Wednesday, July 28, 2010

On Titles


I took today's topic from my six day vacation, where I converted Drumming from short story to novel format. Drumming has an unorthodox history. As part of my experiment to base a collection on an album [LUNGS by Florence + the Machine] I used the songs' titles as a starting point and write stories that fits the songs' integrity. With Drumming I'd to emphasis on the drumming as an element. It was central in the short story, symbolic, but after the jump to novel format the drumming sound is a moment, which remains in the background. Changing the meaning also means that the old title simply doesn't work in the new context and the extended plot.

At the same time, I have an empty spot in the collection, which I am tempted to fill with Lunar Hues [the post-apocalyptic urban fantasy]. Lunar Hues remains more of a prose and concept experiment rather than an electrifying story and the issue I have with it is a lack of conflict. Drumming [the song] on the other hand galvanizes the mind. It's potent as an inspirational source and using it to tint Lunar Hues would solve both problems. But I'd need to change the title, because that is central for the collection, and I am not sure if the story fits the new title or the old. Time will tell, but all this recent questioning has me thinking of titles.

Titles help people identify novels without wasting words on plot or author. You use titles as you would use names for people and when you write/speak the name of someone you know, you think of the person the name represents. Something similar happens with novels, movies and songs. For some people Eclipse of the Heart isn't just a song, but the date leading to a healthy marriage; The Picture of Dorian Gray isn't simply a novel, but life altering experience and Wild, Wild West can represent memories with a friend. I follow the logic that for the audience the title is a tabula rasa. Sure it informs what the novel or film will be about, but beyond it holds no meaning.

I haven't questioned enough why a title has been picked. Sometimes I don't have to even think about it much. Lord of the Rings is self-explanatory, given the genre. Nightmare on Elm Street doesn't puzzle as a title choice. Names used as titles don't pose much difficulty as I know I'm following the story of the protagonist. To outsiders titles are perhaps the easiest aspect of the creative process, but as any creative individual will tell you it may be the hardest.

Titles have to be succinct, informative, appealing and represent the work's essence. I have to admit that shove all that in the range of one to five words on average is not easy and I do know people, who have hard times giving their work proper titles. I admit that I don't usually have issues naming my short stories or novels, because I usually craft the title first and then write the story around it. It's a personal oddity. With my current situation, I finally experience the difficulty and can appreciate all the work the title does.

Give the wrong title and you create false expectations, which result in unhappy readers. The wrong title can also confuse and the puzzled reader is again an unhappy one. The title shouldn't be too long [because people hate memorizing long titles] and sometimes one word is not enough [lest it's confusing again]. And what about series? From what I have seen titles in a series follow a certain pattern, which poses a new challenge, if the series exceeds the standard trilogy.

Titles should be JUST right in the context of the story and its transparency means that the writer has done his job right. So, my current revelation is to pay attention to whether the working title is still relevant or not after each round of edits.

Do you question title choices? Do you expect novels to correspond with [stay true to] their titles?

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I have almost forgotten to include art with my posts so today I'm featuring Early Title Sequence by thurop.

6 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

I once started a story that would have all sections headed by lines from AC-DC songs. It was kind of constraining in the end and I never really finished that one.

T.S. Bazelli said...

I don't think much about titles when looking for a book to read, and don't pay too much attention to them until I've finished reading.

T.D. Newton said...

I love that you posted about this. A song on LUNGS inspired an entire character for my next project. Love that album.

Harry Markov said...

@Charles: Oh, experimental, but it can very constricting. Thankfully, most AC/DC songs follow a theme and a vibe, so it should offer a certain advantage.

@TS: That is what usually happens, but you do pay attentions to titles, when you create. So weird. Poor, neglected titles.

@TD: I know, she is inspirational...

林聿希林聿希林聿希 said...

良言一句三冬暖,惡語傷人六月寒。......................................................................

綠柯來 said...

愛,拆開來是心和受兩個字。用心去接受對方的一切,用心去愛對方的所有。......................................................................