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Author Topic: Titles
rcmann
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I have a hell of a time with titles. And summaries as well. Any advice?
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MattLeo
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Well, in my experience titles are a gift of the subconscious. You find a motif that keeps working its way into your story then base your title on that.

I was working on my romantic comedy space opera and the term "Keystone" kept coming up. Then I realized that a keystone is the bit which allows two opposing halves of an arch to support each other in opposition, so "The Keystone" became the title of the story. After the fact I rationalized the title as a symbolic motif for trust.

In another manuscript, a morbidly humble character had a recurring dream of picking up a marvelous trumpet and being able to play it despite being un-musical. The motif represented showing his true self to the word, and so the title became "The Wonderful Instrument".

In my current WIP, a chronic underachieving wizard named Baudwynn teams up with a brilliant old school chum whose career has really taken off, and so the title of the story became "Baudwynn and the Rising Star".

As for summaries -- those are just hard, hard work. Even my hard-core plotter friends don't get much joy from writing synopses.

I wonder that you lump these two processes together, the leap of intuition and the plodding spadework. Would you call yourself a perfectionist in your work? That'll make both the processes unnecessarily difficult. If that's your problem, you're facing a form of writer's block, and the usual nostrums apply: change of scenery, just get something down on paper and worry about making it good later, etc.

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extrinsic
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A strong title expresses what a story is about dramatically without telegraphing the dramatic complication's outcome. Orson Scott Card's M.I.C.E. principle and how an emphasis correlates to a central dramatic complication are helpful for titling descriptively. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, character emphasis, Grapes of Wrath, idea emphasis, Dune, milieu emphasis, There Will Come Soft Rains, event emphasis.

Summaries? Excess summarization of action, or telling? Or synopses for queries? Treatment for the former, portray sensory details significant to a viewpoint character in the moment, location, and situation of the dramatic complication's influence. Treatment for the latter, focus on the dramatic complication without telegraphing the outcome.

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MAP
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I'm horrible at coming up with titles.

But I found this advice by agent Rachelle Gardner on the topic. It has some really great suggestions.

Good Luck!!

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LDWriter2
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I sometimes have problems with titles. Not sure of the real percentage but maybe half the time a title will pop into my mind almost immediately. With other stories one never comes to mind. Not one I like anyway. I come up with something but it's poor but it has to be called something especially if I send it out. In those case I hope the editor who buys it(if there ever is one)will change the title to something better. They have been known to do that even though it doesn't seem to happen so much anymore.

Sometimes part of a famous statement can be used, like something from a "Whom the Bell Toils For" type of statement. That one is a title of a Hemingway novel and a Metallica song but you get my idea...I hope. I can't think of any story where I used a Phrase like that but it's possible I have but in either case some well done stories have titles with a reference to a well known saying or event or poem or song even.

You have already been given some other good advice so I won't repeat it.

Summaries are another matter.I have had problems with them but I have learned something how to do them during one of Dean's Online workshops.

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rcmann
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LDWriter2, any hints you would be willing to let slip? Summaries are one of the two banes of my writerly existence. I can even cope with cover art. But titles and summaries give me gas.
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EVOC
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
I have a hell of a time with titles. And summaries as well. Any advice?

I have a horrible time with titles too. Dissolution of Peace only came to me after I used a "random title generator" I found on Google. Reading through all those random titles finally sparked an Idea in me. Then this title came to me.

The only easy title for me was the one for my next novel. I had the idea for the title before I started the novel. Otherwise it has always been a "wait until it hits me" thing.

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LDWriter2
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
LDWriter2, any hints you would be willing to let slip? Summaries are one of the two banes of my writerly existence. I can even cope with cover art. But titles and summaries give me gas.

I was afraid you might ask that, I need to check my notes and see if I can still rewatch that video. If need be I will look over the summary I made for the assignment. Dean asked certain questions which were easy to follow.

Just thought of something, did you mean the 200 or so word summary some editors want for novels or just a summary in general? Something for E-publishing?


