‘Jerry the Angel’ on Titles


(I thought it only fitting to have a proper title for this post – hope you approve Jerry.)

It’s been a crazy week and I was stressing over what to post about – yes, I have a poem or two in wait but I wanted something else to blog about. And that’s when an angel of mercy arrived by way of my inbox. Yes, Jerry Guarino may not look like your average angel, but I’ve learned he’s a real sweetheart and boy did he come through for me! So please, read and enjoy Jerry’s insights and be sure to check out his books, his website and follow the guy on Facebook. By the way, he started a Facebook Short Story Writers group that is 338 members strong. Be sure to check it out, too, if you write short stories! Thank you Jerry!


Are titles important and where do they come from?

By Jerry Guarino

            First, let me thank Sheila for this opportunity to share my ideas about titles.  We all know that a title is the handle for a story, a novel, screenplay or dramatic play.  It is the first clue to what the content will be and the last way for an author to leave a lasting impression to the reader.  We all have an instant visual when we hear these titles:

The Raven

            The Old Man and the Sea

            West Side Story


            Death of a Salesman

            Personally, I use titles to give the reader something to keep in their mind.  I do so for many reasons.  Sometimes I do it to mislead or misdirect the reader, in order to keep them from guessing where the story will go.  Other times I use it to set up a multiple meaning word, phrase or idea.  I have used titles to intrigue, to question, to mimic a sound, a theme or an idea.  To me, titles are very important and I write them before I write the story.

Titles can’t make the story great or memorable but they can detract from the effectiveness of the story.  You don’t see bad titles published very often because authors, editors and publishers will correct that before printing.

Here are some of my titles and the way they are related to the content of the story.

The Bridge Game – uses the word bridge in three different ways.  First, as the card game that two couples play.  Next, as one of the women uses the other to bridge her relationship to the other’s man.  Finally, at the end of the story, the woman crashes her car into a bridge.  Using a key word in the title in different ways is a common device authors use.

Who Stole Asbury Park? – In this story, I used the title to preview the main idea.  It is the story of a New Jersey resort town on the ocean that once was vibrant with people, amusements and life, but has lost all that over time due to fiscal mismanagement and apathy.  It also serves the purpose of disguising the more interesting coming of age love story between a young boy and girl and their first explorations into the opposite sex.  Using a title to set up part of a story, especially with a question is a good way to give the reader something to think about.

Boxes and Ladders – is about three men all interested in the same woman.  In this case, the title refers to concepts.  Boxes are used to hold things, but in the story it also refers to the personality of one of the men, an engineer, who likes to compartmentalize everything, including people.  He takes this into extremes by categorizing people into boxes on a computer program, trying to find a mate.  Ladders refers to the other man’s way of attacking life, by climbing ladders to reach goals.  Of course the woman falls for the third man who approaches life and relationships in a mature and generous way.

Preheat the Microwave.Com – is a story looking at the funny things senior citizens do, although pushed to extremes for effect.  This title uses a quote from the book as the elderly woman tells her niece “You have to preheat the microwave.”  Using a quote from the book can be an effective way of making the story both memorable and different, as the title also suggests a website, another reference to the website the niece sets up in her aunt’s senior citizen center.  Using a quote is particularly effective when it refers to a joke as it is used here.

Coq a Doodle Do – this is one story of a trilogy of love stories featuring roosters as characters.  Here the title gives the reader a clue to one of the characters, by making a play on the sound a rooster makes in the morning, an essential element in the story.  Coq is also the French word for rooster and the theme of France runs through the trilogy.

Practical Goldberg (A Love Story in 3 Parts) – uses the name Goldberg for the main character, a college student, who creates an elaborate bird-feeding machine to attract women for love.  Of course we find out in the end that although he is successful in doing so, the woman was actually doing the same thing to get him to love her.  Using a reference like this (i.e. A Rube Goldberg Machine) makes your title reflect what happens in the story and for those of us old enough to know what that machine was, a delightful but overly complicated way to do something, the story works nicely.

Starbanks – this is a story I wrote about a bank with a Starbucks coffee shop inside.  It is merely a play on words, but one which works well in this quirky look at a how prevalent coffee shops have become in our lives.  I sent the story to Starbucks and it is actually an idea they have thought about doing.  I have no doubt we will see them in banks sometime in the future.

