titles

Schedule? What schedule?

I blame the heat. Or hayfever. Or insomnia caused by both of the above. Anyway it’s Tuesday and I’m late with this blog post. Think of it as letting the anticipation build, if you like.

Excitement abounds for National Writing Day tomorrow, for which Ilkley Writers are reading new stories about summer and light (it being the longest day) then hosting our first prose open mic.

June21st_poster

I was quite pleased with the flyer I designed

This being us, several of us have eschewed the sunshine and ice cream vision of summer and gone darker. My story, Summer of 96, begins I wore a babydoll dress that night because it was summer, and you know pretty soon it’s not going to end well for someone.

The title of my summer story is of course a nod to the Bryan Adams song Summer of 69, while also referring to the summer I was 17, the age my narrator is, and I wanted the characters not to have mobile phones, and to have to re-tune Radio 1 periodically on a long journey so it all kind of fit. Often, I have great trouble with titles (see title of blog post for further evidence) and seeing the range of titles on the Bath Flash Fiction longlist this morning I realised (again) that this is an area I need to work on.

However, poor title or not, I have (3rd year running!) got a story in the FlashFlood on Saturday for National Flash Fiction Day. You should be able to read mine at about 1.40pm (BST), it’s called She gets it from your side. This one was written as a response to the oft-recited Ernest Hemingway 6-word story about the unworn baby shoes, and is either fantasy or magic realism depending on your views on these things.

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The clue’s in the title

I write a lot of short stories, blog posts etc, and for each one I have to come up with a title. You’d think by now I’d have learnt how to come up with a good one, or at least figured out how to avoid the big mistakes, but sadly that’s not the case. I started writing Wasted Years in 2004, finished it in 2010 and all that time I thought of its title as a temporary  measure until I came up with a more suitable one. Then I redrafted the novel, submitted it to a couple of places, and finally decided this summer to self-publish. And it’s too late, I can’t think of that novel as anything but Wasted Years now, that’s its name. Does it have the right feel? I’m not sure. Does it suggest the contents? I can’t tell any more – it does to me, obviously. The moral of this being, if you want a good title come up with it earlier.

I found an interesting article by John Floyd on the subject of titles recently, so I thought I’d share the link. Apparently, The Great Gatsby was originally called Trimalchio in West Egg; I’m so glad F Scott Fitzgerald wasn’t as attached to that title as I am to Wasted Years, I just can’t see me getting quite as enthusiastic about it as I got about The Great Gatsby. For one thing, I’m not sure how to pronounce Trimalchio so I’d have a hard time recommending it (which is a point Floyd makes in his article – if your reader can’t pronounce or remember the title, how will they urge the man at the bus stop to read it).

Another title-related bit of fun is the Lulu Titlescorer, provided by the self-publishing service Lulu. By analysing the titles of fifty years’ worth of bestsellers they’ve put together a gizmo that scores your title on bestsellerness. While I don’t think it’s a watertight system for success, it might make you think about things like using the name of a character in your title, or perhaps re-ordering the phrase. It helps if you know your grammatical terms; if you generally know what words to use and in what order, but couldn’t say if a thing’s an abstract noun or a preposition, you might come unstuck. Apparently The Height of Bestsellerness has a 41.4% chance of becoming a bestselling title – I’ll keep that in mind for a future project.