by Julie Tollefson
I’m putting the finishing touches on a short story this week, and I’ve run into a huge problem: The title.
Specifically, I haven’t been able to think of one and the deadline is imminent.
There’s so much pressure on those few words. A title has to hook readers and give a hint of the flavor of the story. I sometimes think I expect so much more from the five or ten words in a title than I do from all 3,500 in a story. It’s scary.
Three decades ago, as a copyeditor for a daily newspaper, I wrote headlines every day. I never felt the kind of pressure for them that I feel for story titles, but I suspect my headlines were more utilitarian than witty. I have a friend, a fellow editor, who is adept at wordplay in headlines. She writes compelling serious headlines when the situation warrants but is quick with a pun when the opportunity arises. Maybe I should recruit her to write my story titles for me.
In an effort to kick-start the title brainstorming process, I re-read the story several times and highlighted meaningful words and phrases. Prairie. Cactus. Sand. Heat. Science. I’ve used them alone and in combination. I’ve twisted myself in knots trying to strike just the right tone.
Among other titles I’ve tried and discarded:
“What Lurks Beneath”—Sounds familiar and stale, but more importantly nothing in the story really lurks.
“Cherry Vodka Kisses”—It’s a mystery, not a teen romance.
“Past and Present”—Not bad, if I were writing a D- quality high school essay.
“Erasure”—Um, that reads like thriller or sci fi to me.
So tell me, what’s the secret to finding the perfect title? The clock is ticking.
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