Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Fighting for the Title

My novella is finished in second draft; one more draft to go. It has an abundance of POV characters (seven!), of words (27,700), and world-shaking events (two and a half). What it doesn't have is a title.

I am not good at titles. I've thought of only two good titles in my entire life ("Out of All Them Bright Stars" and Probability Moon). Most of the rest of my story and novel titles are lifted from poetry, or taken from common idioms, or suggested by editors, or mediocre. Years ago I even invented the Kress Titling System, a Rube Goldberg contraption that went like this:

-- List all the key words from a story's theme, setting, etc., including plural, participial, and tense variations (song, songs, singing, sung).

-- Move them around until you get something vaguely appealing.

This did actually yield a few acceptable titles ("Philippa's Hands," "Down Behind Cuba Lake"), although not as good or as many as I needed. Now I have a better system, which I will use with this novella: Find a friend, clasp his or her sleeve pitifully, and beg for a reading and a title suggestion. Promise desperate trade-offs in return. Use bribery. Repeat as necessary.

5 comments:

Mike Flynn said...

"Seven Characters in Search of a Title"

The Pondering Tree's Alpha Site said...

Funny, I always get the title first, then the story.

Respects,
S. F. Murphy

Nancy Kress said...

Mike-- Didn't somebody already use that :)

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Ah, titles! The great (and I do mean =great=) songwriter Pete Townshend sez he usually starts from a title, and works from there. But Nancy, you're surely not alone in title-travail. Two of Robert Heinlein's classics had lame working titles:
STRANGER started as THE MAN FROM MARS, also THE HERETIC.
THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS began life as THE BRASS CANNON.

I think of titles as the shrink-wrap on a package of pork chops. We like to see the wrap fitting nice and tight, but that's hardly the most important thing.

What matter most is the quality of the meat underneath.

Mark said...

Frank M Robinson finessed this problem by titling his novella for the September 1951 ASTOUNDING "Untitled Story".
Maybe you should call it "Nancy's Hugo and Nebula Nominated Novella"?