"A word after a word after a word is power" - Margaret Atwood


A blog for readers and writers

A blog about the stories we tell each other and how we tell them...

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Best Book Title or Short Story title?

As a writer I find titles difficult. Sometimes they just appear like a lighthouse beam shredding through the dark  but more often I am left struggling, worrying over ideas, pinching bits off, adding and subtracting until I'm convinced that what I am left with is as illuminating as a spent match.
On February 19 I wrote about the weird and wonderful book titles that are short listed each year for the Diagram Prize but I've been thinking about the great titles: the ones that stay with you and say something when you first pick them up and say something different when the story is over...
They are important to get right because it  sets a temperture for what follows...
Here's a couple that spring to mind:
(although I did once read a review complaining that it was overwritten and it should be really 50 years of...)
Short story I HAVE NO MOUTH BUT I MUST SCREAM one of the best short stories I've read and I am not a big sci fi fan. Written in the 60s by Harlan Ellison, the title and the story have stayed with me since I first read it.
Any personal favourites? Any tips for creating that all important first line of a story (which is what a title is, after all...)


MorningAJ said...

One of my favourites is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which was turned into the rather more forgettably titled Blade Runner when they made a movie out of it.

I quite liked Rankin's Knots and Crosses too (one of the early Rebus novels).
Then there's practically anything that John Irving writes:
A Prayer for Owen Meany
A Widow for One Year
The Cider House Rules
Trying to Save Piggy Sneed.
They give you no clue but when you've finished reading you realise they couldn't be called anything else.

BRIDGET said...

Yes for John Irving's novels...World according to Garp....Hotel New Hampshire (which should be just a label but somehow isn't)...but especially Cider House Rules which matures as a title as the novel progresses... Never really got Philip K. Dick I suppose because he wrote ideas fiction and in the end I prefer character fiction but you're right, he was king of title making...

Louise Halvardsson said...

I love the novel and the the novel title HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN by M.J. Hyland. I love it when a title is quite abstract and when the writer at some point in the novel refers very subtly to the title.

BRIDGET said...

Yes, I'm intrigued by titles that are rather obscure and I don't quite 'get' until I read more, but I think the key is that they still have to contain some kind of concrete image...something that allows my imagination to start working. The truly abstract can be very putdownable. I'm thinking of titles like
My inner loneliness
(made up - I hope) awful if serious and not tongue-in-cheek
Thank you for the recommendation as haven't read How the Light gets in but is a title that stays with you.

JF said...

first, thanks for following me back and your comments. I look forward to them.

my favorite title and a must read novel, American, brock Clark's *An Arsonist's Guide to Writers Houses in New England*. a masterful use of 1st person, not fully reliable but very human narrator. also loved *A girl's guide to hunting and fishing," melissa banks, labelled as Chiclit but very smart chicklit for sure. oh, and NUala OFaolain's My Dream of you. I'll stop now....! JF

JF said...

and thanks to you for reading my blog and commenting. I look forward to them.

some faves: Brock Clarke, An Arsonist's Guide to Writers Houses in New England [also a brilliant fictional 1st person narrator]. melissa bank's A Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing. old brian moore novel, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne [sp? not my forte].

I can't think of first lines till revision or I get paralyzed!