(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 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/