Story Titling

Open topics on the Contest itself, to include results-watch threads and other items of note.
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Randy Hulshizer
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Story Titling

Postby Randy Hulshizer » Tue Oct 27, 2015 9:08 am

Any thoughts on story titling techniques (especially as it pertains to the contest)? Also, how important do you think a story title is to the contest judges?
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Re: Story Titling

Postby KD Julicher » Tue Oct 27, 2015 11:44 am

Honestly I doubt it makes that much of a difference. If it's exceptionally derivative ("The Starving Games", "The Boss of The Bracelets") you might get an eyeroll. I'm a fan of short titles if possible, one or two words that describe the story briefly. My last finalist I titled with a phrase from my story that I found evocative. Similarly, you can use quotes from Shakespeare, Yeats, the Bible, Homer, Monty Python, what have you.
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Re: Story Titling

Postby J.W. Alden » Tue Oct 27, 2015 12:06 pm

I would hope the title would have very little to do with how the story is judged. It's one of the easiest things about a story to change if you make it to the editing phase, after all.
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Dustin Adams
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Re: Story Titling

Postby Dustin Adams » Tue Oct 27, 2015 12:20 pm

Here's my opinion. (Because it's all I got.)
In the slushpile where I used to read, I could often tell a story was going to be generic by the generic title. This is not an absolute, but here are some examples:
"My Cat."
"the monster." (Yes, no caps.)
"Fever."

Now, for flash, there's some forgiveness because 1000 words can be about a fever, but chances are there's all kinds of other stuff missing, like character and plot.

A title should have meaning as it pertains to the story, but if you can, make your title a promise as well.

Scott Parkin can weigh in on this heavier than I, but I'll share with you, because I believe he posted it elsewhere, that his winning story had a generic title, and when Dave was looking for it after it had been accidentally rejected, he couldn't initially find it because he didn't remember the title. (Again, Scott's tale of this is better than mine.)

Dave suggested the current title, which I LOVE. It covers the whole story.

My first finalist was called, "The Factory."
I regret this simple title. I've since changed it to, "The Factory Amidst the Stars."

My semi, "The Preservation of Faith." is the very core of the story.

You ask if titles are important to the judges. They would probably tell you no.
A few years ago a story called, "Medic!" won.

But another of the beautiful things about this contest is that the first judge doesn't reject as quickly as other markets. He'll give a story a chance to prove itself, regardless of title. However, I do feel that if you nail your title, your story will resonate more completely.

Unless you're Scott Parkin.
Then you're good.

V.31 titles:
1 word = 2
2 words = 6
3 words = 1
Over 3 = 4

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Re: Story Titling

Postby kentagions » Tue Oct 27, 2015 12:34 pm

I took a titling seminar many moons ago. The instructor told every aspiring author to assume that all titles are working titles, subject to change. Secondly, he told us to choose the most imaginative, informative title we could use for the purpose of attention getting. Thus, a fantasy about bad luck and soccer balls might be The Truncated Icosahedron of Doom.

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Re: Story Titling

Postby Randy Hulshizer » Tue Oct 27, 2015 12:35 pm

Dustin Adams wrote:Here's my opinion. (Because it's all I got.)

Shows you what I know...


Great post, Dustin. Thanks everyone for your input. wotf006
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Re: Story Titling

Postby s_c_baker » Tue Oct 27, 2015 1:19 pm

I think titles are supremely important--but I may be biased because I love coming up with them.

Like Dustin, I feel like the core of the story should be in the title. A great title should also set the tone and at least hint at the genre for a story before you ever even start to read it.

I was also told by Joni that Dave said my story title was "amazing" when he told her it was one of the winning stories, so a good story title does appear to be something he appreciates, if nothing else. wotf008

On the other hand, you can have the most amazing title in the world and it's not going to matter if your story itself isn't up to snuff. Indeed, reading slush for FFO, I've had the experience a couple of times where my hopes were set really high by a title I thought was fantastic and amazing--only to be sorely disappointed by reading the actual story itself.

But still. Go for a title that helps you stand out!

Some related reading:

Ten Most Common Story Titles
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Re: Story Titling

Postby disgruntledpeony » Tue Oct 27, 2015 1:55 pm

Titles are always hard for me. Always always always.

A friend of mine sent me an image ages ago that I actually have as my desktop background despite its simplicity, simply because it does such an accurate job of describing how I feel about the writing process sometimes.

