Jan. 11th, 2005 07:22 am
odd_buttons: (eats)
[personal profile] odd_buttons
The following is an excerpt from Part III of the book Making Shapely Fiction, by Jerome Stern. The first two parts are very much worth reading as well. The book is available in paperback.


Choosing a title is traumatic for some writers. They worry endlessly over being too heavy-handed, too obscure, too dull, too cute, and so forth. Nothing seems right. Part of the problem lies in the ambiguous status of the title. It is both part of the artistry of the work and part of the advertising for the work. On the one hand, a good novel might need no title, and on the other, no one will want to read it if it doesn't have a title that sounds interesting.

Some solutions that have helped people are these. Take a title from a phrase in a scene that seems relatively unimportant. You have two friends in a car on the way to strong-arm someone into paying back a debt. Neither of your two characters is comfortable doing this. Chatting nervously as they drive by a pond, one guy says, "You see those ducks?" You think, That's my title, "Ducks." It plays around in the reader's mind' it's suggestive rather than definitive.

Or choose a title that simply states the place, the time, the name of an object or a character's profession. "Debt." That has an understated effect. It's intriguing, but it doesn't give anything away. Wonderful stories often have relatively plain, almost invisible titles. Writers who like to play with words often choose titles that have double meanings, one of which isn't apparent until the story has been read. A quotation from a literary work can be the source of a title that is appropriate, eloquent, and allusive. "Itself and Friends." The problem there is that, like epigraphs, the quotation may seem too familiar, too obscure, to pretentious, or too good (so your own work suffers in comparison).

Lists of possibilities created by free association and uncensored wildness help. Mediating over them leads to the break-through. Every child is finally named.

See Names, Places and Place Names, Theme.

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