Monday, August 18, 2014

On Creating Great Story Titles

Properly titling a story is extremely important to me. In thinking about creating titles for stories, I thought I would share what my process can be. For at least one type of story title, anyway.

I believe that a good title can contain half of a story's meaning, in theory. It's something to shoot for anyway. By changing a title it can alter the entire meaning of the story. It can twist a story's meaning in unforeseen and  interesting ways.

Sometimes I write a story, from a short story to a novel, based upon a title I came up with first as inspiration. Sometimes that title lasts all the way through to publish. At times once I finish the story, another title becomes apparent.

Sometimes the title comes last once I discover what the story is through discovery as I write it. When that happens, I try really hard to come up with the right title. I try to find the title in the story. I'm not always successful to the degree I want, but it's usually worth the effort.

A good title can make a world of difference in reader perception as well as story meaning. One of my best titles came out of this story:

Nikolas Hayes as "Simon" on the cover of one of my free ebooks
Simon's Beautiful Thought
Having a story where the title pulls things all together at the end, can be very pleasurable. It's good to be careful however about taking a string of words from within a story as the title, as it can come off as cliche or in the worst case, simply annoying.

For our purposes here, I'll just use a story of someone I know, Nikolas Hayes. This is from his first published short-short story on Wattpad.  It's a cool little horror sci fi tale, a dystopic that worked on his first draft. It's a good title. Not quite the kind that alters a story outside of its obvious meaning or intent, but a good title nonetheless.

Wattpad, if you don't already know, is a site where you can find a lot of interesting and free writings. In some cases, authors are writing entire books online there that you can follow along with as they are written, chapter by chapter. You can comment on them, sometimes affecting how the book develops. Many of these stories are first drafts, written on Wattpad and published without a second draft attempt. Many find that interesting. 

I heard a well known writer once say that you CAN make a living as a short story writer, you just have to be able to write a first draft, send it off and have it bought by a publisher, every single day. Not a lot of people can produce a finished, polished purchasable story in one draft. 

Some people have even gotten book deals in publishing like this on Wattpad.

Here is one of my latest stories on my Wattpad, titled: "To End All War". It's about a scientist who misuses an experiment he and his coworker are working on, in order to affect the entire world to his agenda. He's finally had it and felt that he had to do something; something, to stop the madness. Hopefully in the end, it will work out for everyone for the better. 

Or perhaps, he's just sadly deluded as so many seem to be now a days. Yet, I wonder....

One last thing before I get to the point of today's blog....

Death of Heaven by JZ Murdock
A few years ago before I published my currently re-released epic book, Death of Heaven (you know, I don't use "epic" lightly either, the book IS epic in scope, there's simply no debating it, you'll see what I mean), it still had no title as I approached the final edit prior to publishing.

Years before, Nik had produced a music CD of his original music on keyboards and there was one song titled, "The Death of Heaven" ( the link is to the video book trailer for the book using Nik's song so you can actually hear it). 

You can also see the web page for my book here, Death of Heaven.

In my search for a title for a book I scan a lot of art and music for ideas, to tweak to my own purposes. So at some point, I ended up looking over his song titles. I was starting to worry that I wouldn't find a title worthy of this book.

I loved that title when I saw it again. Perhaps I subconsciously directed myself to look at those songs again, songs I had 
previously listened to more than once. Although it wasn't quite how I was thinking of titling my book, over that next week, the more I thought about it, I just couldn't get it out of my head.

It started to make total sense to me. It fit the book the more I thought about it. So, I asked him and he allowed me to use that title. I dropped the leading "The" in the original title, as that isn't a great idea to use in book titles, but over all, the title was his.

In supplying Nik now with the title to his first short story published online, I've finally been able to pay him back in some small way for using one of his titles. I'm not saying that title doesn't exist elsewhere in the world, just that he came up with it independently on HIS own. 

Anyway, back to Nik's story and my method for devising a title, that would go something like this....

In his story there is mention of air, breathing, freshness and stars. These seem to be primary elements of the story, so good to focus on. 

Immediately I think:
star air
air star

But that’s boring, right? 

It has the gist but not the cadence or pizzazz needed, especially in a short-short story. So I go and look things up in an online thesaurus. 

Maybe I’d keep "star", as it’s so immediate and recognizable. 

That leaves, "air".

So I enter into my browser URL field:
air syn

air synonym

I pick a good site from the search results. This time it’s one on top:

From there I get:
breath breeze wind blast draft heavens ozone puff sky stratosphere troposphere ventilation waft whiff zephyr

seems cool to me. I like that word. 

Star Zephyr?

Except, now "star" seems boring and doesn't really match up well.

So maybe not "zephyr" after all.

star breeze?

Waft and whiff are both wrong; more silly than useful and this is in no way a comedy.

star wind?
That isn't too bad, but they don’t fit the story very well in my mind. 

So maybe "star" just won’t work.
star breath?

I like that, but it feels backward to me somehow. Maybe not "star" but "starlight"?
breathing starlight?

That just might work!

But not quite. It's too obvious, too straightforward, and I need something less obvious, with a twist somehow, something minor.

So if not breathing? Another sense? Feeling? Smelling? Tasting? Or maybe, drinking?

Drinking Starlight!

Drinking indicates thirst and that is a strong feeling. So is breathing but drinking twists things on its head and that's usually good.

So that’s it then. 

And that is pretty much how I go about creating my titles. Usually, anyway. 

I mean, that and other ways.

So check out Nik's cool little dystopian sci fi tale, Drinking Starlight, published just last week on Wattpad. I hope to see many more from him over the years as he has a unique vision on our world, our human condition and for that matter, our universe.

Drinking Starlight by Nikolas Hayes on Wattpad
Enjoy the free stories and as always... 


No comments:

Post a Comment