Image
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Re: Story Titling

Postby amoskalik » Tue Oct 27, 2015 4:35 pm

I honestly don;t think about titles much. Sometimes I go through two or three working titles before I settle on one, but usually something just sticks and I can' t imagine calling the story anything else.
Character names, however... I've often spend hours and hours on that... and then they end up in the title, so OK maybe I do spend time on my titles.
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Re: Story Titling

Postby preston » Tue Oct 27, 2015 5:26 pm

I love titling! Here's a little exercise I do when I'm searching for a title. First I summarize the story in a paragraph, then in one line, then a phrase, and I can usually pull the title from that. I know that the former judge KD said she didn't pay attention to titles. I'm not sure if David has said anything about this. But let's face it...your story needs a strong hook to make readers interested, and the title is your opening hook. It should be something that makes the reader want to read the story. My favorite titles have some kind of concrete imagery which helps me to connect it to the story. Still, I would be surprised if editors even consider the title when deciding whether or not to accept a story.
But yeah, titles are fun. One of my favorite: "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream." Too long, but it works! I think Harlan Ellison copy-righted it, despite the fact that titles can't usually be copyrighted.

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Re: Story Titling

Postby preston » Tue Oct 27, 2015 5:31 pm

s_c_baker wrote:I think titles are supremely important--but I may be biased because I love coming up with them.

Like Dustin, I feel like the core of the story should be in the title. A great title should also set the tone and at least hint at the genre for a story before you ever even start to read it.

I was also told by Joni that Dave said my story title was "amazing" when he told her it was one of the winning stories, so a good story title does appear to be something he appreciates, if nothing else. wotf008

On the other hand, you can have the most amazing title in the world and it's not going to matter if your story itself isn't up to snuff. Indeed, reading slush for FFO, I've had the experience a couple of times where my hopes were set really high by a title I thought was fantastic and amazing--only to be sorely disappointed by reading the actual story itself.

But still. Go for a title that helps you stand out!

Some related reading:

Ten Most Common Story Titles


Thanks Stuart, I love the link to most common titles. It made me laugh out loud. The most common title is apparently, "Dust." And yeah, I'm guilty. I wrote a story called "Dust." Great! Well, at least it got published! I also wrote a story with the second most common title too. Somehow that one got published too. Yikes! I wish I had seen this list earlier. Good stuff here.

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Re: Story Titling

Postby disgruntledpeony » Tue Oct 27, 2015 6:13 pm

preston wrote:
s_c_baker wrote:I think titles are supremely important--but I may be biased because I love coming up with them.

Like Dustin, I feel like the core of the story should be in the title. A great title should also set the tone and at least hint at the genre for a story before you ever even start to read it.

I was also told by Joni that Dave said my story title was "amazing" when he told her it was one of the winning stories, so a good story title does appear to be something he appreciates, if nothing else. wotf008

On the other hand, you can have the most amazing title in the world and it's not going to matter if your story itself isn't up to snuff. Indeed, reading slush for FFO, I've had the experience a couple of times where my hopes were set really high by a title I thought was fantastic and amazing--only to be sorely disappointed by reading the actual story itself.

But still. Go for a title that helps you stand out!

Some related reading:

Ten Most Common Story Titles


Thanks Stuart, I love the link to most common titles. It made me laugh out loud. The most common title is apparently, "Dust." And yeah, I'm guilty. I wrote a story called "Dust." Great! Well, at least it got published! I also wrote a story with the second most common title too. Somehow that one got published too. Yikes! I wish I had seen this list earlier. Good stuff here.


Somewhere in the comments, it's mentioned that common use of a title doesn't automatically denote the story as 'good' or 'bad'. I feel that's an important thing to remember.
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Re: Story Titling

Postby orbivillein » Tue Oct 27, 2015 9:25 pm

I'm of both minds: titles don't matter; titles do matter, and a third mind; that is, both at once matters and doesn't matter -- how a large audience will receive a story and its title, some from column A, some from room B, some from line C, and miscellaneous D - ZZ, etc.

For me, a title is the first word or words of a story, though they don't count word count limits-wise. A title at least implies what kind of a story the title labels: a story about a person, a place, a thing, a job, a relationship, a school experience, a problem or want, etc. Maybe a title also introduces an overall theme, genre, crisis. Possibly, a title says a story is about a tragic event or a happy, eventually, occasion, or both. What, both!? How? Personal growth at proportionate personal cost-loss. Like maturation at the cost of lost innocence.

A strong title is memorable and implies what a story is really about and is never directly expressed within its story or generic. Not The Coming of Late Adulthood, more like Deathbed Testament and Isaac Asbatoz.
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Re: Story Titling

Postby bobsandiego » Tue Oct 27, 2015 9:29 pm

I bang my head on the wall for character names and titles.
Something it knocks loose something decent but most I just blunder through.
My HM was titled Hanuessen' Hex 'cause I was hoping 'hex' would carry Dave enough since there wasn't any spec-fic explicit in the first several pages.
For submission to pro markets my agent suggested 'The Totem.'
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Re: Story Titling

Postby Dustin Adams » Wed Oct 28, 2015 2:39 am

preston wrote: The most common title is apparently, "Dust."