And getting back to titles. You can also change a well known phrase a bit to make it fit your story. Using the "Whom Do The Bells Toll For" title. If you have a story about bells that work for a certain person or if the person works bells you could use "Whom The Bells Toil For" .

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rcmann
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I self-publish, so I need summaries for my ebooks. I am also planning to putting my trilogy up for POD through CreateSpace, which means I will need cover blurbs. Similar, but not precisely the same thing.

*sigh*

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History
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I need (yet again) concur with Matt Leo.
For me, a title are a composite of the story, or a hint of its essence.
A forschbise (appetizer) or remez (hint) to its theme.
I love crafting them.
Then again, my stories tend mostly to ethical-religio-mythical themes, and for a number of my stories I draw on my love of Biblical and English literary verse:

Exodus 5:2:
That I Shall Hearken To His Voice--a Kabbalist tale where in the course of resolving a murder mystery my protagonist struggle, Job-like, with understanding G-d's justice. The whole verse is "And Pharaoh said: 'Who is the LORD, that I should hearken unto His voice?" The story also concerns an "Egyptian" curse, hubris and the quest for eternal life, the ten plagues, etc. all relevent to the title--at least to one who can place the reference.

Shakespeare:
A Madness Most Discreet--a Kabbalist story concerning love, loss, madness, and sacrifice--and the walking dead. This is from Romeo and Juliet Act 1: "Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs. Being purged a fire sparkling in lovers eyes, being vexed a sea nourished with lovers tears, What is it else? A madness most discreet, A choking gall and a perserving sweet."

William Blake
Sacred Geometry--a Kabbalist short demonstrating science and mysticism/faith as two depictions of the same cosmological/mathematical understanding, blending Pythagoras geometry and mathmetics with the Kabbalistic Tree of Life and gematria (numerology).

Sometimes I like a simple play on words:
The Witch's Curse--the assumption that the protagonist has been cursed by a witch she kills in a post-apocalyptic Appalachian valley transforms over time with the her realization that the curse is in being a witch.

Etc.

I find titles fun--even if I'm often the only one who understands them. [Wink]

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

P.S. EVOC, congrats on both Dissolution of Peace and Plasma Frequency [http://plasmafrequencymagazine.com/]. Great jobs. I admire both. If I had something short enough I'd submit to you, though on second thought what I write is not a good fit, perhaps--but others should check Plasma Frequency out.

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EVOC
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quote:
Originally posted by History:
P.S. EVOC, congrats on both Dissolution of Peace and Plasma Frequency [http://plasmafrequencymagazine.com/]. Great jobs. I admire both. If I had something short enough I'd submit to you, though on second thought what I write is not a good fit, perhaps--but others should check Plasma Frequency out.

Thank you Dr. Bob. I'm glad you enjoy Plasma Frequency, it is a lot of hard work to get it out every other month and we appreciate the reader feedback. On the topic of Titles, it took me a long time to figure out the name for that Magazine. I only came up with it when I finally decided on our company name, Plasma Spyglass.
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Robert Nowall
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I don't do it so much anymore, but I used to thumb through some of my books, point to random sentences, and generate a long list of possible titles---and sometimes the title generates a pretty good idea in itself. (The books of "lyrical" writers seem best.)

On the other hand, I haven't done it as much lately, as the ideas come into my head somewhat formed already...then I have to think of something that'll fit them...and, sometimes, it just winds up with the title I stuck on it as a temporary title. So it's something of struggle still...

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
I self-publish, so I need summaries for my ebooks. I am also planning to putting my trilogy up for POD through CreateSpace, which means I will need cover blurbs. Similar, but not precisely the same thing.

*sigh*

I just went through this for ABNA. Having watched the struggles of other writers making an attractive pitch for their book, one conclusion I have reached is that authors are often the worst people to pitch their own works. They don't seem to be able to see the forest for the trees.

