Friday, October 21, 2011

Untitled (and likely to remain so)


Some of us have no trouble coming up with titles, sometimes even before we know what we're going to put in the story to go with the title. At the other end of the spectrum--the very, very, very distant other end--that's where I live.

Most of the poems I've written over the years are untitled. In my head and in my journals, I refer to stories by clumsy monikers like "the time travel story with the dog," and "the Philip and Maggie story," "the old space story," "the new space story," and "that amnesia thing." A very few have working titles, but even those tend to be awkward, hokey, or cutesy (examples: "Dangerous Memories," "Unlikely Angel"), and I pretty much uniformly dislike them all.

I've been trying to come up with some sort of working name for this year's NaNoWriMo, and once again feel like bashing my head against a wall. I have the basic story sort of laid out (in short, it's a rather goofy detective novel set in a future where there's magic, a frog turned into a woman who wants to figure out who did this to her and why, an impulsive and rather bossy fairy, and assorted other characters), but can I come up with a name? Of course not. I'd like something that sort of resembles the titles of old detective novels, being as how this is almost a parody...but the closest I've come up with are "The Color of Jealousy" and "When Worlds Collide," both of which sound disturbingly like bodice-rippers. Oh dear.

And so, little NaNo novel, you are likely to remain "the magic detective story." It's OK. I'll love you (and hate you) just as much as other folks do all their tidily named tales, I promise--bless your undefined heart.

10 comments:

MTCoalhopper said...

I just number the files in my casebook. That's about as far toward the unimaginitive end of the title spectrum as one can get.

At least you have a coherent idea of what you're going to write...

Cameron said...

I predict that you will come up with a title when you well into the writing process.

Heather said...

I often have similar issues with titles myself. Sometimes, I will get lucky and a title will present itself to my mind in the early stages of writing. Usually, however, I end up settling at the end for a title that is less than ideal, and probably awkward and boring as well. Poems usually get a simple, descriptive title, such as "Leaves" or "Autumn." I envy those who can come up with clever titles every time!

Rob Bowker said...

Titles are massively important packaging for content. They are half promise of what's within, half statement of an author's intentions. For me, "Untitled" is as much a title as "The Tempest" or "Cider with Rosie". And you know, I really don't think it matters which come first. Truly untitled works are few and far between. In fact the only one that springs to mind is the Beatles album which was subsequently dubbed "The White Album", but only because of the colour of its packaging.

Little Flower Petals said...

Titles are massively important packaging for content. They are half promise of what's within, half statement of an author's intentions.

And it is this, in essence, that causes me to freeze up every time I try to come up with a title. The pressure--oh, the pressure!

Rob Bowker said...

I think it could be OK to let fate take a hand. Your content might come from some pretty dark places but I think naming stuff - and the choice is infinite- usually comes best from a sunny place. Not flippant but from sideways on, if you know what I mean. Or get a trusted editor to give you a title? :-)

w/v: T rotor, n, mechanised spoon?

notagain said...

They can also be used to conceal spoilers. It's pretty interesting...as a word problem.

Mike Speegle said...

Yikes, I have the same problem too. There is actually one short story of mine that I actually have to describe in detail when I talk about it because the title is so forgettable.

Rob is right, though. When I peruse a short-story collection, I always read the ones with interesting monikers first.

Jason said...

11 days into December and my Nano is still titles "Work in Progress" in honor of James Joyce. That was what Finnegans Wake was called until right before it was finally published and that is what all the critics called it when they read bits and pieces of it in magazines. If James Joyce didn't title his work til the end than we're in good company.

Jason said...

*November... not December, I'm getting way ahead of myself...