1. NateSean
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    NateSean Active Member

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    Working the Title into the Story

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by NateSean, Mar 23, 2011.

    I'm one of those readers who gets a kick out of reading a book and seeing the story title worked into the flow of the story, usually in a conversation between two characters. I don't know if it's a case where the story came first and the sentence seemed like a good title, or if the reverse is true.

    But in a few of my past writing attempts, I found that I was happiest with stories where the title came up in conversation. Especially if it doesn't seem like it was forced.

    Am I alone here? Are there any schools of thought associated with this concept? Is it a cliche as such, or is there any particular reason why something like this shouldn't be done?

    I appreciate your thoughts.
     
  2. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    I'm not in favour of shoehorning the title into a story. Silence of the Lambs did this, with a convoluted final paragraph which felt contrived and dampened the effect of the novel as a whole. The worst part was that it was completely unnecessary. As a reader, I understood the title without Harris saying it outright.

    My suggestion (and my own strategy with this) is to come up with the title last. That way you can take an element of the story, and use that as the title, and it will feel natural and not forced. I very rarely start writing a story from the title, but rather derive the title from the finished (or at least begun) story.
     
  3. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    Banzai's advice is sound and practical.
    Though, like you, I take an odd, irrational delight in encountering the title in a work and might be tempted - for my own amusement - to slip it in (and then maybe take it out again on the final proof-read).
     
  4. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    The alternative is to take the title from a line in the book.

    Like you I like reading it find it a fun moment - Someone Else's Life was easy, Socrates' Children I doubt will make it in though. Coffee Killer will make it but doubt Stoned Witches will.

    Publisher may change title anyway.
     
  5. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    It should never feel like it's forced. Don't feel like you have to weave in a title at some point.

    Key point - Don't worry about the title until the entire novel is finished, and think of a good title based on what you've written. Don't ever feel like you have to slant the writing to reflect the title.

    The title is ALWAYS the dependent variable. :)
     
  6. KillianRussell
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    KillianRussell Contributing Member

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    My bet is more often than not what looks like the title shoe-horned in, is in all actuality a pre publication marketing move to replace the working title.
     
  7. AdurianJ
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    AdurianJ New Member

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    My advice is to come up with the title last of all, then you can take something from the story or change a few things slightly to fit it´s message.

    It´s no more different then comming up with an ending first of all.
     
  8. guamyankee
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    guamyankee Contributing Member

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    Unless you are intentionally spoofing the novel writing process. In that case, blatantly overdo working an obnoxious title into an overly obvious point in the story.
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i see nothing wrong with having a title in mind from the start, as long as it's fitting and doesn't have to be 'shoehorned' in...

    i start with a title more often than the opposite, since an appropriate title will usually hit me as soon as i think of something i want to write about... a case in point is my first novel, 'casa eva'... that was the actual name of the little beach cottage where the story took place and the 'eve'/paradise/serpent theme was a perfect match for the plot... same for another one, 'sin & sanctimony' that was about the 'good' people of 'sin city' and how they enabled at best, abetted at worst, the mob that controlled the city...

    so there's no good reason to advise always waiting till a story/book is completed to come up with its title, imo...
     
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  10. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    My experience is the same as Mammamaia - the only one that didn't have a title early on was Someone Else's Life and I am still not entirely happy with it. Its been through about eight titles - Angus!, First Cove, Royal Oaf, Great White Falcon, Soaring Peace, Iron Falcon, Becoming Dad, Walk Tall, Universal Balance, Combinations, Fly's Legacy, Children of Izanami, Heart of the Universe, Eternal Organs and I could go on lol

    What About Us I knew straight away, likewise Bad Romance when I combined the two it became - The Flight of the Swan.

    Socrates' Children was Stitching Time until i knew where the story was heading and that the title was too light. The moment the solution to my schizophrenic story came to mind the title did.

    Little Chicks my novella came very early as well.

    Stoned Witches came quite early on and has stuck which surprised me.

    Coffee Killer was what gave me the story from Cream and Black.
     
  11. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    For me, the best route is to settle on a working title early in the project. When I do that, I'm able to forget about a title until the end. Otherwise, I used to find myself obsessing on what the title should be, and trying to create lines to write that would encompass the title. This, it turns out, was even worse than shoehorning the title into the prose.

    When I wrote a novel about a Catholic priest in an inner city parish, I called it "Fr. Lynch" right from the beginning. I got so wrapped up in the project that I forgot I needed a title, and I left it as "Fr. Lynch" when I started looking for an agent. I found one who expressed some interest in it and asked for the manuscript. He declined to take it, but made a number of suggestions, and I went back to work on it. I was halfway through my major editing project on it when I decided on the title, "Cathedral Under the El", which is what the MC ad called a drawing of the church that one of the children in the parish had drawn. I still like it as a title, and I still like the novel, even if I haven't been able to sell it.
     
  12. Bay K.
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    Bay K. Contributing Member

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    One of my favorite books to read is the Bible --yes, the Bible!

