Titles lead unpredictable lives. A lucky writer may have a great title even before the story is begun. Often, a title arrives while the story is underway. On the other hand, it might not appear until after the last sentence is written. It may have to be pulled from its cave. A chosen title can have the right ring but has to be retuned several times.
Why go through all this search for a title? To whet a potential reader’s interest, to entice them to read your work. A book or story title can be the final lure.
No doubt, finding a title can be a bit of a journey, whether for fiction or nonfiction. In my case, several title searches are currently underway. I’m still working with a title for my short story collection, also for one or two stories within it.
A title challenge I didn’t expect came with the book’s Table of Contents. I didn’t want to simply list the stories. I decided to group them by theme. This took a bit of sorting and resorting until six groups of stories emerged around the themes of war, opportunity, fate, relationships, loyalty, and looking back. When I was happy with the groupings, I wanted a title for each set, a title that carried subtext for deeper meaning.
First, for the title searches, I played with famous quotes or phrases about each theme. Then I looked at Shakespearean sources. Next biblical lines. Then song titles. I wasn’t happy. Finally, I decided to take a line or phrase or do a paraphrase from one of the stories within the particular grouping. For example, one of the sets has six stories written around the theme of fate or destiny or luck. I chose for a title the phrase the tap of metal on glass from a story within the group called “Funny Man.”
A final step for the contents page is the order of the story groupings and the story order within each grouping. In other words, final touches. Foreword and Acknowledgements pages are ready. The single quote that speaks to the collection is chosen.
Now for the stories themselves. I haven’t read through them in a month. I’m beginning that final process: a stray adverb, an adjective that isn’t necessary, a better active verb, word repetition, a better word choice in a sentence, sentence variety. In other words, something that jumps out at me I haven’t noticed before. I want the feeling that each story rings with its own truth.
Then everything goes to the editor. Did I write with craft and art? I hope he finds at least some. Did I make the reader care? Did each story hold together? Does the story linger with the reader after the last word? What does he think of the title?
I now have to wait on the editor’s scrutiny. Another part of the process is about to unfold.
PS – I chose works by artist Edward Hopper for this post. Writing is often a solitary adventure.
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