When I took Ethan's novella class, at one point he described his theory about titles (that is, how to decide upon one for your own story).  It was a bullet-pointed list of things not to do, from what I recall.  One of the points was something like "Don't make your title half of a cliche" -- like don't title your story "Desperate Times" and then have it be all about desperate measures.

Does anyone else remember any others?  I ask because I was taking a revision class last weekend, and this question came up.  I think Ethan's list would be helpful to the other people in this class, but I cannot find my notes on the subject.

(Alternatively, please feel free to weigh in with your own philosophy of titling.)


Vampiro said...

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Two of the three stories I submitted in his workshop got unanimous "Don't Like It" votes. I think I broke a record. I am not allowed to address the topic of titles.

Ian said...

I don't remember any hard-and-fast rules other than the one you mention. I think he liked titles sort of tangentially connected to the story. But trying to outguess him drove me fucking bats. I'd come up with something artful and compellingly abstract, and he'd pan it. I'd slap something on just before I printed the story out, and he'd dig it.

Pete said...

I'm not sure there's a way to have rules without getting into formula. But I can say that some of my favorite titles have the qualities of a musical fugue. The tone of the story is implied somehow, folded down into its essence, or one part of its essence, in the title. To read the piece is to unfold that tone to a fullness.

I like titles that borrow phrases as a means of suggesting tone, too. "Everything that Rises Must Converge" is a great title- apparently borrowed from some French Philosopher and of some exegetic relation to the story itself, but only in some obscure way. What it does, more than unlock the story, is suggest that it is something to be unlocked. I like that sense, that charge of meaningfulness. I think Pound would like it too. A friend recently shared a story "Dark was the Night, Cold was the Ground." I liked that. I like that construction in general; two clauses, a coda built into the rhythm and the meaning.

Rhythm and sound might be the most elemental blocks here. If a title succeeds in those, I'll probably like it.