There's also a (misguided in my opinion) sense that if the plot and characters are not described in precise and accurate detail... that if there is any chance of a pitch reader imagining a wrong thing about the story, that somehow the pitch is dishonest.

The truth is, you can't really do justice to a novel in a three hundred word blurb, so it's actually attempting that full and accurate synopsis that misleads the reader. What you want to do is give the reader a rough idea of the rewards of reading the book. A taste of the book's flavor (exciting, mysterious, suspenseful, comic) is much more important than getting the exact details of what happens precisely right.

A pitch resembles the story it sells about as much as a editorial cartoon caricature looks like the person being lampooned.

I have an idea for a contest I want to run when I get back from vacation. It'll be a pitch contest, the twist is that you have to pitch *another entrant's story*. My idea is to have it run in three rounds, so most entrants get their story pitched by someone who makes it out of the first round.

[ February 18, 2013, 06:16 PM: Message edited by: MattLeo ]

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LDWriter2
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
I self-publish, so I need summaries for my ebooks. I am also planning to putting my trilogy up for POD through CreateSpace, which means I will need cover blurbs. Similar, but not precisely the same thing.

*sigh*

Dean does have an Online workshop to help with summaries and blurbs. $300 for a six weeks course I believe. If all the spaces are not taken. I'm not sure if he is going to continue the online workshops or not. I've thought about taking it if I ever can get my self to stop working on short stories long enough to revise two novels.
Double sigh

http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?page_id=7474

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babooher
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I generally think titles should be shorter rather than longer. There are always exceptions, but I generally think five or fewer words with a preference for three or less. Totally arbitrary, but I think it normally works. I think all of my titles for anything I've ever sold were three or under.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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EVOC's mention of a "random title generator" made me think of those word maps that show you the frequency of words in a text by how big each word is (can't think what they are called).

If you were to put your story (or, if it's too long, your synopsis) into something like that, you might be able to make a title out of some of the words that stand out.

They can also be helpful for finding words that you use too much, by the way.

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rcmann
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Thanks folks. Feel free to keep them coming.
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babooher
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I believe www.wordle.net will do what Kathleen Dalton Woodbury is talking about as will Tagxedo.com.
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Natej11
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I usually don't have problems with finding a title, since it seems to come naturally as I'm writing. But with my current WIP I started it with the intention of following a certain style of writing and the rest is coming as I write, so I still have no idea what to call it.

My solution is just to use a generic tentative title, "Adventure", and keep writing until a title occurs to me. If one never does maybe I'll just try BSing some until one fits.

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Meredith
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Sometimes it helps to play around a little with what you might want the cover to look like. Sometimes, that suggests a title.
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Grumpy old guy
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I'm with MattLeo in that you need to get someone else to write your 'blurbs' for you. I did this for a critiquing buddy and he kept asking why I never mentioned his most beloved character. I told him that that particular character didn't drive the story, he was just carried along by it.

We had two weeks of back and forward *discussion* about it.

In the end, I gave up. And he got to write the blurb *his* way. Still waiting for his first sale, I believe.

Phil.

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LDWriter2
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quote:
Originally posted by babooher:
I generally think titles should be shorter rather than longer. There are always exceptions, but I generally think five or fewer words with a preference for three or less. Totally arbitrary, but I think it normally works. I think all of my titles for anything I've ever sold were three or under.

Very short titles do seem to be the fashion these days. But that's not one hundred percent.
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LDWriter2
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
I'm with MattLeo in that you need to get someone else to write your 'blurbs' for you. I did this for a critiquing buddy and he kept asking why I never mentioned his most beloved character. I told him that that particular character didn't drive the story, he was just carried along by it.

We had two weeks of back and forward *discussion* about it.

In the end, I gave up. And he got to write the blurb *his* way. Still waiting for his first sale, I believe.

Phil.

I believe Dean also mentioned that.

The having some one else do the blurbs not the most beloved character discussion. [Razz]

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LDWriter2
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
LDWriter2, any hints you would be willing to let slip? Summaries are one of the two banes of my writerly existence. I can even cope with cover art. But titles and summaries give me gas.

