Title Bout

Here’s today’s guest blogger, Richard Prosch…

I can’t start writing anything without a title. Maybe it’s a specific quirk I have, or maybe a lot of writers are like me. I don’t know, but everything longer than a shopping list requires a bold heading, front and center, and—hopefully—something that hints at clever or catchy.


For example, I didn’t start writing this until I had typed “Title Bout” above. Aside from a vague idea, that’s all I had. But somehow, as the neurons started to fire, the rest built on the title.


It’s a bout. A fight. A struggle. Sometimes—most times—it is. Titles, for short stories, novels, or essays, have been a tough thing for me. I think when I first began to commit stories to paper, when I was around nine years old, I learned to get the title out of the way first. And also when I discovered it might then act as a foundation, a trusty ally in building all that was to come.


But in the very beginning—how to find it?


My friend, Dean Wesley Smith, uses a unique method in generating those first few words. When he sits down to write a story into the dark, as he says, he pulls out dusty anthologies from years gone by. Scanning the TOC, he creates hybrid titles.


I’ve been successful using the same formula. In one instance, “Room With a View,” by Hal Dresner, and “Comfort, in a Land of Strangers” by Michael Brett becomes “All the Comforts of Home, With a View.”


With that title pasted into place, all sorts of imagery starts to pop. “All the Comforts of Home”—a marketing cliché to be sure, but what about the view? Could the title hint at some conflict in the story? Maybe some irony? What if the view isn’t comfortable at all? Have you ever seen a nursing home, or maybe a church where the view outside the window is a cemetery? Pretty cheerful, right?  So let’s set this story in a nursing home with a view of our ultimate destination. Let’s have a character who’s not happy about it.


Now we’re off and running to answer more questions. Who is the character? Why is she there? What happens next? With a ten minute investment in time, I’ve got the seeds for something that might work out quite well.


Like all fights, some end quickly, but some can be prolonged. The title substitution method doesn’t always work.


Another place to go for titles is, of course, classic literature. The original Star Trek series writers made use of Shakespeare and others to lend a touch of class and melodrama to TV science fiction. “The Conscience of the King,” “Dagger of the Mind,” and “By Any Other Name” were my first exposures to the Bard. It’s a device I use in my own writing, having just finished a western novel with its title gleaned from the Holy Bible.


Finally, there’s the old reliable use of related imagery or cliché. You’re writing a mystery set on the ocean, so call it “Clam Happy,” or “The Red Sand.”  Tread here with care. In the crime genres especially, certain concepts (color, alcoholic beverages, etc.) have been done to death. Be original. Come up with something you’ve not seen before. My series of Dan Spalding novels (http://www.richardprosch.com/dan-spalding/), about an ex-cop who runs a record store, all find their origin in the music and/or vinyl collecting arena.


The best titles appear simple, but contain unplumbed depths. They should be memorable. They should trigger immediate emotion in your reader, especially curiosity. They should hint at the story to come, its beginning and its ending.


When done well, they can be even more.


They can become the springboard to your own writer’s energy and a muse unto themselves.


Richard Prosch


About Richard

Lover of vinyl records. Equally fond of basset hounds and good, strong coffee.

And making lists, lots and lots of lists. Has built a web development studio into a six-figure media concern while winning awards for illustration and writing (including a Spur Award from the Western Writers of America). He’s learned a lot about big picture thinking, building something from the ground up, and being an active, involved father. Hopes you’ll sign up for his newsletter (https://dl.bookfunnel.com/1zlgvrum38) and won’t complain that the music is too loud. Even more —is grateful for all his readers and invites you to continue to find enjoyment visiting the worlds he creates.

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