Monday, September 14, 2009


My Mars story is done, and now I have the usual difficulty in deciding what to call it. I am not good at titles. My best titles (with one exception) have all been suggested by other people. When I wander through bookstores I see wonderful titles -- intriguing or funny or pithy -- but I lack this talent, which seems to me closer to writing poetry or songs than writing fiction.

So years ago I came up with a system for creating titles. I can't say that it always works, but it's better (marginally) than nothing. It goes like this: Write down all the key words for the story, including terms from setting, theme, SF element, etc. For verbs, write down various forms ("transport," "transported," "transporting," etc.) Add all the characters' names. Make the list as long as you can. Then start shoving them against each other in various combinations until something works.

If that's not successful, start looking up each key term in Bartlett's Quotations until you find a line of poetry you can use as a title.

Once, long ago, when Ellen Datlow hated each of SIX titles I came up with for a story she'd bought for Omni, Bruce McAllister said he would give me a title that could fit any story ever written. I said I doubted that. He said, "'In a World Like This.'" He was right. I gave the title to Ellen, and she used it for my story.

Which means I can't use it again now. Although titles can't be copyrighted, it's a bit much to steal one from yourself. So I guess I need to start shoving.


Andrew said...

Well, I know you're not soliciting, but in the generic-Mars-teen theme:
-Red is the color of...
-Perihelion Summer
-Two Hundred Million Miles from [any Earth reference]

And a couple really terrible ones:
-The Mars My Destination
-I was a Teenage Martian

Tim of Angle said...

"Doing It For Real"

Kevin Blake said...

Or a play on Mcallister's title:
A world such as this.

Thought of a few silly title, but they were really silly.

I should go to bed now.

Ben said...

or how about

Difficulties on Mars

Mark said...

I vote for "I was a teenage Martian".

Hmmmm. "Little habitat on the planitia."

Or you can title the story after the main character, that's often done.

skiffywife said...

A couple suggestions:

Think of the one word that sums up your theme and Google that and "Shakespeare quotes." Something usually comes up.

Also, look up Alexander Pope's Essay on Man -- a plethora of titles there, especially for anything with SF themes.

Dave Creek

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Always left your readers help you out in things like this, Nancy! F. Paul Wilson, whose 13th Repairman Jack novel GROUND ZERO is out this week, has asked for title suggestions on his lively board. The gang responded with style and class. He used two ah-deers.

You might consider

Or take Joe Walsh's path

You might appeal to your reader's wide knowledge

It's a YA novel, right? In the first person? If it's a teenage gal telling the tale, how 'bout MY MARTIAN DIARY (SORT OF)

A teenage guy, that's easy

And don't feel bad about finding it hard to come up with a good title.
Heinlein's original title for STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND was THE MAN FROM MARS. (Hmmm...that pesky Red Planet again...)

And the working title for his greatest novel (and I know I'm not along in that opinion) was THE BRASS CANNON. Not too inspiring, right?

The Hugo-winning novel was published as THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS.

Ken Schneyer said...

Either Paul Park or Liz Hand told me that a really good title doesn't become fully clear until you've read the last line of the story. You finish reading the story, go back to the title and say, "Oh!"

So what I do is to go to the last line, think about what transition has occurred for the reader, and then try to embody that transition in the title.

Easier said than done...

gdtownshende said...

For my own stories, I've long had the habit of writing up lists of titles—almost like Bradbury's practice of writing up lists, as he outlines in ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING. Sometimes I can find something on the lists; sometimes the titles suggest a story themselves. This practice has worked fairly well for me thus far (at least, I'm happy with the results).

The piece I'm working on right now is a fantasy novel. The working title started off as a single word title, which was garnered from something central to the story. I'm now nearly 30,000 words into it, and in the writing of it another idea came to mind that I married to the original working title. Unless something changes drastically, I'm inclined to go with what I've got now. Still, seeing that I'm only about one-third to one-quarter done with this story, a lot can change between now and the end of October/end of November, when I expect to have the first draft completed.

Criada said...

At Foolscap, I was having lunch with Kate Yule and David Levine. Suddenly, Kate exclaimed, "Band names! Treat it like a band name!" Turns out David had been having problems naming a story.
-Elizabeth Coleman

Sarah Hall said...

The piece I'm working on now is a college essay which requires lots of energy and time to spend in the library. I'd prefer this cheap essay writing service instead of doing this all by myself!