    But nowhere in all its 66 (no pun intended) books and numerous chapters and verses is the word 'Bible' seen.
    What is 'Bible'? What the heck does that mean?
    But the title has come to stick with me and the name conjures up strong emotions.

    Have a main idea / theme / subject-matter / issue and adequately write on it (or them).
    Then put yourself at its core and 'wait' for the creative name / title of the work 'to come' to you.
    It's more intriguing when it's not 'given' directly from the words of the work.

    Good luck.




    ----------------------------------------------------
    Be good, wise and strong --or don't be at all
     
  13. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with Banzai's idea. Come up with the title last.

    Every time I have seen the title of a book snuck into the content, it always feels out of place and force.

    George R.R. Martin did it with A Game of Thrones. It felt corny because it was the one time in the entire novel when the rulership of the land was mentioned as a game. If he had mentioned it several times throughout the book, it would have felt more natural.
     
  14. katica
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    katica Senior Member

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    I also agree with Banzai if you are going to get published. Don't force a title into your story, especially since many story titles are changed if the publishers/editors/whoever don't like them.

    The story "Twilight" for instance, started as "Forks", which was obviously an incredibly stupid name for it, but a title Stephanie Meyer would have stuck with if her authors didn't force her to do otherwise. They change titles all the time to make them more marketable.

    Also, titles should, more importantly, reflect the overall theme of a book. Don't call a book "Secret Lovers" for example if you are writing about people who keep secrets for others and search out and find secrets because everyone who picks up the book will think its a romance. The title shouldn't be an inside joke or confusing. People should be able to glance at it and know the theme of the book instantly.

    Like the Stephanie Meyer example . . . ."Forks" sounds quirky and like something you'd find in the kitchen and like nothing the book is about. "Twilight" on the other hand hints that it contains something dark, like vampires. That's why they didn't let her keep that horrific title.
     
  15. NateSean
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    NateSean Active Member

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    Ages ago, I wrote a short story entitled Dinner With Dan, about a news reporter who gets to interview Death at his home. When he introduces himself as Dan, the reporter scoffs at it, until he says, "What would you rather tell your parents later? That you had an interview with the Grim Reaper, or that you had dinner with a guy named Dan?"

    So while not precisely shoehorning the title, the dialogue was just natural to the conversation and it happened naturally.

    I usually know how I want to tell the story before I write it, or I have it all played out in my mind ahead of time, which is why I usually pick a title first. But like another poster said, if I ever get to the publishing stage, the publishers may have a completely different idea.
     
  16. galaxy83
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    galaxy83 New Member

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    I agree, I always find myself smile with a childlike excitement when I notice the title worked into the book! Obviously not all titles will fit within the writing inside, which is why I personally write the majority, if not all, of my work first and upon editing an appropriate title seems to just jump out at me!
     
  17. Tesgah
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    Tesgah Member

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    In my current novel I actually came up with the title first, then weaved a story around that title. I've come to a point were it is literally impossible to change the title. I like it this way, it's almost like the title becomes the story's identity and essence:)
     
  18. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Occasionally, a title will pop into your head and a story will form around it. That's a natural growth. More often though, you'll have a story idea first.

    In either case, though, the real product of your work is the story, not the title. Don't fall so in love with the title that you have to force the story to fit it.

    The title should always be considered provisional. By the time the story is done, you will know your story so well, you may realize that there's an even better title than you originally envisioned - if you keep an open mind.

    You can always use the title in another story if it isn't the absolute best title for the current tale.
     
  19. neffmoore
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    neffmoore New Member

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    I just finished one novel, and I have another one that is more than halfway done.
    The one which I just finished, started off with one title, but as the book developed, the title didn't fit anymore.
    The novel which is still in development, still has the initial title, and I think it will stick throughout.

    For me, the initial title is often times just a thought or nugget that starts the process, sometimes it sticks and other times it doesn't. Part of the function of the title is to describe the book, but in business, it has to help sell the book (especially if you are an unknown).

    I think that, while it is fun if the title comes up in the book, it should not be forced.
     
  20. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Titles *do* reflect the contents of the book, more often than not, so it would be a bit strange to not expect any relevance to them at all...

    For directly quoting the title, I guess that depends on the title. I use tons of working titles and almost never settle on something I'd call the finished title. However, when I do have the title I definitely want to use it often gets worked in. Maybe a bit heavy-handed to some, but I try to make my titles very relevant, and something that could be understood from the first chapter, so the reference appears there more often than not.

    If the title was faintly ridiculous though - I use a lot of those, which are either quite long or strange, I won't even bother. Ones with heavy alliteration I usually skip referencing :p What sounds cute as a title looks awful on the page.

    For my current main novel I use the title early on, in dialogue, and it's natural enough that the reader could wonder either way if I got the title from there or put the line in because it was the title. From there, since it's a description of the main character, I use it a couple more times throughout the novel, the narrator using it almost like he's ironically quoting the girl who said it.
     
  21. Quorum1
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    Quorum1 Member

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    Sorry to those that like it, but I think it's a bit tacky. Whenever I read a book title within the story I :rolleyes:. I feel it takes me out of the story.
     

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