| Author wannabe |
So what’s in a title? Is it really that important?
You bet it is. Would you rather your job resume say “salesperson” or “marketing representative”? “Clerk” or “service specialist”? “Repairman” or “technician”? One sounds commonplace; the other sounds impressive.
Let’s go a step further. Imagine Boys’ Life billed as Youth Experiences. Or Nightline as Ted’s Late News Roundup. Loses a little something, right? And it’s hard to picture 007 introducing himself as “Dinkins. Arnold Dinkins.”
The same thing applies to story titles. An enjoyable short story or novel might never get read by the public (or, more to the point, by an editor or agent) if the title doesnÕt do its job. In the publishing world, a good title is like a good opening paragraph: it should be interesting. It should attract the reader’s attention. At the very least, it should be appropriate to the rest of the piece.
And remember this, too: the title will be what represents your work to the rest of the world, now and forever. When people see your story in bookstores or in an anthology, take it the beach with them, and talk about it to their friends the next day, the first thing they’ll read or speak will be the words in your title. Choose it wisely.
But that’s pretty vague advice. The question is, how do you do it? What makes a good title?
A Few Rules of Thumb:
Titles should not be dull. When you browse a shelf full of novels, or a collection of short stories, aren’t you drawn first to the more unusual titles? So are editors, when they look over a stack of submissions. Not that “The House” or “The Tree” won’t be a good story; but titles with a bit more originality stand a better chance. Examples: Gone with the Wind, The High and the Mighty, “The Tin Star,” The Silence of the Lambs, The Maltese Falcon, Watership Down, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” Fahrenheit 451, The Color Purple, Atlas Shrugged.
Tips by Mark Nichol
Originally posted on DailyWritingTips.com
Does the cast of characters in your novel or short story fall under some of these categories? Take care that your characters don’t fall into the cliché trap: If you find that they resemble one of the stereotypes below, reconsider your characterization or at least provide the dramatis persona with a distinguishing personality characteristic that’s a twist on the same old, same old.
1. Antihero: This character, a protagonist (typically seen in detective and adventure genres) whose personality flaws distinguish him or her from a standard hero, is inherently much more interesting than the upstanding counterpart. The key characteristic is usually misanthropy, but that’s not enough to round a character out. An antihero must have a solid foundation on which to stand.
2. Absent-minded professor: Perhaps Professor Fumblebuttons is just pretending to be a shock-haired scientist who can’t remember where he put his glasses (“Um, the glasses you’re wearing?”). What’s his motive for his deception?
3. Boy/girl next door: Is John or Mary really what he or she seems? What dark secret does that wholesome countenance conceal? This character easily pales in comparison with a complicated villain or sidekick, so make an extra effort to invest your protagonist with personality — or relegate the squeaky-clean persona to a secondary role.
Here’s part 2 of my article on character voice. In part 1(you can read it here) I came up with this formula:
What the Character Talks about + How She Says it = Voice
And I discussed the first portion of it, using Hobbits from The Lord of the Rings as examples. They often choose to talk about food and rarely talk about battle tactics. Also note, that what your character chooses to say in a given situation often reveals what he’s thinking about in that moment. Today I’ll explore the next part.
How Your Character Talks
Education, culture, experience, interests, and social circles factor in to how your character delivers his lines. Consider speech patterns and word choice as well.
Back to my examples of the nutritionist, the fashionista, and the dentist from last time. Their interests influence how they speak. They will have a wider range of vocabulary for dieting, clothes, and teeth. The fashionista, for example, probably wouldn’t say, “she’s wearing a blue shirt.” She’d say, “she’s wearing a teal tunic with lace along the hem, Swarovski drop earrings, and she’s carrying a patent leather Coach purse in coral.”
Listen to how the Hobbits talk:
"It’s like the great stories, Mr. Frodo…Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think I do, Mr. Frodo, I do understand… . .Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something." —Samwise Gamgee
Notice words like “Mr. Frodo,” and “Folk,” help establish Sam’s voice. Pretend, instead, Gandalf said this. The words and speech patterns would be different. Instead of “lots of chances” he might say “many opportunities.” He might pause in different places and use different sentence structures. He’s far more educated and experienced than Sam, so he’d say those same thoughts in a different way.
Then think how Gollum would say those thoughts… oh, wait, he wouldn’t say those thoughts. Gollum doesn’t think like that. That’s voice too.
In my story, I have one character who has the tendency to sound annoyed and irritable, even when she doesn’t mean to. One of her weaknesses is that, she can’t communicate her true feelings very well.
When someone she likes shows up at one of her events, she says, “I didn’t know you were going to be here.”
A character with a more polite voice might say, “Jason, thanks for coming. I know you’re really busy. How’s your son doing?” (By contrast, my character would never say that).
Another guy might say, “Yo, Jace, what yuh doin’ here dawg?”
Here are some other reactions:
- "It’s about time you showed up to one of these things," she teased.
- "I didn’t think you cared about these events."
- "You finally came!" She gasped, " …Looking like that?”
- "You finally came and you look like that."
- "Did your mother guilt you into coming?"
- "What the heck?"
- "Jason, I’m flattered you came."
- "Jason," she said. "You came. I’m flattered."
Look at the last two examples again. Same words, different delivery. Putting the dialogue tag after “Jason,” adds a pause to the character’s speech, which can communicate shock over Jason himself. Whereas, the former version sounds more relaxed.
More to Consider with Voice
Voice may or may not include slang or an accent. I used to associate voice with dialogue like this: “‘Ey ‘Arry, ‘ow yuh doin’?” or “Did you see that shuck-faced pile of klunk?” Some characters have that as part of their voice. But that isn’t the sum of voice.
Also, voices may overlap. I’ve heard so much talk about how each character should have his own distinct voice. That’s true, to an extent. It doesn’t mean every character has to talk so different from one another that after you’ve created six characters, you’re creating whacky, awkward sentence structures.