What's in a name?

Specifics about craft, talent, technique, etc.
Mr H
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What's in a name?

Postby Mr H » Sat Dec 19, 2020 8:45 pm

This may be more for contest rules, but I think it's broader than that.

Does the to title of your story have any bearing on it going further along the line in judging?

Examples: (made them up)

Jed and Sally.

Ted's problem.

Conflict frontiers.

The savage gnome.

Starship harriers.

I'm not sure if any are good names but the top two are not. Or am I wrong?

What makes a good title? And can a bad title lose you the contest? Anyone know judges opinions on titles? Do they even care? Can WOTF ask you to change a bad title?

What of editors? I know they could ask a bad title changed, but may they just skip reading a story with a bad title? Know of any editors opinions?

Particularly in sci fi, but for any, know of any tricks, tips, articles on making good titles??
Lots of R
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TimE
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Re: What's in a name?

Postby TimE » Sun Dec 20, 2020 1:35 am

None of those are memorable to me.

September Fawkes (who has worked for Dave F) has an article on titles in her blog - https://www.septembercfawkes.com/2018/1 ... itles.html
I wouldn't expect WotF to ask you to change a title unless it had a swear word in it. However, if there was nothing to choose between a few stories, then I'd expect a title might be taken into account.
Can you imagine a judge with 2 equally good stories wondering whether to plump for Jed and Sally or a story with a title with - for example - 'the left-handedness of gnomes' in it?
The title is part of the hook. Think of wondering along the shelves in a book shop or library without a specific author in mind. What grabs you?
Some HMs More Rs - I keep thinking I'm getting closer, but perhaps not.
CWA-Debut Dagger shortlist. https://thecwa.co.uk/colours/ (Still trying to find my genre - but perhaps it's scifi - and perhaps it's not)

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GlibWizard
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Re: What's in a name?

Postby GlibWizard » Sun Dec 20, 2020 1:44 pm

Writing teachers agree that you need to entice readers, but no rule about how to do that seems to encompass every successful title.

TimE wrote:September Fawkes (who has worked for Dave F) has an article on titles in her blog - https://www.septembercfawkes.com/2018/1 ... itles.html


This is a great starting list.

Wulf Moon just posted about titles in his Super Secrets Workshop.

Matt Bird (either in Secrets of Story or on his blog somewhere) argues that the strongest titles have an ironic contradiction.

Mr H wrote:What of editors? I know they could ask a bad title changed, but may they just skip reading a story with a bad title? Know of any editors opinions?


I've read multiple times that it is fairly common for publishers to retitle novels during the publication process, so I assume that a bad title alone won't stop a good novel if that is the case.
C. A. Barrett
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Reuben
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Re: What's in a name?

Postby Reuben » Sun Dec 20, 2020 5:21 pm

I find titles fascinating. To your first question: Yes, they're important. Yes, Dave has said that he looks at titles, that the title is the first hook. I don't think anyone would discard a story because of a title, but there are good titles and bad titles. Professional ones and unprofessional ones.

How to tell which is which? Some might say "The long winding titles are best", (think of "Time Considered as a Helix of Semiprecious Stones) but lots of ameteurs have long winding titles, and lots of professionals have short ones. You want to convince the editor/reader that you've written a good story. But how can you do that? Show that you know the tricks of the trade. But what are the tricks?

I think the best way it to do what I did. Go through a list of random titles, some written by experienced writers and some not. I did it (using the baen bar, around a month ago), and I think it's given me a lot of useful info about titles; I was also very surprised at the results.

While some of it's intuitive, I think I can sum it up like this: Specific and intriguing, and I think the former is the better of the two. Personally, I think longer titles work better for this very reason: Specificity. With shorter titles it's harder to show that you know what you're doing (although something like "Bloodchild" [Octavia Butler] is still pretty good).

Compare: Sophie's Kidnapping to The Day That Red-Haired Sophia Got Kidnapped. Which is the one that sticks in your mind longer? Which is more professional? (Not saying this is a good one. Just shooting from the hip here.)

How about Moongirl and Moon Dawdler to (deep breath) Super-Duper Moongirl and the Amazing Moon Dawdler? It's hard to explain, but I think it goes beyond imitation. Something about that title is authentic--who would write such a long, weird title? Either they had a really good reason, or they were really weird. (Either way, it sticks in your mind.) So I think the most important element of titling is providing an image. And a specific and sticky image at that. (Even if an ameteur wanted to write a long, silly title, I don't think they could've topped Moon's. They would've gone the more conservative route. And that's the trick: Don't be conservative. Show that you're a professional. Show a way that your story is not like the five hundred others in the slush pile.)

The intriguing aspect is like GlibWizard said: ironic contradiction. Like The Kind Assassin. (Again, made up on the spot, but I like this one.) Published stories like this include Squalor and Sympathy (Matt Dovey, vol. 32) and Softly Come The Dragons (Dean Koontz).

Getting back to my experiment, I looked at all the stories, and when I saw a title that looked professional, I looked at the name of the author. And I was amazed.

