You know that old saying, ‘never judge a book by it’s cover’? Well, most people do. We’re visual creatures so when we browse the shelves it’s the cover and title that determine whether the book is picked up for a cursory glance. If the cover and title aren’t right, it doesn’t even get that far. Which means that getting the title as close to perfect as possible is critical. (The cover too, but that’s rarely up to the author as far as I understand.)
By curious coincidence, both myself and the esteemed Mr. Knighton are having title problems at the moment. Like him, this is rare for me. The title frequently comes first – is the trigger for the original core idea. As a kid I used to keep lists of cool titles for stories I hadn’t written yet. This eventually turned into lists of phrases for the 5 Phrases Poetry Competition, but the point stands – titles were easy.
But now I am writing a commissioned* short* love* story (* all new territory for me) and suddenly the title is a problem. It has to achieve so many things – be a hook for the reader, a key for the subject matter and an aurally pleasing word/phrase. It also has to fit into the pattern of the story world – you shouldn’t call a medieval-themed book Mind the Gap, for example. But take it too far the other way and you risk losing people. My working title for this project – a love story in a Roman setting – is Ars Amatoria which, for those who haven’t read Ovid (so about 99% of the population), means nothing. Rather an ineffective hook, then.
The other crucial function a title performs is a guide for the author. A constant reminder that this, THIS, is what the story is about and not to stray too far off topic. In a short story, where brevity and focus is even more of a challenge, the title is correspondingly more important. Oi, everwalker, seven thousand words is not the place for an exploration of the ramifications of patriotism and treason! Get back to the point, which is…
Well, Guy Meets Girl isn’t exactly an overwhelmingly original title. Although, strictly speaking, nor is Ars Amatoria. There must be a middle ground somewhere between the two.