Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Writers' Secrets for Great Titles

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You've finished your novel or your screenplay and you've been cruising with a 'working title' or no title at all.You're going to have to create that GREAT title that's gonna grab attention let your reader instantly relate and identify and lead to a sale sooner or later, so now's as good a time as any.

Think about what you want to communicate, what sort of mood you want to set, how you want to draw your reader in.

If you're thinking that you want to create the feeling that there's something lurking there, something below the surface, think about intrigue. Titles like "One Flew Over the Cookoo's Nest". Immediately the questions arise. One what flew over where? What the heck? This is good, you got their attention. "After Long Silence". There was silence? Where? Something came after it? Why was there silence and for so long? If you can raise questions in your readers' heads you've caught interest.

To be more direct and use a more 'hit them over the head with it' style, think short, staccato and blunt. Titles like "Stake Out", "Clueless", "Eraser", "G.I. Jane", "Pirates of the Caribbean", "Grass". All of those pretty much tell you what you're in for. They, in a sense, relay the story and give a glimpse of the environment of the tale. They're easy to remember and to promote (don't forget the easy to promote thing). They stick in people's heads and are easily blurted to friends when recommending them. always a good thing. How many times have you and friends discussed a movie or a book and could tell the whole story but couldn't remember the title.  Not good.

Now, something you really don't want to do is create an extrememly long title without a really really (may I add another 'really' here?) good reason. Even with a really really (really) good reason it's not a good idea. A long title is cumbersome, hard to remember and pretty much hell to promote. It won't fit on printed bookmarks easily and it sure won't make a marquee. So take my advice, don't go there. Really, just don't.

Here's another very important 'don't': don't confuse the reader, whether reader of your novel or the all important reader who might send your script along to the next level. By that I mean, don't title something "Gettysburg" hinting at a civil war movie and then turn around and make it a laugh-out-loud comedy of some genre. Bait and switch doesn't work.

Opinions are divided on this last 'don't' I want to pass along so you're ultimately going to have to decide how you feel about this for yourself. I am not a fan of the "understood only after reading the book or seeing the movie" title. It just doesn't work for me. It annoys me. My advice is don't do it. Don't put a title out there that's so obtuse that you can't understand how it relates until after reading/seeing. Why risk alienating your audience? Some claim it can work well for a novel. I don't think so. It most certainly won't work well for a movie title.

And remember, after all this, your jewel of a title that you work and sweat over, is very likely to be changed by some editor, producer or star with clout. There're a lot of people out there with creative ideas and an equal or larger number with huge egos who want to put their own stamp on every project. Sometimes they're right, sometimes they're wrong. I was lucky. Most of my titles are still "MY" titles. That's life.

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