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July 30th, 2007, 04:27 PM
Hello, gang.

After months of cruising through the old threads of this forum and reading conversations from years ago to just yesterday, I decided that I'd introduce myself. It seemed the polite thing to do, considering how much I owe you folks. Even when you become riled up over a topic you are a very enlightening group, with excellent advice and blunt facts - exactly what every would-be author needs. I appreciate it.

I'm writing a story that will likely be labeled fantasy if the thing ever gets published. Yesterday I cleared the 100 page mark, a personal first, and I feel like I've just found my speed, my natural structure, what have you. I'm committed to three new pages a day. I think I have a good hook, a strong beginning and a good storyline. I like what my characters are telling me. I like the look of 12 point Times New Roman and double-spaced lines with a 1 inch margin. I like paragraphs that flow out unhindered. I like hammering at a sentence that becomes stronger and cleaner with every change. I'm jazzed, terrified, empowered and extremely fond of blue cheeses, especially Stilton.

I look forward to getting to know all of you. I'll start with a question I've never really seen in the past threads. Bad titles have been discussed, but what is a good title? What elements are needed to craft a real eye-catcher?

July 30th, 2007, 04:57 PM
I don't know, honestly. Names in general is something I struggle with as a writer. Character names are really, really difficult for me to come up with, but Titles are even worse. The worst, in fact.

In fact, in my current work in progress, I came up with a title a while back. The word was mentioned in passing in a movie, and I thought it was very fitting. It was sort of an "Ah-Ha!" moment for me, and I thought it was perfect.

But now that I've named my book that, I'm starting to see the little bastard everywhere. One book, which completely has nothing even remotely similar to mine already has the title, somebody's underground graphic novel with a somewhat similar setting has a very similar title, a video game that came out in the late 80's has the *exact* same title, and not only that, but upon further research I found out that the stupid game even takes place in the same state as my story, only about 100 miles apart, AND there are a lot of other surface-similarities between my book and this game. This title also has been taken in similar form by one of the most famous poem's of all time. And in 2008 there's going to be a short story anthology published with stories from some of the most famous science fiction/fantasy writers of all time, with a pretty damn similar title.

Of course, I didn't figure any of this out until *after* I'd sat lovingly with it to the point that I've now become quite attached to it, and I can't actually see this story as being called anything else.

Not that I'm harboring any resentment for the world, or anything... bah, humbug.

July 30th, 2007, 05:54 PM
Then, Shane, you should be able to garner some comfort knowing titles are not copyrighted. or maybe not.

I work at my titles because it's the first thing, and something the only thing I've written that will be read by someone. It doesn't help to have a first sentence that jumps out of the page, handcuffs the reader and hauls him into the story by the scruff of his neck if the title says, "I have no imagination."

I work at the title the same way I work at the story. Brainstorm, write down ideas, edit, think about it, write down other ideas, ask other writers, edit, etc. etc. until you like what you have.

I don't know if there are any hard and fast rules(, and if there were, I'd be finding ways to break them). But I do have a few suggestions, in no particular order.

* I like a title which gives the readers some idea of what might be in the story, and what kind of story it is. A title like "Blood, guts and spinning wheels" could indicate dark fantasy. You can't give much of an idea, nor should you.

* A title can introduce the situation, the setting, or the character of a story, or any part thereof. "Spiders Learn Physics", "Asteroid Hopping for Beginners", or "The Lords of Microbiology"

* It may not be universal, but longer titles tend to indicate humor. Titles that rhyme tend to indicate humor too.

* A really good title will cause the reader to pause and ask WTH? Then it's up to the story to answer the question.

There are other ideas, to be sure. I'm sure some of the other citizens of sffworld will throw in their own suggestions, as well as amend mine. If I think of anything else, I'll add it.


James Carmack
July 30th, 2007, 11:03 PM
I second B5's advice on aligning the title with the "mood" of the story.

Polonius said brevity's the soul of wit and it's usually a good policy for titles too. Simple may not always be best, but it's rarely bad.

A title should give you some idea what the story's about, even if it's a little playful and/or roundabout.

Also, titles aren't copyrighted, but those that establish a brand name can be registered trademarks (watch out for those). Don't be afraid of using the same title (it does happen, after all) unless it happens to be the same as a rather famous piece, but do try to exhaust the alternatives first.

Memorability is another thing to shoot for. Make your title stick in people's heads if you can.

Lastly, Barrett, you say your story will probably be labeled as fantasy. What do you think it is?

