Janet and I will have seen The Chameleon Theatre Group’s latest production, They Came from Mars and Landed Outside the Farndale Avenue Church Hall in Time for the Townswomen’s Guild’s Coffee Morning, by the time this post goes live. The play is written by David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin Junior and I look forward to sharing a review next week.
This production easily has the longest title of any play I’ve seen but it is a great illustration of one of the prime purposes of a title for any piece of writing. That is, it should give you some idea of what to expect! No doubts here – this title practically screams out “sci-fi spoof” at you! I love a good spoof so this ticks all the right boxes for me.
Writing With a Title in Place
Whenever I write a story, a flash fiction piece, or a Chandler’s Ford Today post, I must have a title in place. I can’t write without one. I need a “peg” to hang my ideas from and I know I’m not the only writer to feel this way. Sometimes a better idea for a title will come to me while I’m drafting a piece or I’m re-reading the first draft and that’s fine. I change the title to the better one but I seem to need something to start me off.
In flash fiction, the title is of particular importance. Why? Some flash competitions/markets include the title as part of their word count requirements. So always check terms and conditions of competitions and markets carefully and watch out for this. I’ve learned to keep my titles short for competitions of this ilk because I don’t want the title to use up too many words that I want to save for the story itself. Every word really does count.
Where the title is not included in the count required, I expand it a little. (Unless you are writing a spoof, titles are best kept short for ease of repetition. You want your readers to remember what you’ve written. Don’t make it too hard for them!).
Title and Mood
A title can be a good indicator of the mood of the writing to come. I’ve used a title like this in my Punish the Innocent. You know from the title this is likely to be a crime/revenge story of some kind and that in itself will indicate the kind of mood you can expect from the tale. Sometimes the writer’s main job is to deliver on the promise of that expectation. You really don’t want to let your readers down. You are setting them up for a particular kind of read so give it to them.
The trick is to use an open title, one that can be taken in more than one way, if you want to keep your readers guessing a little longer. I’ve done this with my Calling the Doctor. You’d think this would be a medical story. All I will say is it isn’t (not in the traditional sense) but it is apt for the story.
Usually titles are best kept simple too (and I don’t think I’m going to do better in this department than the one I’ve chosen for this post!). Also the points made here about the importance of getting your title right applies just as much to non-fiction articles and books.
Ease of Finding Titles
How easy do I find it coming up with titles? Generally it’s okay. I do struggle occasionally where I know I haven’t got something quite right but I’ve also learned to relax as I know now as I write, other ideas will pop into my head, and a better title idea will often be one of said ideas.
Sometimes it takes the physical act of writing to “gee” your brain up a bit to come up with better thoughts. I think it is a case you are distracting yourself with the actual writing and while you’re doing that your imaginative muscles are freed up to work more efficiently. I’ve found this to be the case several times. You do sometimes have to let go and trust your brain to come up with something. It just needs more time.
I choose a lot of my titles based on themes I want to write to but sometimes the theme of the story or post becomes more apparent as the piece develops. That is usually when better title ideas come and I go with them. Writers do develop an instinct over time (and with lots of practice) as to what works well, what works better etc.
The Purpose of Titles
The purpose of a title is to hook a reader in, of course, but that can be done in several ways. The Chameleons’ latest production is clearly designed to bring in the punters who like a laugh (there is no way such a title could be given to a serious production!). So the title is being blatant here.
But titles can also be subtle and can suggest several avenues for the story to go. The hook there is for the reader to find out if their guess(es) were right or not! I love playing this game myself when reading work by other authors. Sometimes I guess correctly but I’m always pleased when I don’t. The writer has managed to hook me in and wrong foot me – well done! A second reading of a piece like that almost inevitably reveals clues I missed first go round as I raced to find out which direction the story did take me in! Good writing always stands repeated re-reading.
If you’re looking for ideas for titles and/or themes, do check out the proverbs as they can be excellent inspiration for both. I’ve used a few in From Light to Dark and Back Again – for example Time Waits for No Man. I also use well known phrases such as Coming Up Roses and Serving Up a Treat.
Getting a title right for a piece is satisfying to the writer. It adds that special something to the finished work and the best titles are, of course, memorable. Shakespeare was brilliant at this. If I asked you to name five of his plays, I’m sure you’d have no trouble. My selection?
1. Romeo and Juliet.
3. A Midsummer Night’s Dream
4. The Merry Wives of Windsor
5. Much Ado About Nothing
Does it pay a writer to take time over their titles? Definitely. They advertise what your story is and you want to get that right. It is amongst the first things a reader will see and the title should at least pique their curiosity. For novels, it should lead them to want to read the blurb on the back and maybe the opening paragraph or so. (Hopefully then that will lead to a sale!).
Titles should not be a “last minute job” or treated as an after thought. After all, think of your favourite stories. What was it that drew you to them in the first place? The title would have been a major factor. (Pride and Prejudice is a great example of an alliterative title but also of piquing curiosity. What pride? Whose pride? What prejudice? Whose prejudice? I had to read and find out).
Titles are a vital part of the creative writing process then regardless of whether you write fiction or non-fiction. Good luck as you work out what your titles should be.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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