Tuesday, November 6, 2007


By Rebecca WS
(Photo: Mark Gimein)


How important are titles of narrative, prose, and poetry anyway?

I spent hours online last night with my WritopiaLab writers as they frantically sought to name their prose, brainstorming everything from literal or blunt emotional declarations, to elusive metaphorical abstractions. Some wanted poignancy, others wanted straight-forward clarity, most wanted a hit of poetry and to go to bed.

Everyone's excited right now since we're preparing for the Barnes & Noble reading this Monday and for the Scholastic Writing Event in January. But is a title really worth an hour or more of rigorous story-analysis mixed with mind-numbing word play?

Well, for those of us who actually enjoy getting lost in the analytical ends of the creative process, the answer is clear: There are few challenges more fun than aspiring to combine literary thought or concepts with subtle allusion. But when it's late at night, or it's not really the thing that inspires you, or it just so happens that you are NOT in the mood, then what? When everything is said and done, aren't titles as ephemeral to readers as passing scenery on a highway?

Maybe sometimes, but not when they are good! When titles have reached their full potential, they are the all-important signs that guide us as we head down a new freaky, mysterious, craaaazy... or just unfamiliar road... And they do much more than just that.

First of all publishing houses spend months debating titles of books. They consider: Will this title provoke people to buy the book? Does this title suggest something that the public has not known before? Does it rightfully convey the tone of the book? If the book has a lot of humor is the title playful enough? And, ultimately, does the title suggest the full breadth of the work?

Clearly, we are not trying to sell our short stories and poems to people as publishers are trying to do with books. But we do seek to convey a sense of originality, draw our readers in, and, ultimately, suggest a full literary experience. No big deal! (Hehe)

Well, kudos to Writopia Lab writers, because based on last night's brainstorming sessions, our titles so far sometimes intrigue our readers with a clear, albeit very short, statement regarding the heart-felt material they are about to explore; sometimes draw readers in with a bold, unexpected use of parentheses; and often win readers' trust with a poetic allusion. If we have done one or two of these things at least, our readers are on board from the start.

And, ideally, for the full literary experience, after a reader reaches the end of a story, she should be able to look at the title again and see a double-meaning, a reference to something she discovered only after reading the story.

If any WL writers are still having trouble titling their pieces, please email or call me today. Happy elections day!

~~Rebecca WS~~


Nico said...

I agree. I think that titles are very important. If you spend a lot of time coming up with an original title, readers will spend a large amount of time trying to decipher it. A reader's initial interest is at stake. First impressions are important, so think, think, think about a title that will be the epitome of your story. Good luck with the titles, guys!

Anonymous said...

For me, coming up with the title is the funnest part of writing anything, whether it be a poem, short story, or memoir. I always try and come up with a title before i start writing something, because once you title a piece it gives incentive to finish it. But usually, i change it afterwards as my story/poem evolves. :)