Friday, April 8, 2011

A good week for titles

Earlier this week, I came up with a pretty rockin' title for a dissertation. Oh, you've written a dissertation? you ask. No, silly. I'm still eons away from the writing phase! But last week I had the makings of an idea for a dissertation topic. And thinking up a snazzy, jazzy title has helped me to conceive of an even more specific possible direction. 

Would I write a dissertation to fit a title? Oh you better believe it, mister. 

Next in the title saga is a great title Shannon came up with today for a paper she's currently writing on Lady Audley's Secret and The Woman in White. (This chick reads everything - everything except the one thing she should be reading, which, of course, is contemporary literary ficiton!) She's already got the paper going and certainly didn't need the title to make it happen, but I'd put money on the fact that she's got some extra steam now that she has that little title in her brain (like most titles of critical work, it's actually not little at all, but never you mind). 

The final installation of this week's successful title-age (though it's only Friday - who knows what titles tomorrow will bring) comes in the form of a title for a story that I just started writing tonight (and admittedly, on which I have not yet gotten very far). I spent the week conjuring up the idea for this story, and in thinking of a title, I was trying to find a word that meant what "orphan" means regarding a child who loses a parent, but applied to a sibling who loses a sibling. Well, no one I asked had any such word, and I got distracted and started thinking of other things and then the perfect title popped into my head today when I was musing about the story's projected thematic concerns. 

Not only is this title on-the-money - I'm sorry, but I refuse to be modest about titles; they're simply my fave part of writing! - but it even led me to a character's name! And naming characters all kinds of layered, allusive, symbolic, yet seemingly average names is probably my second favorite thing about writing. It's so darn satisfying! 

Why is a good title so important to me? Well, for lots of reasons, not the least of which is something I tell my students all the time: it's the first impression your reader has of your piece; it's the first chance you have to pull her in and the first opportunity for you to lose her. But, even more than that, the title sets a tone, a mood, even an expectation, for me when I'm writing. It helps me to know the piece as I craft it, to understand it, to feel where it's going and what it's going to become. I know that sounds awfully intangible, and I guess it is. But when I've got an awesome title facing me from the top of the page, I write always trying to do it justice.


  1. Ooo, I'm glad your found a satisfying term or title for a sibling who lost a sibling. My own investigations into this were going nowhere,and I was meandering far into a dense forest of Greek mythology and Latin terms. Congrats, chica!

  2. Actually, I dropped that idea (couldn't think of anything) and was floating around untethered when I thought of something even better b/c it's more subtle and is thematically suggestive.

    And, as you know, the truly best title of the week came last night for my theory paper . . . if only I could really use it.