Tuesday, December 30, 2008


How do you come up with a title for a story?

I've been reading Dean Koontz's book on writing best=selling fiction and he has a chapter on this. He has an intriguing method where he plays around with word pairings and comes up with something that really grabs a readers attention and makes them want to read the story, then he uses that as the seed for writing the story itself.

It's a logical idea, but it does assume that you don't already have a story. My problem is that my stories generally come first, and coming up with a title for something that already exists is a different proposition. It's great if there's an important word or phrase that just leaps out of the story, but that doesn't always happen.

I'm npt always happy with my story titles, but like them much better than my sermon titles. I publish those a month in advance, when I haven't really started to do any serious work on them. I've chosen the scripture at that point, and have a general idea of where I want them to go. That's generally enough for a decent title, so I come up with something. The problem is, when I really do some serious study of the text, and get into the creative process of writing, something much better than the original idea begins to form. I usually go with the superior sermon rather than the sermon that fits the title best.

Of course that means there are often a couple of people who ask "...but what did that have to do with your title?"

When it comes to stories, I've come up with titles in a number of ways. The closest to Koontz's method I've done is probably "Snake Oil" which was written for FRONTIER CTHULHU. The anthology asked for horror stories in the tradition of H.P. Lovecraft set in the American frontier. I had a vague idea that I wanted to use Lovecraft's serpent god Yig, and that seemed to fit with the western archetype of the traveling peddler selling snake oil as a cure-all. All manner of snakey goodness seemed to fall into my lap after that.

I guess "Clown Fish" which was published in HIGH SEAS CTHULHU has a similar story. I had an image of what I wanted to do and the title fit that perfectly. I don't think the title is a great hook, and it doesn't make much sense until you finish the story, at which point there's a nice "aha" moment.

"City of Masks" is (IMO) a nice, mysterious sounding title. I wrote it for an anthology set in a future where zombies have become commonplace. In my story the undead are used for labor and are masked so that people don't have to be bothered by the faces of deceased loved-ones. With this one, the title came about the time I was finishing the story.

"Closing Time at Galaxy Video" is a story about a pair of aliens who drop into a video store at closing time. It's such an ordinary sounding title that I thought it would catch someone's eye seeing it in the contents of a science fiction anthology. The hardest part was thinking of an appropriate name for the video store. I came up with the title about half-way through the writing.

"Nano-Domini" is a favorite title of mine. I wrote a story for the upcoming anthology ROBOTS BEYOND that has medical nano-robots in search of meaning. It's the most overtly religious story I've ever done and I wanted a title that suggested that without beating people over the head with it. The working title was "In the Details" which is based on the proverb "God is in the Details" and the idea that nano-robots are tiny little details themselves. (Interestingly, there's also a proverb that saiy "the Devil is in the details"). I think that was an okay title, but when "Nano-Domini" literally popped into my head a few days after I'd finished the first draft, I liked it much better.

I got tothinking about this because of the vampire story Bobbie and I are working on. What might be a good title for that?

"Truck Stop...of Death" :p

Maybe a wait-and-see policy is better for this one.

1 comment:

Thom Brannan said...

If it's a vampire story set at a gas station, maybe you could call it "Suck Stop."

. . . and then sell it to Penthouse Letters.