Friday, 10 July 2009
What’s in a name? Or: Bane Of My Life. Or: You’re Not Entitled. Or…?????
Titles are the bane of my life. Right now I’m about to start plotting a new serial. It will contain – should it ever see the light of day – a police inspector, a low-life who’s spent more time languishing at Her Majesty’s Pleasure than in his own front room and a…. No, that’s enough, or I’ll jinx it.
But before I write the synopsis – and I’ve yet to know the full story for myself, so don’t hold your breath – then submit it with the first episode, I’ll have to come up with a title. For me, that can be just as hard as plotting whodunit.
The last serial I wrote for Woman’s Weekly will go out under the title “A Storm In A Tea Cup.”. It conjures up the setting perfectly – a café - and it suggests that though the reader must expect some sort of disruption, it won’t be anything too unsettling and all will come right in the end. As a title it’s perfect. Oh, and in case I forgot to say, it’s not mine. I have WriteWords member James to thank for it!
Occasionally, though, the perfect title jumps right out of a story. Such was my enthusiasm for “A Worm’s Eye View”, a title I chose for my very first Casey Clunes’ serial. As you have probably worked out, a worm’s eye view is one from the earth, looking down, which was where DCI Casey Clunes discovered the body. Unfortunately, this title was rejected on the grounds of it being a bit grizzly. I think it went out under “Casey Clunes Investigates” in the end.
Similarly rejected was “Love in the Time of Chlamydia”, an inter-generational tale of love and sex. They loved the story, said the e-mail, only “We’re going to have to change the title I’m afraid.” Oh, well, it was worth a try. In the end we settled for “The Generation Game”, not a bad second choice. Though I still think my first title would make a brilliant TV drama, a kind of “This Life” for the noughties, with a cast from 16 to sixty and beyond, exploring the pitfalls and pratfalls of love. Maybe a better title, given the latest research, would be “This Test Tube Life”. Hey, how do you go about getting copyright?
A few times in my writing life I’ve woken up with a title in my head before I’ve written the story. “Tread Softly” was one. A short tale of three female friends, and how their footwear reflected both personalities and life choices. Feet, in fact, are big with me. (Size 6, actually, to reflect my childbearing hips). My story “A Footling Disagreement” won first prize in a competition. I loved the title; it was a story based on a chance remark that bore consequences for the heroine. I expanded the story from about 500 words to 2000 for Woman’s Weekly and gave it a new title – “Own Two Feet”. Co-incidentally the story I finished yesterday is called “Out of Step”. What is it with me and feet, I wonder?
Can you be put off by a title? “Lions, Donkeys and Dinosaurs” peers up at me from my bookshelf and I must admit I’m not drawn to it. Sounds like a colouring book. From where I’m sitting typing this, other titles are: - “Paradise”; “Larry’s Party”; “Where There’s A Will”; “The Children of Men”; “Harm Done”; “A Whistling Woman”; “A Son of War” and “A Sight For Sore Eyes”.
Do any of these jump out at you? Do you recognise the quotes? The play on words? The Shakespeare? He’s always good for a title. Personally, I’ve nicked “Making Amends” (from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”) and “All In A Summer Season” from a random website of Shakespearean quotes.
What should a title do? Tease, hint and please the ear, I always think, but all your comments welcome!
Finally, there’s Fiction Feast, who have - thank God! - bought many of my stories over the years. I long since gave up agonising over the names I should bestow upon my babies before I sent them off to that publication. Only a couple of times have they published my stories under the title I came up with. Inevitably the title they choose is always snappier than mine.
So, in the end, how important is a title? Maybe we should leave it to the editors and turn our attention to the tale we want to tell?
Footnote:- My story, "Own Two Feet" will appear in Woman's Weekly during the week of 21st July (publication date Wednesdays) and "Parents' Evening" can be found in the latest issue of Woman's Weekly Fiction Special, alongside lots of other delicious summer beach reads.