Discussion "To tell a title tale..." — The promise, perils and pitfalls of naming your story

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction and Writing Resource' started by Goodwood, Sep 8, 2013.

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  1. Goodwood Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    May 11, 2011
    star 4
    As authors of our own (sometimes not so) little stories in our own little slice of the universe, one of our struggles comes up when it is time to give name to the fruits of our labor, be it a short story, a novel, or a whole series of works. We want that title to be catchy, something that draws the eye and begs a potential reader to give it a shot, see if it's something they're interested in, and maybe even to read and/or comment on it. Unfortunately, when it comes to such an important item in the agenda, there can be some pretty hairy hangups and potential snags that you have to watch out for.

    If you've ever had trouble coming up with an appropriate title for your latest piece of narrative, you've come to the right place. But first it is only fair that I offer a subtle warning: some of the discussion may inevitably relate to works that have once been published to the Jedi Council Forums. Thus, it would seem prudent to try and understand that any reference to such stories should not be done with malice by the mentioner, and should be given the benefit of the doubt by the reader.

    All this aside, I came up with a short list for your consideration:

    Story Title Dos and Don'ts:
    1. Try to encapsulate the main focus of the story; to whit, a novel about a Jedi's coming of age should probably be given a simple title that carries the tale's essence.
    2. Don't attempt to be more clever than you are. Most of the time the result, to the outside observer, will come off as hackneyed and/or overwrought.
    3. If during the course of writing your story, an appropriate title just leaps out at you, grab it by the horns and use it. Unless, of course, you later find that your story has taken a different direction.
    4. No matter how tempting it may be, shy away from using the following terms in a story title: "Echoes", "Shades", "Saga of", "Legend of", "Essence", "Always", "Forever", "Whisper(s)", or any non-English word in a story written in English.
    5. If you absolutely must use any of these terms, attempt to do your utmost to ensure that the title still fits the story.
    6. Don't spend too much time coming up with your title. Usually (but not always) the first thing that hits you is what will work best.
    7. Adapting the title to the tone of your tale can help immeasurably; if it is a serious story, use a serious title, if it is a farce, then feel free to go nuts.
    While writing stories, some of us come up with so-called "working titles" that mean something to the author, but may or may not be the best of matches for the story we end up coming up with, hence the term. However, sometimes the working title still fits even after the tale is complete. If it feels right, don't hesitate to use it, because spending too much time dwelling on it is time spent whittling a stick of wood into sawdust. Not unlike constantly rewriting That First Chapter, as Michael Stackpole might say.

    It is also important that you give the story you are trying to tell some time to grow before you turn yourself toward the task of naming it. Like with babies, we don't often pick a name from day one of pregnancy and assign the unborn child (or pet) that moniker without any further consideration. One potentially catastrophic side effect of selecting the title before the story is written is the tendency of the title tail to wag the content dog, meaning that we end up having to write for and about the title instead of what we want to write, if only for some imagined sense of consistency. Al Franken lampshades this in the first chapter of his first political book (published in 1996), entitled Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations.

    Titles that allude to, or are even taken from, previously published professional prose, are perfectly okay so long as they fit the story. I did this myself when writing my first fan fiction novel, The Last Full Measure. Of course, the original use was for a novel of the American Civil War by Jeffery Shaara, but it was appropriate for a couple of reasons: first, it was a story that took place during the Jedi Civil War and second, it was about a dangerous mission where survival was, at best, uncertain. That said, trying to imitate famous authors', directors' or producers' titling styles when coming up with your own story name can bring its own hazards. Some folks are simply astoundingly gifted at coming up with interesting titles that grab your attention, but even Stanley Kubrick can have a misstep or two (Eyes Wide Shut, IMHO, wasn't exactly grade-A material as a film, and its title was basically just an aloof metaphor).

    So, now that I've fired off the first broadside, let's see what develops. I'm interested to hear what everyone thinks.
    Admiral Volshe likes this.
  2. TrakNar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 4, 2011
    star 5
    When it comes to writing and titling a story, I generally have a basic aspect of a plot figured out before I slap a quick working title on it. The working title is primarily for the benefit of the save file when I get around to typing it up, and just to give me something to call the story, should I discuss it. Usually, my working titles consist of one or two words that have at least something to do with a major aspect of the story. Or, in the case of the Proverbs Challenge stories, it's part of the proverb itself. Most of the time, about two-thirds or three-quarters into the story, I'll come up with a final title, usually when I'm in the shower.

    The bathroom. Where all that we are is laid bare and creativity flows as freely as the sink faucet.

    I try not to put too much focus on a title when I write, as I'd rather put that focus on the story itself. The title is incidental to the story. If I can't think of a catchy title to replace my working title, oh well. I'll stick with the working title, as obviously it worked. If I can't think of a title at all, I'll ask others, or just nick a song title. Thankfully, that doesn't happen very often.

    Lately, I've been locked into a habit of making all my titles puns in some way. Not sure why. Not necessarily a good habit to get into.
  3. Briannakin Grand Moff Darth Fanfic Manager

    Manager
    Member Since:
    Feb 25, 2010
    star 4
    I HATE titling my stories, and I'll admit, I've had some pretty dumb titles. I always use a 'working title' from the get-go for the "Save As" box and it usually sounds like a Friends episode title (my current working title is "The One Where LM have a Grandchild because Ben is a Moron"). Often my real title will come to me while I'm writing chapter 3 or 4 (or while brushing my teeth; as Trak mentioned, the bathroom seems to be then fountain of creativty), but sometimes I have to create a less stupid sounding title from my working title (sometimes the result isn't THAT bad). I don't like forcing myself to come up with a title, because those are usually the ones I regret later, but sometimes you have to, like for the Dear Diary Challenge. I LOVE it when a title just comes on its own.
    Draconarius likes this.
  4. Jade_Pilot Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Dec 10, 2005
    star 5
    I don't know....I've read a lot of good stories with "Echoes", "Shades", "Saga of", "Legend of", "Essence", "Always", "Forever", and "Whisper" in the title.

