A short thought today on titles – specifically, choosing one for your story or novel or poem.
Each time I start a new post here I am invited to fill in the “Title” section at the top. I used to struggle with this. I tried to come up with something creative and intriguing and clever, and often I failed miserably. This used to disturb me until I read a very useful article on choosing titles for your blog posts. Its advice was this:
Choose a very simple title that sums up what your post is about.
Ahem. Good advice, and you will see that I have followed that advice today. Blog readers don’t want a smart-arse title that offers them zero clues about the post’s content. They just want to know what I’m writing about, so they can decide whether or not to keep reading. So now I follow the KISS principle when choosing titles for blog posts (Keep it Simple, Sister).
Fiction is a different story. Often the title of a short story will be as important as the story itself. It can offer illumination, raise a question, give us a clue, shed new light on an aspect of the story. Often we won’t “get” the title until we have read the story and thought about it for a while.
Last year I wrote a short story called “The Girl Behind the Bar”. You can read it here. It happened to win second prize in a literary competition, which I was very pleased about.
I took a long time to choose the title, and hopefully, if you’ve read the story, you’ll understand why I chose those exact words. Yes, it’s a story about a girl who works behind a bar, but the title also echoes the story’s themes of imprisonment and freedom.
Last week I wrote another story called “The Cat”. The story, which you can read here, follows the narrator as she makes a pilgrimage in memory of the baby she once miscarried. On the way she meets a cat – very briefly, and seemingly insignificantly. But in the story the cat symbolises life and hope and the bravery of reaching out to build intimate connections after loss. I couldn’t have called the story anything else, really.
Novels are something else again. I have an almost-finished novel in my drawer. It hasn’t seen the light of day since I launched my proofreading and editing business, unfortunately, but it’s there, waiting. I’ll get back to it eventually.
I picked out a title for my novel some time ago, and I was happy with it. But lately I’ve been wondering if I should change that title to something a little more “commercial” – something that will catch the eye of the browsing customer in the bookshop (if my book ever gets anywhere near a bookshop, she laughed, wryly). Something a little less obscure, less “clever”, a little more…palatable for my ideal imagined reader. Trouble is, I like obscure. I like clever. I don’t want to placate the masses. I want the title that moves my heart.
But I also want people to read my book.
I’ll keep you posted.