Sunday, December 23, 2012

Mom and Pop's Title Generator

The horror, the horror
I'm visiting my folks up in Connecticut this fine holiday season and the culture shock of going from non-parent society to parent-filled society is noticeable, as always.  Dad is on a health-food kick now that he's retired and rails against high glycemic-index foods and white potatoes and high fructose corn syrup (as we're on the way to Dunkin Donuts, mind you) and Mom marvels at the fact that there are a million different types of coffee makers to choose from at Target, when she really only needs one that, you know, makes coffee (instead of one that also steams milk, makes espresso, does your laundry, and walks your dog).

However grating some of these idiosyncrasies are, they can also be highly entertaining.  One habit my mom and dad have is noting a particularly unique turn of phrase, singling it out, and decreeing: that would make a great title for a short story! Or book chapter! Or novel!  For example, last night we were talking about making Christmas cookies and the phrase was: "the last cookie".  Then Mom exclaimed, "There you go!  There's a short story for you! The Last Cookie!"  And Dad agreed.  This happens at least once during every lengthy conversation at our house, so by now they've probably thought up enough chapter titles to fill about 80 novels and enough short story titles to fill numerous issues of The New Yorker.  Frankly, I should be paying closer attention to these ideas and taking notes.  I have a feeling I've let a few gems slip by as I nod in gentle appreciation for said title and continue sipping my egg nog.  

This has got me thinking about my writing process.  I often am more relaxed and comfortable with a story idea if I've already thought of a working title.  I feel this provides some guidance and structure to what is going to happen.  Without a title, I feel the story has no heart, even from the beginning.  It's hard for me to fall in love totally with an idea if I don't already have a title.  And things really get uncomfortable if I've made it all the way to the end and STILL don't have a title.  This happens often while I'm working on a magazine article.  If I don't think of something catchy right at the start then forget it - the working title is guaranteed to be the lamest thing in the world... and then re-worked by the editor :)

Other Mom and Pop title suggestions include:

  • The Spider on the Wall
  • Don't Eat my Pork Chop!
  • Five Bottles of Madeira
  • The Thumb Smasher
  • The Dog's Last Walk
  • Pumpkin Pie in my Eye

This last title reminds me to mention my family has also been known to create rhyming couplets on the fly.  It's like a regular poetry slam around here sometimes, especially late at night.  It's quite possible to wake up to the sounds of Mom and Pop cracking up downstairs because they can't think of a word that rhymes with "buffalo" or some other random noun.  Sometimes, when everyone's all in a good mood at the same time (a seemingly impossible confluence of events) it's like a writer's workshop in the living room - Mom has her yellow legal notepad out with about five different color pens, furiously jotting down phrases, circling words, and scratching things out.  Occasionally, someone busts out the thesaurus and WATCH OUT!  You guys should all come by sometime - maybe we could workshop someone's short story.  Or at least help you pick out a title.

For those wanting some REAL tips on creating a title (don't worry, my parents' feelings won't be hurt), here's a pretty good blog on the topic: For the Love of Writing

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