4
    Who is Ray Bradbury? Guess you're not a sci-fi fan.

    I often don't tile until the end. And I try to title along thematic lines, if I can, and sometimes look for double meanings. Other times, if there's some unique noun in the story, I just use that unique noun.

    Personally, Philip K. Dick's titles are my favorite. They say so much, yet give away little, and are always intriguing.
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    Likes metaphors mixed, not stirred Chris P's Avatar
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    There's not any one way I've come up with titles. I've gotten some story ideas from a title generator (http://www.mcoorlim.com/random.html) we were using for a game here on AW, and sometimes the title comes first on its own. Other times it comes from the story, and I am curious about the method James described.

    For a while, I was really fond of two-word titles, and half the time one of the words was an article. The title was very plain and described the overall story (The Governor, The Rescue, etc.). Lately I've been more creative, but there's not any particular method I use.
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    practical experience, FTW Ken's Avatar
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    ... the good news is that there's really no pressure. View titles for short stories you've read. Are they really anything spectacular? Not really. A few capture your attention and are concise summaries of the story as a whole. (Not to say they even have to be, to begin with.) Most titles are just titles. "Here's my story. Gotta name it something. This title is as good as any. Take it or leave it..." So don't be so hard on yourself. If you come up with a good title, fine. If you don't, don't sweat it. It'll due. Your story is what's gonna get you an acceptance.

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    Mid-Leap asmira's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MJNL View Post
    Who is Ray Bradbury? Guess you're not a sci-fi fan.
    *lol* No, I meant my character beat. Who is the character, and what or why are the questions I ask myself as the seed for my works of fiction. I'm actually quite the sci-fi fan.. although, I would think that particular name would be pretty recognizable even outside of the genre. He did quite well for himself, for sure!

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    Mid-Leap asmira's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken View Post
    ... the good news is that there's really no pressure. View titles for short stories you've read. Are they really anything spectacular? Not really. A few capture your attention and are concise summaries of the story as a whole. (Not to say they even have to be, to begin with.) Most titles are just titles. "Here's my story. Gotta name it something. This title is as good as any. Take it or leave it..." So don't be so hard on yourself. If you come up with a good title, fine. If you don't, don't sweat it. It'll due. Your story is what's gonna get you an acceptance.
    Yeah, but it almost seems like with a short story the title is even more important. Obviously, you are right.. the majority out there are not precisely awe inspiring! I'm a worrier and perfectionist to be sure.

  9. #9
    practical experience, FTW magicmint's Avatar
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    I create titles by taking a specific image from the story itself. Usually works.

    I actually think titles to short stories is very important. When reading magazines, I read the stories that interesting titles first.
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    As a previous poster said, I wait to title until the very end. Usually, I find a line or an object or a term that was important/pivotal to the story and I use that as a title.

  11. #11
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    If I don't have a title by the time I finish writing, I go through the story and highlight interesting words and phrases. Sometimes the title will be a direct phrase. Sometimes a combination of some of the interesting words.

    I do think it's worth some thought, as an interesting title can help you stand out on a table of contents. But no one's going to come up with awesome and unique titles all the time.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jamesaritchie View Post
    I come up with titles much teh same way Ray Bradbury did. In fact, I stole his method, and di just a bit of adapting. I make a list of nouns verbs, and lately, colors, Then I mix and match until something sounds good.
    Bradbury was good with titles, and yet, some of his finest stories have very simple titles:

    "The Lake"
    "The Dwarf"
    "The Vacation:
    "The Jar"
    "The Women"
    "The Crowd"
    "The City"
    "The Night"
    "The Emissary"
    "The Cistern"
    "The Scythe"
    "The Traveler"
    "The Aqueduct"
    "Embroidery"
    "Homecoming"
    "Uncle Einar"

    etc.

    You can overthink titles, trying too hard for clever, much like you can overthink other things in writing. One of my rules of thumb is, When I have to strain to come up with something, chances are what I'll come up with won't be very good. At which point I try to simplify.

    Sometimes titles come to me, and sometimes those generate a whole story, as JAR has said. Sometimes not. I've also been known to change titles after a story is finished.

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    practical experience, FTW Ken's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by asmira View Post
    Yeah, but it almost seems like with a short story the title is even more important.
    ... you may be right about that. And another thing is that with novels an author's choice of title may wind up being changed by editors, as I've read here on AW. That probably doesn't happen much with short stories. So in that sense they may be more important, too, as there's more permanence to them.

  14. #14
    I against I Jon M's Avatar
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    Sometimes a good metaphor or simile works as a title. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, or The Heart is a Thousand Empty Rooms, or Hills Like White Elephants.
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    Mid-Leap asmira's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Polenth View Post
    If I don't have a title by the time I finish writing, I go through the story and highlight interesting words and phrases. Sometimes the title will be a direct phrase. Sometimes a combination of some of the interesting words.