I suppose I should be honored.

I sold a story titled, "The Gift."
Which, for the same reason I changed "The Factory," later switched to, "The Gift of Empathy." because that more accurately explains what the story is about. (And I added 5k words, but W/E.)

My next DSF story is, "A New Man In Time For Christmas."
Guess what that one's about? wotf011
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Re: Story Titling

Postby Ishmael » Wed Oct 28, 2015 5:17 am

I looked on Dave's new site but it's not so easy as it was to find archived kicks. I seem to recall him saying that the title should not be wasted and could begin the process of intriguing the reader.

Personally I don't care for bland titles that are little more than place holders. If you're going to start a title with the word 'the' you need to be especially careful that it's not generic. I am speaking as one whose three published stories so far in 2015 all have titles beginning with 'the'. On the other hand, as you will see below, they include quite a lot more words too.

Starting the title with some part of a verb helps create instant action, which we know Dave likes. As long as it's not 'Going Home'. Fighting Fires With Frankie, say.

An interesting noun or two. A location of interest. An object of interest. Several of the above combined. An ambiguity. etc. etc. etc.
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Re: Story Titling

Postby s_c_baker » Wed Oct 28, 2015 8:19 am

Dustin Adams wrote:
preston wrote:"A New Man in Time For Christmas."
Guess what that one's about? wotf011

Feminist subversion of Easter?
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Re: Story Titling

Postby amoskalik » Wed Oct 28, 2015 12:12 pm

Well this is a fun exercise. Here are titles of stories I've sold:
Downtime,
Division by Zero,
A Most Auspicious Day,
Final Thoughts,
Nedra's Last Day,
Ghosts in the Machine

Here are titles that haven't sold yet (not including, of course, my current entry to wotf):
The Wishing Place,
What Eternity Teaches,
Let Them Eat Cake,
The Redemption of Goody Youngblood
The Gift of the Zombi
Fresh and Finite
Stigma
Trick or Treat?
Treatment of Fourth Degree Burns (excerpt from the Zombie's Survival Guide)


Draw what conclusions you will from that wotf008
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Re: Story Titling

Postby MattDovey » Wed Oct 28, 2015 12:39 pm

The way I see it, a title can do three things. I will illustrate with random examples from the bookshelf to my right.
1) It can set the tone: "Smoke and Mirrors", "Fragile Things"
2) It can summarise the story: "Harry Potter & the Thing of Whatever", "Memoirs of a Geisha"
3) It can provide a clue to the reader about the story: "The City & The City"

If it's really good, it can do more than one at once (arguably "The City & the City") and do it poetically and in a way that sticks in minds. The X of Y is a bit of a generic format (from my shelf: Queen of Sorcery, Castle of Wizardry, Domes of Fire, Pawn of Prophecy, Seeress of Kell, Sorceress of Darshiva... yes, those are all David Eddings) so finding an unusual form is usually better than finding an unusual word. The Harlan Ellison example above is bloody fantastic; two titles I've come up with that I loved were "The Rutted Paths our Minds Must Take" (but ended up hating the story) and "We Exist to Protect Your Culture from You" (made a promise the story didn't fulfil, keep meaning to write a story to actually match it).

All that said... by the time I'm three paragraphs into a story I've usually forgotten it. So I think it needs to stand out enough to catch an eye, but not have too much importance in and of itself.

As to the contest: I reckon they're less important here than in a normal slush pile, but that's only a gut feeling.
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Re: Story Titling

Postby Dustin Adams » Wed Oct 28, 2015 12:41 pm

s_c_baker wrote:
Dustin Adams wrote:
preston wrote:"A New Man in Time For Christmas."
Guess what that one's about? wotf011

Feminist subversion of Easter?

Stewart,
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Re: Story Titling

Postby s_c_baker » Wed Oct 28, 2015 5:36 pm

Never say never!
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Re: Story Titling

Postby austinDm » Wed Oct 28, 2015 6:48 pm

I definitely agree that titles are an important part of the story because they set the tone and reader expectations for the story. I've seen hint fiction where the story wouldn't make sense or wouldn't have as much impact without considering the title. In many of those cases, the title is literally part of the story. Just studying the titles of short-short stories has given me a new appreciation of and perspective on titles as a whole.

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Re: Story Titling

Postby Tamlyn » Thu Oct 29, 2015 12:21 am

Obviously my next story should be called 'The Gift of Dust to the Monsters Awakening'.


