Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wait, does this need a title too?

In Sheena's post on Monday, she asked us for tag-lines, and my brain veered onto the superhero route (Prosers: It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a 3000 word sprint!). And that made me think of my own strengths and weaknesses. Now, I know it's bold to declare my weaknesses as a superhero writer where the whole world could see, but I'm just crazy like that (I don't fear you, Malaysian spambots!)

It's not the general weaknesses that we're going to talk about tonight. No, we're going to talk about the really, really irritating ones. The things that it seems inexplicable that anyone could fail at. In my case:

-I can't make fried potatoes to save my life (no matter how many tips people give me).
-It takes me freaking forever to open those stupid plastic produce bags at the grocery store. (THIS SHOULD NOT BE HARD)
-I can't wear clothes for five minutes without getting something on them, no matter if I haven't drank, eaten, or left my house (I don't own a lot of white).
-I'm terrible at naming things

They taunt me with their delicious crispy goodness!

It's the last, of course, that causes me the most trouble as a writer. I do okay naming characters, but as a fantasy writer, I'm always trying to create new worlds and places, all of which seem to require names. The Steve* Forest might be funny at first, but you can't name everything in your world Steve without causing great confusion.

I've searched around for tips, but none of them seem to work for me. I fail utterly at making up random words, and though I can sometimes entertain myself by playing with Google Translate, coming up with names by searching random words in 20 plus different languages is not very time efficient.

hat whole situation is annoying, but what's really bad is my inability to come up with titles for a story. And titles matter. I myself am guilty of judging by titles. I certainly picked up A Fistful of Sky by Nina Kiriki Hoffman because of the title, and it was an awesome book. Now she's one of my favorite authors, but I wouldn't have made a random selection of the book if the title hadn't grabbed me. It works the other way around as well. For example, I haven't read The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss yet in part because of the title. It's supposed to be really, really good, but every time I see the title I think, "The name of the wind is 'Steve'!" And then I snicker to myself for a few minutes before picking up a different book.

I'd always known this, but the message was really driven home for me recently. After years of sending around my story "Marbles" and not getting it accepted, I finally had the brilliant inspiration to call it "Music in Glass." And yes, it did take me years to come up with that alternate title.

The problem continues – one of my short stories in progress is currently called "Curse Story" because I have no other ideas for titles. And my novel is currently called Graveyard, which would be kind of boring even if a certain famous author hadn't just won every award imaginable for The Graveyard Book.

I prefer to wrap up posts with a positive note and solutions, but I really have no clue on this one. Any magic suggestions for how to find great titles for stories would be much welcome. I've tried all the standard things here too (looking at other titles I like and adjusting them to my story, for example), but none quite work for me.

And to not make myself seem like a complete incompetent, here are a few pointless things that I'm really awesome at:

-Identifying gulls in winter plumage to species level**
-Baking chocolate chip cookies
-Drawing stick figure zombies

What are your random strengths and weaknesses?

*Sincere apologies to anyone named Steve. I actually do this with a multitude of names, but this is the one that went in the post tonight.

**It is impressive! I swear! At least other ornithologists think so...


  1. Okay, now I want to see a stick figure zombie.

  2. I have trouble with titles too. If you ever figure out a trick let me know.

    I love the title "Music in Glass" though even if you took it a few years. :)

  3. Sabrina, I share this title curse. I hate titling things and I never come up with anything that feels right. I also hate naming characters, and I am completely incapable of naming businesses, secret societies, countries, or magical creatures. I'll write a whole manuscript with "xxx" in place of a name, and then seriously contemplate just leaving it like that.

    But chocolate chip cookies are an important life skill to have :)

  4. Random strength: I have an awesome evil laugh.
    Random weakness: I walk into walls. More frequently than I'd like to admit.

    I recently read some great advice for titles but now I can't remember where. (another weakness). But I remember one idea was to take several prominent features or symbols (even un-related ones) from your book and start pairing them together in combinations for your title. I did this once by accident and came up with a story called the Diamond Wormhole.

    Having read and loved Marbles, I think Music in Glass is wonderful!

  5. Sheena, I knew someone was going to ask me about that. I swear I'll post one for you guys once I make it to the computer store and buy the cord to connect my printer/scanner to my computer.

    Hi, Margo! I've missed you. How are your novels coming? Do I ever get to read the end of the unicorn story? :) I really, really like the title suggestion too; I'll have to give that a try.

    And yes, I'm pretty happy with "Music in Glass" as a title too, and it does fit the story. The sad news about that story, though, is the 'zine I sold it to folded immediately after. So now it's looking for a new home yet again.

  6. It's funny, titles are easy for me. It's the next 80k words that take some work :)

    Love Music in Glass.


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