July 31st, 2007, 01:08 AM
I agree that a title is very important to selling a story. With that being said, I do not, however, believe that the title needs to be determined before the story is written. As it has been mentioned, the title should reflect the story in one way or another. If you know your story inside and out before you write it, then feel free to create the title, but if you are anything like me it actually takes writing the story to become familiar with it.

I am 135k words into my story and still do not have a working title. An idea of what the title should be is starting to form now that most of the story has taken shape, but it still has not been decided upon.

Now your question about what makes a good title is harder to answer:

easy to remember

July 31st, 2007, 10:32 AM
ILastly, Barrett, you say your story will probably be labeled as fantasy. What do you think it is?

I think it's fiction. It's an old conflict in me, embracing the reality of genre labels while wondering if the world was better with just fiction. I gave up the fight a long time ago and I accept that genre is here to stay, evolving and becoming more specific with sub-genres for specific audiences, but I ain't gots ta like it none.
More to the point, the story is sword-and-sorcery, dark fantasy, adventure... It has a detailed setting but not all the elements needed for either high or epic fantasy. It's a quagmire (Giggidy!) that I'll have to deal with later.

Meanwhile, back on titles, I don't see finishing the story and crafting the title as an either-or option. I thinking both can be seen to at the same time. The issue for me is gonna be finding those words that snag our attention on the shelves, are true to the plot and not too terribly similar to another title.
I think it's the first part of this that is the most challenging - what words grab the eye and immediately get the imagination working?

July 31st, 2007, 10:46 AM
I don't see finishing the story and crafting the title as an either-or option.

I'll go with you on that. Several of my WIPs have two or three working titles while in production, sometimes all at once. I don't know about anyone else, but good titles don't just appear out of the air for me. It just takes time. And sometimes even then I won't always have a good title.

Sometimes it helps to peruse your own library, ask yourself what worked on you, and why.


July 31st, 2007, 11:40 AM
What you do, see, is have MrBF do the title for you. After, of course, "Blood, Guts and Spinning Wheels," "Spiders Learn Physics," "Asteroid Hopping for Beginners," and "The Lords of Microbiology" have been written and are out of the way. Seriously, you are writing them, aren't you MrBF? Pretty please?

It is a bonafide strategy to canvas friends, family, your agent if you have one and any office staff they may have, strangers in the street, groups of small children, and have them brainstorm a title for you. Usually they come up with good stuff, and they enjoy it.

But mostly, I just in the course of thinking about or writing a story eventually come up with a title, not necessarily a great one. I want one that works with the story, that comes out of the story and the ideas or themes within it. If I ever get back to this short story I started though, I'm definitely canvassing you guys on it for the title.

July 31st, 2007, 06:44 PM
Keep in mind that your title might also get changed by the publisher. While not necessarily common, it is typically something the publisher is going to have the final say-so over as a marketing issue, much like the cover. For an explanation of this in action, here is a link to Booksquare's blog (Ok, no friendly link since the little link button above seems to be busted, but here's the URL you can click on: http://www.booksquare.com/archives/2007/07/30/2482/#more-2482 ). In this case the author was also facing an issue with the publisher trying to figure out the book's genre as well.

Aside from that caveat, the only other thing I would note is that your title should not be too difficult to pronounce. I speak from experience on that score, since many folks find the title of my first book (The Road to Kotaishi) a real mouthful. And if people have trouble saying the name of your book, they perforce are less likely to verbalize it in conversation with their friends, etc. Having seen this in action with that title of mine, where some people feel very awkward trying to say it, if I were to do it again I'd make the name easier to say (for Westerners, at least...)

August 1st, 2007, 12:19 AM
What you do, see, is have MrBF do the title for you. After, of course, "Blood, Guts and Spinning Wheels," "Spiders Learn Physics," "Asteroid Hopping for Beginners," and "The Lords of Microbiology" have been written and are out of the way. Seriously, you are writing them, aren't you MrBF? Pretty please?


Well, maybe I can look at what I get if I start one or two of those. There might even be some kind of story in "I Have No Imagination."

Most the the time all my imagination needs is a little kick start. My last published story was "Probability Epicentre Event" in Flashspec 2. (It was translated into Austrailian.)

Radthorne -- I had heard publishers change titles, how often it occurs depends on who's telling the story. From my POV the best strategy is to come up with something really good, and if they can come up with something better, let them.

You know you've arrived when readers have a nick name for your book, or better yet, it's known by it's initials.:cool: