Informed Title Decisions

I played with several titles for the short story #wip, and finally found one or two that seem the best fit for the work.

Sometimes stories start with a title for me, as in the case of “The Hanged Man of Oz,” which was a bit of a no-brainer considering the subject, and the fact that the books by L. Frank Baum incorporated “of Oz” into their titles.

Sometimes stories start with an opening, which doesn’t necessarily survive drafts to serve as the opening — which is a normal part of the editorial process writers need to resign themselves to because destruction naturally follows creation. One advantage of a good opening, however, is that first line almost always kicks butt, and you can sometimes utilize it as your title. An example that immediately comes to mind is “Hello,” Said the Stick by Michael Swanwick, which won the 2003 Hugo and Locus awards for best short story.

That story is notable for other reasons related to craftsmanship, but for the purposes of this discussion, the title hooks you right from the start, and as a reader you don’t really care that it’s the first line of the story. Probably because it’s short, catchy, and leaves readers wanting more. A stick that talks? How can a reader move on after running across that title and opening without finding out more?

Occasionally, after I’ve followed my inspiration, and the story’s gestating as I put words and notes on the page, I’ll search for appropriate phrases from the Bible or song lyrics or plays/poetry, looking for a title as catchy as the opening.

Today, where I’ve had an especially good session with my muse, the words going down on the paper are informing my title decision. Whether the current working title will stay depends on how I feel about it when I finish the story. I’m only a little above 1,750 words on the first (lengthy) scene set in Central Park, and while I know how I want the story to come out, I’m not sure of its length. I’ll write what needs to be written, and then edit edit edit to make the story as tight and clear as possible, and let the submission chips fall where they may.

Original title: to be revealed later
Working title: In My Hour of Darkness

The latter riffs off lyrics from The Beatles’ “Let It Be” — the title track from the band’s final studio album. Apparently it’s the title from a Gram Parsons/Emmylou Harris song from 1974, but the mood and sentiment I’m searching owes a nod to the Paul McCartney work.


About stephenwnagy

writer, father, husband. not necessarily in that order.
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