Well, that’s my thinking on titles.  I’ll leave some more here for you to ponder.  The Duke of Yelp, The Grand Poobah, Pie or Die, Babybump.com, The Rich are Going to Hell, Like Father, Like Son, Overdue, The Tightrope and The Devil’s Orchestra.  So pay attention to the title of the next story you read.  The author probably put a lot of thought into it.


Jerry Guarino’s short stories have been published by dozens of magazines in the United States, Canada, Australia and Great Britain. His latest book, “50 Italian Pastries”, is available on Amazon.com and as a Kindle eBook. Please visit his website at http://cafestories.net/


21 responses »

  1. “Personally, I use titles to give the reader something to keep in their mind.”—I like that perspective. A title should mean something. Sometimes titles come so easily to us, even when the story is barely crafted. Other times it’s a struggle to find what works. I haven’t experienced the latter yet. Then again, I don’t have that many books under my belt. 🙂

  2. Fascinating. I just love the idea of how titles are of huge importance in stories and novels. “To Kill a Mockingbird” comes to mind. Of course it doesn’t become clear until you get into the thick of the story, but as you do you realize the importance of it. Have you ever read the short story “Miriam,” by Truman Capote? Well, I think the title is absolutely perfect. You think it’s just the name of the two characters in the story, but as the story unfolds and, eventually, comes to its spooky ending, you realize “Miriam” holds the words “I am I.” At least that’s what I got from it. A close friend of mine published a story titled (originally) “Twin Falls.” It was about a couple going to see the twin falls in Hana, and the conflict the main character comes to terms with is mirrored by a woman they meet. It’s just perfect! (until the publisher told her to change the title). Anyway….can you tell I enjoy this?? 🙂

  3. This is a new perspective for me. I always add the title as an afterthought and frequently they have nothing to do with the piece. By way of witness, my five most completely whack poem titles:

    *Zombie Walter Kronkite tells veiwers “we can’t win this war” (makes no reference to Walter Kronkite or Zombies)

    *Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg (yes, the poem does have a lake in it but it could have been Lake Havusu for all the poem cared)

    *When your wedding bed’s on fire, you’ve got to do it in the hall (sure, yes, but the poem is about an experience I had serving divorce papers on a woman’s husband. No wedding bed’s are burned in the making of the poem. One can assume, in fact, they had long since been reduced to ashes before I came into the picture)

    *Catherine, your position as the most beautiful woman on MySpace has recently been threatened
    (her name was actually Sheila. She was and still is, exceedingly lovely, though)

    *the 10000 species of the orgasm (little like “50 ways to leave you lover” this only discuss a very mere fraction of the variety of action described in the title)

    • I’m completely fascinated by your viewpoint on this subject. By the way, can we poetry lovers find all of these fantastic titles on your blog? I want to make sure I read each one 🙂 They all sound extremely entertaining.

  4. Oh my!

    Walt Kronkite wasn’t really good enough to come across to my new blog –

    nor was wedding bed – http://www.myspace.com/77178284/blog/131089275 In fact it is utter trash. I had only just started doing this, so I had no, I don;t know no way of saying things right.

    Nor the lake one – http://www.myspace.com/77178284/blog/295178329 but it isn’t all that bad

    Catherine is here – http://beijomacio.wordpress.com/2010/08/06/catherine-your-position-as-the-most-beautiful-woman-on-myspace-has-recently-been-threatened-2/ which I quite like. It just occured to me – your name is Sheila too! Boy am I embarrassed!

    and 10000 here – http://www.myspace.com/77178284/blog/520231585 I really must bring that across.

    I’m very flattered you should ask, by the way – and I am not easily flattered 🙂

    • I just read them all – I don’t see how you can call any of these pieces trash, but I know how it is – we are always our own worst critic. I thoroughly enjoy your poetry. You have a distinct voice throughout your writing – you’re fortunate to have found it and you use it well.

  5. That’s interesting. Personally I haven’t given titles too much thought before, but I guess I use them as some reference to what is going on. I don’t write to a title other than a working title, I let that come out later. Although perhaps I should consider more how that can lead a reader.

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