Thursday, June 26, 2008

Welcome Guest Blogger - Joanna Mallory

I'd like to introduce you to Joanna Mallory, a professional member of The Word Guild. Joanna writes Christian women's fiction threaded with suspense and redemption, and occasionally dabbles in speculative fiction. Stop by Joanna’s blog, God With Us: Finding Joy for weekly spiritual boosts and monthly draws for Canadian Christian books.

Joanna continues the "blogathon" of writing workshops with her contribution about titling your work. It's a good follow up to the blog on writing your first draft. Titling is trickier than some writer's may think, and more important. Later on, we'll hear from another guest blogger about this critical component of our art. I love how each person brings their own richness, humor, and experience to a topic.

If you haven't spent much time considering the art of titling, then dig in, put on your thinking caps, and prepare to be challenged in a delightful way.

“Titling Your Work”
by Joanna Mallory

Pop, there it is: the perfect title for your story. Perhaps it even comes first, teasing you to discover a plot to do it justice.

How many of you get your titles that way? One…two…three…. Congratulations, those who raised their hands. Please skip to the next blog entry lest we less gifted titlers rub off on you.

Titles aren’t on the tip of my pencil, but they’re an important part of crafting a story. A good title reflects the essence of the tale it introduces, but more than that it catches the readers’ (or editor’s) attention and lures them to read on.

One of the most liberating revelations for me in terms of finding the best titles for my stories was that titling is a process. It’s okay, even expected, that it will take a while.

A good way to begin is to set aside half an hour to an hour, brew your favourite tea (substitute other beverage as desired) and hang out in a distraction-free, comfortable location. Just you, your imagination and a pen and paper. Let your mind wander through what you know about your story, and jot down every title idea that flickers. Don’t worry if it’s good, bad or ugly. It may spark something else.

If you need a boost, consider wordplay. Can you twist a pun or a cliché? (How does A Ring and a Prayer sound for an inspirational romance about an airline employee?) Use half an expression or proverb? (Where the Heart Is, by Billie Letts, is not a book I’d recommend, but the title evokes the book’s theme: the search for home.) How about splicing or inverting well-known sayings or proverbs?

The nature of the story sets the tone for the title. Cute or funny won’t suit a serious tale. Dark and introspective won’t fly for chick-lit. If twisting or splitting a common line or song title doesn’t work, find a word or phrase that relates to your theme or to key words in the text. Madeleine L’Engle named A Wrinkle in Time from one character’s explanation of a tesseract, a major plot point in the novel.

In the end, your story’s title is up to the publisher. It has to fit with the others, be they stories in a magazine or anthology or novels coming out in the same year. For that reason, some writers submit the story with their first choice as a working title, and include a list of alternates. The more you’ve invested in finding the best title for your story, and the better you understand how to convey your story in a few words, then the better your chances to influence the publisher to choose a new title that suits his/her purposes and still serves the story well.

Choosing a title is a bit like naming a baby. It can take a lot of thought and discussion, but you hope to live with the results for years. Take the time and decide with care.

Well faithful blog readers, what do you think? Have you found that perfect title for your "baby"? Or are you rolling words around in your head. How come some books, stories, or articles seem to title themselves, while others resist anything you try to stick to them? Why is it that the author, the originator of the work is often the last person that can come up with an excellent title? How personally do you take it when an editor changes your title? (I personally am happy that my non-fiction book is being re-titled - but I don't think I'll be so happy-go-lucky should someone want to change the name of my first novel. Guess I'll cross that bridge when or if I come to it).
Share your thoughts, your stories, your ideas of how you come up with that perfect title. Share your process with us. Two points if you get us to laugh.
I bid you good writing.


Eileen Astels Watson said...

Thanks for the brainstorming thoughts, Joanna. And I especially liked the idea of having some alternative titles on hand should your favorite not work with the publisher.

The title for my first two novels that I wrote came fairly quickly into writing the story, but with my third one, I had to do just as you suggested--brainstorm. Funny how some you just get so fast, while others need a little more love to be discovered.

Now I better go back and see what other titles would fit each story to build those alternates. Who knows, maybe I'll like one of them better than the original.

I understand that this series stemmed from your critiques at Write! Canada. I was wondering what titles had to do with such critiquing, but since reading Joanna's article, I now understand. Thanks for including this topic in the series!

Bonnie Grove said...

Hey Eileen,

There were several ms I looked at that would have been improved with a stronger title. I think it helps a writer, when pitching his/her idea to an agent or editor, to have a strong title that appeals, and helps them to understand what the book/story is about.

Joanna, Thanks for this article! I'm in the midst of brainstorming with the marketing department of my publisher on the name of my non-fiction. It's not a simple thing. So many things to think about!

Joanna Mallory said...

Thank you, Elaine and Bonnie, for the positive feedback. May you always find strong titles, and even enjoy the process!

Bonnie, thanks for the opportunity to be part of this blogging series. I'm looking forward to what I'll learn.