    I do think it's worth some thought, as an interesting title can help you stand out on a table of contents. But no one's going to come up with awesome and unique titles all the time.
    This sounds like fantastic advice. Thank you. As to the second paragraph, that's basically my thought process as well. My worry that someone would come across the piece, and say "meh" without giving it a shot.

    Thank you to all who have posted for your time! You've given me some new ways to think about it.
    Last edited by asmira; 12-31-2012 at 02:44 AM. Reason: I'm a dope who forgot something she wanted to say.

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    Caped Codder jaksen's Avatar
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    My titles always come first and often long before I have an inkling what the story will be about. But if you're having a problem, try reading some classic poetry that has the same theme or 'atmosphere' as your story. Something should hit you - a phrase, a few words, whatever. Some great stories and novels have been titled this way.
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    Quote Originally Posted by jaksen View Post
    My titles always come first and often long before I have an inkling what the story will be about. But if you're having a problem, try reading some classic poetry that has the same theme or 'atmosphere' as your story. Something should hit you - a phrase, a few words, whatever. Some great stories and novels have been titled this way.
    Ever been doing something not writing related, and have a title jump into your head and kick you in the cerebral cortex? When the kick comes, the whole story comes with it, and all you have to do is go write it down? Fast, before it goes away?

    I've sold stories that came this way. What I really want is a way to make it happen when I need it, rather than the once every year or so it usually takes for a new kick to come.

  18. #18
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    More often than not, I come up with titles while I'm writing out a quick plot. I normally start with a few words that seem relevant, then use those as the starting point for brainstorming titles. If something else pops up that I like, I divert down that path for a while, and repeat the process until the point I say "that's the one."

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  19. #19
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    I tend to find the most important thing is that the title reflects the mood or theme of the story. It's pretty impossible to give away plot details in a normal-length title unless you call it 'How I Came to Marry Him' or something like that. For my (sci-fi) titles I tend to go with things that reflect the setting or theme. I'll use the names of locations or allusions to the history behind the story or an event that's set up early on. Equally sometimes I'll go with a title that communicates a character's feelings, like 'Abandonment' is probably the most simple title for any of the stories I'm currently working on. 'Pegasus Sunrise' falls at the other end of the scale - that takes its name from the star that's a major part of the plot.

  20. #20
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    some good titles can attract huge views and without much content in it. I saw one guy on youtube did this. the guy titled it as someone naked, but inside all his talking. maybe the best is to come up with a title related to what you really talking about and try to make it exciting.

  21. #21
    Writers gon write. JimHeskett's Avatar
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    A title should be intriguing... create a little bit of mystery and stand out. Ray Bradbury can title a story "The Lake" because everyone knows who Ray Bradbury is. Think of it like your first line... grab someone's attention and stand out.
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  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by JimHeskett View Post
    A title should be intriguing... create a little bit of mystery and stand out. Ray Bradbury can title a story "The Lake" because everyone knows who Ray Bradbury is. Think of it like your first line... grab someone's attention and stand out.
    Ray Bradbury used similar titles before anyone except his mother knew who he was. His very first sale had the title "Homecoming", a plain title that's been attached to quite a few short stories.

    I like a good, intriguing title, but I think simple titles sell very well, and sometimes better than fancier titles.

    I sold the first short story I wrote to a national magazine. It paid $450, and that was a long time ago. That $450 was equivalent to about fifteen hundred bucks today. The title was "The Ordeal". Simple, and it had been used before. It's also been used since.

    My first thousand dollar sale was for a short story called "The Parachute". That story also sold to Cricket for another $350, and has sold to four other magazines since. Almost all my short stories have simple, Ray Bradbury like titles, and I can't say anyone has ever complained.

    I think the most complicated title I've ever used on a story that sold was one to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. It was called "A few Miles South of Nowhere".

    Other than this, pretty much every story I've sold has had a simple one or two word title, though I suppose even simply titles can be intriguing. One of my most popular stories was called "Wild Strawberries", which also sold to Ellery Queen. I cinsidere dit a plain, simple title, but I've had quite a few readers tell me they loved the title because it worked well with the story, but gave nothing away.

  23. #23
    Total Newbie MissyLaRae's Avatar
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    I think of it like a blog post.

    Take the first chapter. Think of what your meta data would be. Now think of what your key words would be if you were going to be doing SEO work for this piece. Then think of your top 5 key words. Can you spin one or two of those key words into an exciting title?

    I think it would be helpful if you thought of it like that. But that's just me.
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