Writer's Tool Box

Steer by Stars: That F*cking Title

One of my biggest challenges when creating a piece of writing is coming up with a title. As a rule, I usually have no trouble coming up with a working title, but focusing that working title into a finished heading is not my strong suit, or my favourite activity. However, I think it goes without saying that the title of a piece carries an immense amount of weight given that it is usually the first and last thing a reader, or anyone referencing article, chapter, book, periodical, and etcetera reads when making any decision about a piece. So, it requires a certain amount of energy and dedication. Now to return to the topic at hand, the piece is already written and edited. Therefore, you’ve already answered the questions regarding who you are writing to, what you are writing about, why you are writing, your passion and interest, and etcetera. However, the title is holding the whole thing back, bogging it down like a stick in the mud. Now what?

For this article I started with a one word working title: Title. I wrote the whole first draft under that heading. It was when I started to do my first edit that I upgraded the title to three words, That F*cking Title. These three words encompassed exactly what I was feeling while I was writing, and how I often feel when titling something.

On another note, I did try sourcing a friend in regards to title feedback, but received only jokes about using the word penis in the title. To clarify, I posted a blog a few weeks back called, Raising Boys: The Penis Chronicles and it generated a lot of interest instantly. I was unsure what it was about this title that drew readers in, although I do believe now that it is the well placed use of the word penis. Penis is one those words that grabs at the attention, it is a keyword. Anyway, it was after this post that I decided to start doing some research into titles. Keywords are a huge component in a title. The helpful point from my friend’s feedback is that I needed to find a keyword.

In regards to That F*cking Title the keyword is there. Swear words tend to be words that catch attention, and That F*cking Title also encapsulates the idea of titles being challenging which for this piece is my theme. Anyway, in my final edit I did some brainstorming and Steer by the stars stuck for me. It is actually something Strunk Jr. and White talk about in The Elements of Style 4th edition in regards to writing style. I think it is catchy, interesting, and that it speaks to the navigation of titling. Voila, my title is born!

“Who can confidently say what ignites a certain combination of words, causing them to explode in the mind?” – Strunk Jr. & White

Up until this point my foundation for creating a title consisted of 4 components and a question:

  1. It needs to be catchy. Catchy by definition means “instantly appealing and memorable.”
  2. It needs to be interesting, “arousing curiousity and holding attention.”
  3. It needs to be related to, or in some way encapsulating the piece of writing.
  4. Creativity is required to stir the first 3 components together.
  5. Should there be anything else?

So, I think we can see why I often struggled with titles. If I was to give myself great advice it would be to study great titles. What makes them great?

Dorthy Bigguns suggests that using humour in titles is a fun way to attract attention. In her book The 74 Most F*cked Up Book Titles (2015) Bigguns talks about several kinds of titles: polarizing title, candid or openly honest title, abrasive titles, ironic titles, self-deprecating (self-mocking) titles like the “For Dummies” books. There are lots of resources on writing and building writing skills, if you are looking for one you should be able to find the one that is right for you.

A common element in my research indicates keeping the title short, and optimizing on a keyword. So, basically keep within my initial 1-4 listed above, but refine it so that #3 reads that the title is related to the theme while #5 includes avoid unpronounceable words and unknown data because this will take away from memorability, be careful with puns, don’t slander or use racism etcetera.

The good news is that working with titles will get easier. Keep writing, and keep titling.

“Fortunately, the act of composition, or creation, disciplines the mind; writing is one way to go about thinking, and the practice and habit of writing not only drain the mind but supply it, too!” – Strunk Jr. & White

Taking that title to an elevated height can be achieved with brainstorming techniques, sourcing friends, and doing research.

Sources

  • Bigguns, D. The 74 Most F*cked Up Book Titles. 2015 Amazon Kindle
  • Ross, L. How to Write Fiction for Cash. Ch. 6. P38-39
  • Strunk Jr, W & White, E.B. The Elements of Style 4th ed. Ch V P66-85

By Shari Marshall – 2016

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