Fighting Title-Block

My FFC column this month is inspired by this post by Thomas Kearnes, where he discusses his five favorite and least favorite titles. I think we all struggle with finding the right title for a story at some time or another. The title is the story’s first impression and there are naturally feelings of pressure around it.

Even though this seems to be a universal struggle, there’s very little advice out there for story-titling. Even though a story’s title must be unique and specific to the story itself, I still think it’s possible to look closely at what other authors have done and learn from them.

I looked through a couple of books of flash fiction and tried to pull a few techniques that might help us get past our “title-block.” For most of these, the title itself functions as an example (though I certainly recommend reading the stories; they are all excellent). If you need to look at the whole story for the title to make sense, I’ve found stories available online and linked to them.

  • Title your story after an important image. A lot of flash fiction is driven by image. If you’re struggling to come up with a title, the central image in your story is a good place to look for inspiration. Some examples, Rosenbaum’s “The Orange,” Church’s “Bullet” and McCuaig’s “The Wallet.”
  • Use the title to draw the reader into your story. Sometimes a longer title is more effective. Got something really interesting going on in your flash? Advertise it in the title! Be honest, could you possibly resist reading any of the following stories: Galef’s “My Date With Neanderthal Woman,” Monson’s “To Reduce Your Likelihood of Murder” or Carlson’s “Bigfoot Stole My Wife”?
  • Title the story after one of its important lines. Raymond Carver is famous for this and it works well in flash, too. Using a line in the story as a title also adds emphasis to that that line when it appears in the story. Bonus! Examples: Homes’ “Things You Should Know” and Hazuka’s “I Didn’t Do That.”
  • Use the title to save some space in the beginning of your story. We all know how important efficiency is in flash fiction. As an example of this technique in action, check out Keret’s “Crazy Glue.” Because the title tells us what the couple is talking about, Keret can drop us into the middle of the characters’ conversation. No need for an awkward tag, like, “he said, gesturing to the tube of crazy glue in her hand.”
  • Or to save room at the end. Likewise, in specific cases you can put the story’s resolution in the title. For me, as a reader, there’s great pleasure in the sudden contextualization in an otherwise mysterious title. Randall Brown does this brilliantly in “It Doesn’t.”
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