More often that not, I had hit upon a professional story. Sometimes, it was a story that had been selected for publication. At others, a few, constant names kept cropping up. Ones I recognized. People from the this very forum who've proed out by now. (I was looking at five year-old stories.)

Names like Stewart C. Baker, E. Caiman Sands, Rebecca Birch, and Ishmael. Again and again.

Here are a few I remember:

Once I Was A Woman (Intriguing, E. Caiman Sands).

Ice and White Roses. (Specific, lasting image, Rebecca Birch. I love this one. This, more than any other, told me the secret. When I saw this I knew that this wasn't written by some newbie. It was far, far too complex.)

The sword and the silver strings (Specific image, Rebecca Birch).

Ghosts of Chip Nights Past (?, Ishmael).

I can't recall any others, but as I was looking through Baen Bar trying to find them, I found one last one: A Sound Only The Gods Can Hear

I said to myself: "Wow, I wonder who wrote this?"

I looked at the author. Jordan Lapp, it read.

Winner of WotF, volume 25. (See also: viewtopic.php?f=18&t=2043)

I think that once you understand that it is possible to judge a story partially by its title, you can start on your own as well.
Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. ~ Winston Churchill
V. 37: R, R, R, HM
V. 38: ?,

Mr H
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Re: What's in a name?

Postby Mr H » Tue Dec 22, 2020 12:39 am

Thanks all. Very helpful.

Now my mind's ticking.

Hmm... I wander if an author can use the title as way of getting the reader/judge/editor to read/stick with the story. As a tool on its own?

Eg. Return Of The King. I assume not much tells you this will happen at the start of the book??

There and back again, does the same thing, you'd be reading on looking for the return journey.

Contradictions or contrast seem popular. As shown above.

I, Robot. Since when did robots have a sense of self?

Battlefield Earth. Earth has always had its battle fields, but the entire planet is not one, is it??

Starship troopers. WT...? Troopers don't ride starships?

Ghost busters. People don't bust ghosts!?

Tomorrow when the war began. Wouldn't it have begun yesterday??

I think, here, titles mirror the content. "THEY DO NOW."

As for crazy long ones it's hard to beat one of my favourite films. "Those daring young men in their jaunty jalopies."

This is simply having two main words (typically a name or cast of person/people and a thing/s) and adding an extra description word to them.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's stone. Potter and the stone.

It also works the other way, extra description at the end. Indiana Jones and the temple of doom. Indiana and the temple.

The hunchback of Notre Dame. So, you don't need to do it all the time, this one has description enough already. As does...

Charlie and the chocolate factory. Or is the Willy Wonka??? Either way it enough to grab the target readers.

Big trouble in little China. That film always deserves a mention. Trouble in China (town) just sounds like a documentary, but as long as JCs at the helm, who cares, I'd still watch it!

PS: I'm an idiot. Jurassic Park. There weren't any parks in the Jurassic!
Lots of R
36 Q1 R
36 Q2 R
36 Q3 R
36 Q4 R
37 Q1 HM (happy dance may have occurred)
37 Q2 R
37 Q3 R
37 Q4 R
38 Q1 ? (Hmm... Let me guess.)

Reuben
Posts: 131
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Location: New York

Re: What's in a name?

Postby Reuben » Thu Dec 24, 2020 6:36 am

Mr H wrote:
Jed and Sally.

Ted's problem.

Conflict frontiers.

The savage gnome.

Starship harriers.

I'm not sure if any are good names but the top two are not. Or am I wrong?


Yes, I think the first two are obviously bad. Firstly, because they don't say much. (What about Jed and Sally? What exactly is Ted's problem?) But even if you changed it to Ted's Bad Day at work, or The Day Ted Got Kidnapped, it would still be lacking, I think, since you're telling, not showing.

Conflict Frontiers: I don't like this one--it's too complicated. Like it's a military guide or something. Specify what the conflict is, instead of just saying it.

Starship Harriers: Explain, what they do, don't just tell what the story is about, and add description to create an image. Maybe something like (Men with) Machine Guns in Cold space.

The Savage Gnome: Specify, in what way is it savage? Why should we care? It could be changed to something like The Gnome With Razor Teeth,but that still wouldn't be good, IMO, because it's telling exactly what the story is about. Better to show, conveying less information, and leading the reader wanting more. In this situation, they know exactly what the story is about. As opposed to, for example, Ice and White Roses (above).

If anyone's interested: Some more titles I remember guessing at are below (see my other post).

The memory of huckleberries (Rebecca Birch)

Earth root and flame (Rebecca Birch, again)

Of seeds, and life amidst branches (Stewart C, Baker)
Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. ~ Winston Churchill
V. 37: R, R, R, HM
V. 38: ?,

Mr H
Posts: 68
Joined: Wed Oct 23, 2019 5:02 pm

Re: What's in a name?

Postby Mr H » Thu Dec 24, 2020 4:29 pm

Blood on the lawn?
Lots of R
36 Q1 R
36 Q2 R
36 Q3 R
36 Q4 R
37 Q1 HM (happy dance may have occurred)
37 Q2 R
37 Q3 R
37 Q4 R
38 Q1 ? (Hmm... Let me guess.)


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