I can work with this.
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Re: Story Titling

Postby disgruntledpeony » Thu Oct 29, 2015 5:01 am

Tamlyn wrote:Obviously my next story should be called 'The Gift of Dust to the Monsters Awakening'.


I can work with this.


That seems a bit extreme, which I'm sure is the point. wotf001 'The Gift of Dust' would actually catch my attention as a reader, though, as would 'The Monster's Awakening'. wotf011
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Re: Story Titling

Postby Ishmael » Fri Oct 30, 2015 7:25 am

disgruntledpeony wrote: 'The Gift of Dust' would actually catch my attention as a reader, though, as would 'The Monster's Awakening'. wotf011


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Re: Story Titling

Postby disgruntledpeony » Fri Oct 30, 2015 7:44 am

Ishmael wrote:
disgruntledpeony wrote: 'The Gift of Dust' would actually catch my attention as a reader, though, as would 'The Monster's Awakening'. wotf011


The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham?


You have my attention, sir.

Aaaaand I just realized my current WIP doesn't have a title yet. Time to get to work. wotf027
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Re: Story Titling

Postby orbivillein » Fri Oct 30, 2015 11:45 am

The four root words dust, gift, monster, awake permutations number 56 possible sequences. Used as adjective, adverb, noun, or verb (or gerund) adds another exponential possible number of variances. Add preposition of, maybe by, from, etc., and articles a, an, or the, possible titles become astronomically numerous and possibly most are sensible. Say twelve variables; word, part of speech, and connection words -- 12 ^ 11 : 743,008,370,700 possible title constructions. All possible variables using only the four root words, several parts of speech, and prepositions and articles numbers on the order of 100 variables, 100 ^ 99. A large number. Therefore, memorableness matters, or not, or both matters and doesn't. Also, specificity might name types of dusts, gifts, monsters, awakenings. An impossibly large number.

Dusty Gift by the Monster Awakened
Gift from an Awoken Dust Monster
Monstered Dust of an Awakened Gift
Awakened Monster for a Gifted Dust

ad infinitum and nauseam

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Re: Story Titling

Postby kentagions » Fri Oct 30, 2015 12:53 pm

wotf051 wotf044

Where does the title rank in importance to the story?

Different question, more to do with marketing: Where does title rank in importance to memorability?

Does the answer to the second question change the answer or attitude toward the first?

Kent
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Re: Story Titling

Postby orbivillein » Fri Oct 30, 2015 8:23 pm

kentagions wrote:wotf051 wotf044 wotf039

Where does the title rank in importance to the story?

Different question, more to do with marketing: Where does title rank in importance to memorability?

Does the answer to the second question change the answer or attitude toward the first?

Kent

The above questions perplex me. Where a title ranks in importance to a story is before the beginning word. A title compared in rank to its story is distinguishably important though indivisible if the title suits the story. Why a title's importance ranks along with a story is the title is a shorthand summary of several features of the story that recommend the story to consumers who attache importance to titles, though the title in any case doesn't spoil the plot nor directly state, per se, what the story is really about.

Memorability of a title ranks high in marketing importance: for publisher staff who haven't and probably never will read the title's story to discuss the story's publication potentials at staff meetings, for consumer marketing from word-of-mouth buzz -- the one marketing strategy that matters most and is most elusive. If a title isn't memorable, what are buzz generators going to say at the water cooler break or on a twitter patter or text? "That great story about whatchamacllit by So-and-so I read yesterday and it didn't suck sourdough bread."

The third question, yes and no, the answers to the first and second question change and don't change and approach attitudes do and don't change. Prose publishers are likely to change an ineffective title, and take some thrill and impish delight from so doing. Yet an effective title they could let stand (stet). If a writer manages a salable story with an ineffective title, no importance, obviously, attaches to the title. Likewise, an effective title and a non-salable story attaches no importance to the title. Effective title and effective story attach importance to the title: memorableness of both market a product and generate word-of-mouth buzz.

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Re: Story Titling

Postby amoskalik » Sat Oct 31, 2015 6:10 am

The title is just another element of a story. We can analyze its effectiveness after the fact, but the story as a whole grows out of a creative process where all the elements are intricately interlinked. There are libraries of books about character, and other libraries of books about plot, but the reality is you have to develop the two together. You con't take a great character and insert her in a great plot and expect it to work. The same is true of story and title, or theme and concept, or tone and style. They must be worked on together, not sequentially. As each element starts to take form, it will inform the creative choices for other elements.

So, to get back to titles, you may start with a working title like The Dust Monsters and then later refine it to The Crust of Blagorath, or Grains of Corruption, or Bunnies Under the Bed depending on how your story shapes up.
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