Not sure if this will help with a summary but here is a list of what to put in an outline from Dean:

Put a title at the top of your page for the novel.

— One paragraph about the main character.

— One paragraph about the main setting.

— One paragraph about the main problem of the novel.

— Two paragraphs about how the book opens, setting, problem, character.

— Two paragraphs about the main problems in the center of the book the character will face.

— Two paragraphs about how the book will end.

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rcmann
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Maybe I could try that and take a sentence from each section for the summary.
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LDWriter2
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Speaking of titles.

I am working on one I had to call "Morph ship". The outer hull can change shape but I think i will try for a better title.


No not the Mighty Morphing Power Ship.

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rcmann
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*wince*

Have pity. I'm begging here!

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LDWriter2
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'fraid that doesn't do much good here. [Wink]
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Grumpy old guy
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rcmann, I have a WIP that I'd titled Falcon's Wings. The MC's name was Falcon and wings was a metaphor for growth. As the story developed and grew, the title changed. It's now titled Æsir Dawn because, well, that's one facet of what the story is about--the origins of the Æsir.

The title should reflect what the story is about, without giving the ending away. I'd suggest you do the query exercise--reduce your entire story down to one sentence that begins, "My story is about . . .." Then try and find a way to reduce that idea down to three words, four at the max. Why three or four? Think of most of the stories you've read--the titles are usually two, three or four words, not counting in, a, the, etc.

Phil.

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InarticulateBabbler
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I skimmed, so I may have missed seeing this, but, many times in traditional publishing they will change your title anyway. So, unless your self publishing, don't get married to your title.

As far as summaries, I'm on board with the theory of getting someone else to do that.

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rcmann
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That seems to reaffirm what I have been reading, that authors are generally pitiful about titles and blurbs for their own work.

I finally got something together, with help. May not be perfect, but it might work.

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tesknota
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I've been experimenting with titles from all sorts of angles, and here's one I like:

If there is a point in your work where there is a key phrase that marks the culmination of a theme or describes something really important to your story, use that phrase as the title. That way, when the reader gets to that part of your story, he/she will be pleasantly surprised. Also, it is a good way to emphasize that moment in your story.

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LDWriter2
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quote:
Originally posted by InarticulateBabbler:
I skimmed, so I may have missed seeing this, but, many times in traditional publishing they will change your title anyway. So, unless your self publishing, don't get married to your title.

As far as summaries, I'm on board with the theory of getting someone else to do that.

Yeah, they do. I don't know how many times but I've heard some of the stories.

As I said earlier sometimes I hope they do change a title. The story I'm sending in to WotF for Q2 is one of those. I kinda of would like to use some famous phrase or one changed by one word but I can't think of any.

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rcmann
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One thing is both an advantage and a burden about self-publishing in the digital age. If it doesn't work at first, you can always change it later.

My cover artist is behind schedule, and someone suggested that I just cobble together some kind of interim cover, then go ahead and upload the professional cover once it was finished. I declined to do that, but the principle holds true for everything from typos, to cover art, to titles and blurbs. If one approach isn't working then you always have the option of trying another one.

This is a stone beneath the feet of many people. The temptation is *huge* to rush into things without taking time to do it properly, and/or without taking time to edit and proof it properly. I predate the word processor, so I recall how long it used to take us in the office to go over a professional document, with multiple eyes going over it, before it was finally considered fit to pass on to the client.

Now you can see all kinds of fecal matter being tossed out, that obviously hasn't even been spell checked. *sigh*

I settled on a variation of a previous title. It describes a possession that is critically important to the main character.

For the blurb I just sat down and wrote a rambling summary, then started re-writing and cutting. And cutting and re-writing. And cutting. And cutting more. Finally I ended up with three paragraphs that were not utterly incoherent and, I hope, bear at least a passing resemblance to the story.

If it doesn't sell, I guess I can always re-write it. [Big Grin]

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