In a previous column,( http://themusemarquee.tripod.com/id153.html ), I discussed ways of jolting ourselves out of writer’s block by using other writers’
ideas or allowing our computers to help us. However, sometimes, it’s not starting the story that’s difficult.
Perhaps what we need is a snappy title, one that grabs the reader’s attention and makes them want to keep reading.
One method of brainstorming
a title is to try changing one word in the name of a movie, book or song. My husband wrote a story about some rebellious rodents
and a grain elevator. We took the word,” grain”, played with it and came up with “The Grains of Wrath”,
which fit the plot really well.
Recently I wrote an article
about a very spiritual experience at Coffs Harbour’s Butterfly House. While searching for a catchy name, I sat back in my chair and idly skimmed the novel
spines in my bookcase. John Irving’s “Zen and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance” morphed into “Zen and
the Art of Butterfly Maintenance” and my article not only had a title but also a focus.
Can you think of books or movies
where the titles seem to have been chosen that way? Did the movie title, “Two for the Money”, derive from a line
in “Blue Suede Shoes”? “Eyes Wide Shut” seems to be based on the saying “eyes wide open”
but one word has been changed to make a distinctive and memorable title.
Jim Heinrich, Sunday Magazine copy editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,
recommends using a rhyming dictionary and playing word association games when writing headlines. He points out ‘Many good headlines come from thinking of words that
SOUND like key words you're writing about. Some hammerhead examples: "Carnival knowledge" -- "Bra, humbug" -- "Paradise lofts" -- "Show me the monkey" --
"Believe in ferries." ‘Read more of Jim’s article here: http://www.poynter.org/content/content_view.asp?id=14276
Another way of creating a title is to browse lists of quotes or sayings.
Perhaps that’s how writers came up with “All That Glitters” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes”?
I browsed a list of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quotes and plucked these titles: “Delicious
Torment” (filed that one away in case I ever write a steamy romance!), ‘The Fuel of Magnificence” (article
about solar power?),”Beauty Steals Inward” ( article on aging) and “Drink the Wild Air” (my next short
story). Google “quotes” and you’ll be spoilt for choice.
But is it possible to get too fancy with title choice? Absolutely! We need
to remember the main purpose of a title is to catch a reader’s attention and have them want to read an article or story.
To do that, a title should give a signal as to the content.
Kelly Curtis, freelance writer, (http://www.kellycurtis.com ) believes the key to a good headline is the "feeling" of a piece, rather than its literal description.
Kelly says, “…the final headline is rarely the one I start with. Until I've finished the article, I'm never
completely sure of the form it will take. I love alliteration and assonance, twisted clichés and even mild hyperbole.
Humor's ideal, if you've got it. Numbers are also a great attention-getter.”
I asked Kelly to give us a commentary on titles she chose for her articles recently.
Mate for a Day -- Readers easily visualize with this short description,
and the long a's sound nice together. It's an exaggeration that my nine-year-old daughter was the sole-Gilligan,
but her experiences that day made her feel every bit the First Mate.
by a Calico -- The short "i" assonance is subtle, but oh-so-sweet.
Was my lover a feline? No, but the tongue-in-cheek emotions in the piece were similar.
the Mustard -- This expression is cliché, but when the "mustard" is Blue
Crab entrails, the heading takes on a whole new, humorous tone.
Moves to Wisconsin -- Notice the alliteration? It's an exaggeration that the fictional town uprooted,
but a slice of it now resides there, in the form of a B&B
Kids, Two Grownups, 1,000 Miles in an Opal -- The "are you nuts?" factor
will grab attention. In this case, the story delivered what the headline promised.
ways to empower your kid this summer -- Although completely unoriginal,
"10 Ways" articles tend to sell -- both the reader and the editor.”
(You can find
out about Kelly’s professional writing services at http://www.wordsworth.biz )
There are other prompts to help
with title choice. John Floyd has an excellent article, “Entitlement, Choosing the Right Name for Your Story”,
about it here: http://www.writing-world.com/fiction/titles.shtml I think Dan Poynter sums it up best when he answers the question “What is a good title? It is one that sells the book.”
(http://www2.xlibris.com/marketplace/howto/titles.asp) Read as much as you can about ways of choosing titles, about titles that hook the reader and those that don’t, play
and be creative with it. Come up with a selection and ask some friends to choose the one they would want to buy if they saw
it in a bookshop or magazine.
none of that works for you, ask a nine-year-old.
Have you been to these sites?
Duotrope's Digest of Fiction Fields
free, searchable database of over 500 fiction and poetry
markets. All listings are checked at least once a week to ensure
database is as up-to-date as possible. Also, it offers
deadline calendars, response time statistics, and submissions
Don Nilsen’s links to
From Post Box To Agency Inbox:
An Insider Look At How An Agent Reads
and Evaluates The Requested Sample Pages For Your Novel
By Kristin Nelson, Nelson Literary
Until next month, write on!