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Title: Spi's Random Fic Advice: Lesson Two
Description: talking about titles


Spiletta42 - April 11, 2005 10:13 PM (GMT)
Spiletta's Random Fic Advice #2: Choosing Titles For Your Fic

Some people start with nothing but the title, while others add the title last. Often, the same person varies between these two techniques depending on the circumstances. Regardless of how you work best, remember that the title is the first thing someone sees of your work. It's an advertisement of your skills. Put some thought into it.

Everyone has heard the expression 'Don't judge a book by it's cover' but since when do people actually follow good advice? Don't let a poorly thought out title drive readers away from your fic.

But how do you think of a title?

Contests with specific themes often suggest a title. When Love Through the Years hosted Flora and Fauna a few years back, the entries included Rainforest and The Peace Rose. Both of these fics were titled before the writing process even began. As titles go, they aren't bad. They provide a concrete image. Rainforest is even reasonably memorable.

Episode revisions or additions often play on the title of the episode, or use a quote from the show in the title. There are dozens of fics with "Shattered" in the title, and while that lacks a certain uniqueness it does play off of reader recogition.

When I go to title a fic, usually I have a plotbunny and some sketchy scenes. Sometimes I've even written part of the fic. I pull out a clean white sheet of paper and my favorite pen. Then I brainstorm.

Word Salad

I play with words as they pop into my head, and write down all of my ideas, even if they seem weak. One word from a weak title might inspire a better title fifteen minutes later. For this word salad, I consider the fic's theme, the main characters, specific incidents, and the details, or planned details, of the final scene.

After about a half hour of random brainstorming, if the perfect title hasn't magically risen from the page, I go to my handy-dandy tattered alphabet page. On this sheet, I have listed the letters of the alphabet, and each of my finished fics is represented by a slash mark after the first letter of its title.

I look for the letters least represented, and try to see if I can think of a title starting with that letter. This gives me some focus. Sometimes, the name then leaps out at me (Quiche and Real Men) and sometimes it backfires (Thirty Six Hours), but the fic still gets a title, so that's okay too.

The alphabet method is probably not universally useful, but finding a way to focus your thoughts is very helpful.

Common Title Creation Methods

Perhaps make an attempt to create an oxymoronic title. Find two words that clearly don't belong together, but which match your fic's theme. (Love and Hate have been overdone, so skip those.)

Use alliteration or poetic meter to choose two or more words that sound good together, or possibly a single word that's uncommon but has a ring to it. Tank Top Temptation is full of alliteration, and it sounds fun. Institutionalized is a more imposing, darker-sounding word than Institution. Zephyr looks more interesting than Summer Breeze.

Twisting a cliche is fun. Real men don't eat quiche becomes Quiche and Real Men. Or take a common cliche and Trekify it: Vulcans Don't Blush.

Combining the major themes of the piece works, too. The doubt-ridden characters in one of my lower decks fics suggested the title Questions. There's clearly injustice brewing in a fic titled Better Off Guilty.

I've never used this, but the current rage in movie titles seems to be long, ordinary phrases like Dude, Where's My Car? and There's Something About Mary.

In literature, the lines from older classics are often used as titles. The Grapes of Wrath was named for a line in The Battle Hymn of the Republic. In fic, lines from episodes pop up as titles all of the time. My title Brief, Precious Seconds is lifted from Christie Golden's Dark Matters novels.

The thing to avoid, especially in anything longer than a drabble, is a vague title that could apply to nearly anything. Only poems can get away with "Untitled." Laughter was a pretty weak title. For a full length fic, it would have been disaster. For a quick single-scene episode addition, it was barely passable.

My own favorite titles are Quiche and Real Men, Tank Top Temptation, Three Million Light Years Into Deep Space, and Vulcans Don't Blush.

One trap to watch out for is slugs that stick. When you start the fic, you have to save the file as something, and that means calling it something. After a week or so of calling it that, it becomes that in your mind. This is how barn cats get named things like "Cat" and "Hey You" and it's why I have fics called Ceremony, Burning, and Ideals. Glacier is bad enough, ,but the poor thing was almost called Ice. Better Off Guilty was nearly uploaded as Captured.