    Some great ones even have TWO of these words in the title like @ginchy Echoes of Always for example.
    Last edited by Jade_Pilot, Sep 11, 2013
    ginchy and Briannakin like this.
  5. TrakNar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 4, 2011
    star 5
    Good games, too. Legend of Zelda, anyone? Movies, as well. Stir of Echoes comes to mind. I can't think of any others off-hand, but there are no doubt plenty of titles that use those words. It's not the word that can make a title sound bad, moreso than it is how that word is used. Thus, I wouldn't say to not use those words at all.
  6. Briannakin Grand Moff Darth Fanfic Manager

    Manager
    Member Since:
    Feb 25, 2010
    star 4
    I've read a lot of good fics and books with those names in the title too. I think what Goodwood was getting at is they're a bit oveused for titles (nothing to do with the acutual story under the tite). I wouldnt say not to use those words, but they are pretty comon, so I would shy away from using them if you can think of an alternative, but that's just my opinion (I don't know how many times I've tried to think of the name for fics that I've read only to realize I've read 3 others with simmilar names).
    TrakNar and Goodwood like this.
  7. Goodwood Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    May 11, 2011
    star 4
    Pretty much what @Briannakin says, yes that was the intent of that advisory. Please also understand that these items are just the opinion of one writer, and may not necessarily work for other people.
  8. Draconarius Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Feb 27, 2005
    star 4
    I think this is the best way to do it. Just pick a working title to start with, even if only so you yourself have something to call the 'fic other than "Star Wars Story #73", and then wait for the story to develop so you can figure out the final one.
    TrakNar likes this.
  9. TrakNar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 4, 2011
    star 5
    So, now that we've covered waiting until your story is finished, and that most titles come from the bathroom... What about those of us who rely on the bathroom for inspiration because we otherwise have trouble with coming up with catchy titles? I try to use puns and jokes for my titles, but there are plenty of times where I'm stuck and can't think of a decent title.

    That said, any suggestions for titling a story? In the past, I've used the story's theme. Lately, I use puns. That may not work for everyone, and certainly not every story.
    Last edited by TrakNar, Sep 12, 2013
  10. Juliet316 Streak for Colours Bonanza Winner

    Game Winner
    Member Since:
    Apr 27, 2005
    star 7
    Unless they are very short stories or a drabble that I'm writing (especially if they are in response to a commentfic prompt, which more often than not puts me in "write now or this idea will disappear on you" mode), I refuse to even start a story unless I already have the title in my head. I've had ideas languish for months or even years (or get forgotten altogether) because I don't end up having titles for them. But if I commit to a story, then I want a title that encompasses just what the story is all about, or of I don't want to give everything away, at least try to convey what the mood of the story will be. That and summaries are the hardest things to come up with IMO. In my view, you can always think about a summary after you've started writing, I can't do that with titles.
    Last edited by Juliet316, Sep 13, 2013
  11. Briannakin Grand Moff Darth Fanfic Manager

    Manager
    Member Since:
    Feb 25, 2010
    star 4
    I've never used a pun to title my story. I have used a Bible reference (the story was called Honour Thy Father, which was one of my favourite titles, simply because it fit the story so well). I've used the story's theme and references to other books/media for titles, but I typically just come up with a short phrase that fits the central plot. That generally works well for me, but I've never had any super amazing titles.

    I've never come up with a final title before I've started to write. IMO, a badly titled story is better than no story.

    I once read the "Process of Writing a Hollywood Screenplay" (or something like that) and the author said that the VERY last thing he (and every other writer he knew) did, after the screenplay was completely done, was come up with the title. I know some people start posting before they're even done writing (I'm one), but has anyone waited till they were completely done a fic before giving it a name? Did the title fit any better that one you would have thought of in chapter 2?
  12. TrakNar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 4, 2011
    star 5
    I know one of my vignettes was posted without a title. Then, it got a title. Usually, when I start posting a story, I've already written it up by hand, and thus I've waited until after it was finished to give it a title.

    So, anyone have any tips on how to come up with a title? Aside from napping (sometimes works) and spending time in the bathroom? I've used variations on a story's theme with varying success, but what process do the rest of you go through to think of a title?
  13. Goodwood Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    May 11, 2011
    star 4
    Ironically, I myself have never really had any problems coming up with titles for stories/novellas/novels that I've written. Often as not they just leap out at me from the prose as I write it, or they come with the source of inspiration (including dreams, funnily enough).

    Basically, it comes down to the KISS rule (Keep It Simple, Stupid). :)
  14. Chilla Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 30, 2005
    star 4
    A lot of my titles are either song titles or parts of song lyrics - especially if the story or plot ideas for it came to me while listening to that particular song. But I also greatly enjoy weaving lyrics into my stories, if I see a good match.

    That being said, in my latest story (that hasn't been posted anywhere yet and might never be) I decided to also give each chapter a title. I found it really difficult to come up with so many titles (it was NaNoWriMo, too, so pretty much a title and a chapter each day), but in my desperation I turned to the NaNoWriMo boards. They have a thread there where people offer titles for adoption. I found lots of amazing titles and inspiration there. I made a new document with titles I liked and thought would fit my story. Then I went back to that document whenever I needed a title and checked if I could use one.

    http://nanowrimo.org/en/forums/adoption-society

    In general, I highly recommend the NaNoWriMo boards and especially the Adoption Society. Great fodder for stories there. And you can ask the kind of questions that would usually make people doubt your sanity, and no one will think it's odd.
    TrakNar likes this.
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