Apologies for the lapse in the posts of this in a series of six, it has been a long hot summer and for me, not with much of a break – I have finally finished reading mounds of entries for the screenplay competition I was reading for, finished polishing two of my own and have been working diligently behind the scenes to get this site where it needs to be to be marketable (coming next month!). But the main thing that delayed my post on #3 TITLES for your story is that I wrote this on a scrap of paper and in the process of moving my office – I misplaced it! That and I’ve touched on this topic specifically for screenplays before. Anyway, onward with expediency!…
The oft quoted Einstein said: ‘ if you can’t explain something simply you don’t understand it well enough.’ And while this does indeed apply to your logline, in today’s market of rapid fire media, you should also make it apply to your title. I propose that TITLE has to draw from one of 3 ‘i’ s and if it can do all 3 than it is perfect. Examples will be posted at the end.
1) Introduce. You should introduce either the protagonist OR the journey/problem of the protagonist. (if you do decide to introduce the protagonist it doesn’t have to be by name) For instance, if there is a word or phrase that can encapsulate both, then a name is irrelevant.
2) Intrigue. As consumers scan the offerings of movies and books (particularly e-books) the title should generate enough intrigue (or interest) so that they will at least want to read the flap, back cover or tiny online blurb that is meant to seal the deal with a must read/see hook.
3) Inform. Ideally the title of your story will point to the type (genre/theme).
While I’m a big proponent of naming a story before beginning, it is mostly because it is how my mind works out a story, much of my writing happens in my mind before I sit down to let it pour out. That stated, I’ve occasionally missed the mark and started a story because I liked the title only to finish with a something that made the title seem vague. So, if you like to start with a title it is very important to give it a second thought when your story is complete.
One-word titles go in and out of fashion more than hemlines and really could be a whole post on their own. While there is a plethora of examples (mostly movies) that are wildly successful brandishing just one word, I personally don’t recommend this route. The title is your story’s first impression and yes, in the event it gets put out there for all to see, a marketer most likely will change it, while it’s your baby and you’re trying to send it out into the world on the strongest legs possible, make sure it makes a good first impression. After all, babies don’t leave the hospital without a name and often they grow up being told they look or act like the one they’ve been given and if not they’re given a nickname. So name your story first, if the name doesn’t fit after you’ve finished rewriting it, give it a suitable nickname.
Examples (please see the post on screenplay titles for some very good and additional debates and a lot more examples in that world)
Before I get into the better known examples, here’s a title that came across my periphery the other day: AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DATES. How’s that — you immediately know the genre, the journey and the intrigue (if any) – I hope that producer found a great writer because this could just as easily be a slowly ticking stink bomb.
A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES. This title not only Informs us of the main character, but also most of the supporting ones as well as the tone/genre and it is very intriguing to boot.
E.T. the extra-terrestrial was originally titled A BOY’S LIFE. Now that was a smart revision – because this is really a story that is about E.T. and it spells out the genre.
STAND BY ME was originally titled THE BODY when Stephen King wrote it as a novella. Now, in King’s version the body really is the axis of the story so it fits AND it fits his genre. But here was another brilliant revision when it was adapted because the film really does focus on the boys and the support and strength that their friendship provides during the journey to find the body.
THE LOVELY BONES personally I don’t think this is the perfect title for this book and its adapted movie. HOWEVER, it does/did generate enough intrigue and somewhat informed us to the genre.
THE DA VINCI CODE here is a rare case where a name is a draw (not including biographical stories) Da Vinci is a household name that conjures invention and inspiration and the Code points to the genre.
JAWS here is one of few one-word titles I like, it introduces the villain and the genre/theme in 4 letters!
And I guess I have to touch on J.K.’s phenom: ALL of the Harry Potter titles (books and movies), introduce the main character, intrigue you to learn more and inform you of the genre. You guessed it — all 3 ‘i’ s.
CHARLOTTE’S WEB as a children’s book I imagine if this were published today it would be called some politically correct thing like PIGS ARE PEOPLE TOO. But Charlotte’s Web is really perfect in its literal web of intrigue, introduction of the character that propels the story and supports the lead, and in informing of the journey.
One last interesting title to think about, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (book by Roald Dahl) WILLIE WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (the first movie) followed by CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (the latest movie by Tim Burton). I totally understand the draw of the 1st movie’s quirky name but really, Mr. Dahl and Mr. Burton are pretty much gods in the world of storytelling and they agree that the story is about Charlie’s experience from beginning through middle and end… which is exactly where we’ll pick up soon.