In fact, for examples of truly horrid titles, look at the urls of many of my fics. Those original file names are often still the file names. I've made more of an effort to use file names that couldn't possibly become titles if I don't have a title when I begin. The Hard Choices didn't have a title for nearly two weeks, but it was never in danger of being christened JP, nor was One and All in any peril with a file name like Borg.

Everything is a Writing Resource

We often use baby naming guides to name characters, and you may think that no such thing exists for fic titles, but in fact there are two resources I sometimes use. First of all, there's a book for dog breeders called The All Breed Dictionary of Unusual Names. I've named aliens with it, and a few titles of come from it. Zephyr, for example.

The second source I use is the American Produce Records. It's a listing of every racehorse in North America for the last one hundred years. If you're sitting there thinking "Summer ... what?" then you type in Summer and up comes Summer Tan and Summer Squall and several dozen other less famous racehorses named "Summer . . . something."

Granted, if you aren't interested in racehorses you aren't going to shell out the twelve hundred bucks for that fun little toy, but there are probably things you use every day that could serve the purpose if you think about it. Google, perhaps?

Bottom line: put some thought into your titles. Don't wait to name them until you're half way through the contest entry form or the fic creation page at ffnet.

Parts of this ramble owe credit to The Writer's Book of Wisdom by Steven Taylor Goldsberry, which arrived unordered from the obviously wildy disorganized Writer's Digest Book Club. I'd better send them some money, since it's clearly useful.

magical m - April 18, 2005 01:22 AM (GMT)
Hey, Thanks!

This is really helpful. It's like you peeked at my hard drive and saw all the slug titles my fic is currently stored under.

I have one around 7500 words that I almost didn't take the trouble to give a good name.

But, I will have to take your advice and give it some time and thought.

"Over Seska's Dead Body" might not be it. Even if it does make me smile ;)

Trindajae - April 18, 2005 05:05 PM (GMT)
I dunno... "Over Seska's Dead Body" has a nice ring to it, I think... :love073:

magical m - April 18, 2005 06:46 PM (GMT)
QUOTE (Trindajae @ Apr 18 2005, 09:05 AM)
I dunno... "Over Seska's Dead Body" has a nice ring to it, I think... :love073:

Thanks. May have to write a different fic to go with that title, 'cause it doesn't suite the one I want to put it on.

But the last thing I need to do is start another fic! Which brings me to my question.

Spi, any tips on finishing fic?

(or are you the one to ask? :P )

anne3rose - April 26, 2005 01:41 AM (GMT)
QUOTE (Spiletta42 @ Apr 11 2005, 02:13 PM)
Contests with specific thems often suggest a title.  When Love Through the Years hosted Flora and Fauna a few years back, the entries included Rainforest and The Peace Rose.  Both of these fics were titled before the writing process even began.  As titles go, they aren't bad.  They provide a concrete image.  Rainforest is even reasonably memorable.


Dakota named Rainforest. That used to be my main way to name stories. "Hey, D, what should I name this thing?"


QUOTE
One trap to watch out for is slugs that stick.  When you start the fic, you have to save the file as something, and that means calling it something.  After a week or so of calling it that, it becomes that in your mind.  This is how barn cats get named things like "Cat" and "Hey You" and it's why I have fics called Ceremony, Burning, and Ideals.  Glacier is bad enough, ,but the poor thing was almost called Ice.  Better Off Guilty was nearly uploaded as Captured.


And I've had a few of those. Some of my rambly long titles happened that way. "Voyager Conspiracy: The Movie" is something that stuck in my head from a Siskel and Ebert review of "Hot Dog: The Movie", a vapid and insipid movie about boys snowboarding or something. It really seemed to fit the episode. And I really doubt anybody else got the joke.

With the 15 minute fics I don't sweat the title since it's the word of the week. Wooohooooo!

I started to aim for one word titles or very short titles after a while. I like the way some shows have titles that always mean at least 2 or 3 things. I'm beyond envious of people who can manage that.

QUOTE
Bottom line:  put some thought into your titles.  Don't wait to name them until you're half way through the contest entry form or the fic creation page at ffnet.


Heh, well there's an interesting point. I've named many stories that way. "Anne, you promised to write for this contest. Have you entered yet?"

"Uh, yeah, almost." Typing away at entry form. "Give me a title idea!" More typing. "Ok, entered. Now, how long have I got before reading opens?"

- Anne Rose




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