Thursday, 7 May 2015

Why That Title?

What makes writers decide on a particular title?  What makes a big movie producer choose a particular title? In the latter case, it has as much to do with what won’t interfere with the visualisation of the movie poster. Unless the film is based on a well-known story, the title is seldom chosen by the script-writer.
This isn’t intended to be an academic discussion on the titles of the classics, it’s just my thoughts on what makes a good title. I’m interested in what makes writers choose their titles, but I wonder if some writers think about the important role the title serves. A title is the first thing the potential reader will see. If it doesn’t grab their attention, they will look at the next title in the bookshop, library, Goodreads, etc.. A freelance writer has a bit more freedom to use their imagination than a scriptwriting hack does.
Using the first line of a poem for the poem's title is fine, if that first line is good enough! If the first line isn’t good enough to be the title, it probably isn’t good enough to be the first line. Poems, unless they are epic length, need to be tightly wrought and a sloppy first line is the worst possible start – unless there’s a sloppy title too. It’s much the same with short stores, unless the writer has a very specific reason for a meandering title, they need a snappy one to draw the reader’s eye.

Finding the title for a novel or a full length play/film script is the hardest, some work brilliantly, others are more to do with era or current fashions. 'Persuasion' was fine for Jane Austen to use, it suited the slow, persuasive style of the writing and it hadn't been used before, but today it would just look lame on a book-jacket by anyone who isn't Jane Austen. I've heard that using the word 'love' in a title immediately reduces a book or film's chance of attracting a male audience, or conversely of increasing the female audience - I'd like to think this is untrue and just an idea based on outdated stereotyping. The novel 'Enduring Love' is a very un-typical book, by Ian McEwan, which is about a stalker and not what the stereotype would indicate.

To attract me as a reader, a title has to conjure an image in my mind, or it has to relate to the significant words and names in the story/poem. Hopefully the title has a ring to it as well – this ring is a difficult thing to define, I know it when I see it, the words sound in my head and I want to speak them aloud. My Cretan poem title, ‘Take the Road to Omalos,’ has that ring, looking at titles on many writing websites, some definitely don’t ring.  I’m not going to diss other people’s titles, I’ll stick to my own; my bit of Yorkshire Surrealism  called ‘Pie in the Sky,’ doesn’t ring, it’s just a cliché and clichés are unoriginal and usually worth avoiding, unless they perform a specific function or are used ironically. And every cliché you can think of has already been used as a title, often far too many times!

Personally I don’t like titles which generalise, to me they seem a cop-out and one word titles in particular are too often just generalisations. They seldom work unless they’re names; even then they probably aren’t original unless they are ‘Ozymandias’ and written by P.B.Shelley! Maybe that’s what I’m trying to get at, I have this idea that titles should be original. Probably impossible I know - as language has been written down since the Sumerians, most combinations of words have already been used somewhere along the line.
As I said, this is just my opinion.  Are there any actual rules? What do other people think?

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