The Millions posted an interesting piece a few days ago in which various writers discuss the process of titling their work. You can read it here and it’s well worth a look. It got me thinking about the various ways I have stumbled upon the titles for my stories and, most recently my (now complete) novel. For those of you who might be interested, here’s what I thought about.
When writing short fiction, titles tend to sort themselves out in one of two ways: either they are the fully formed inspiration for a story, appearing often well in advance of anything being written or they are pulled, kicking and screaming sometimes, from the depths of the story itself. In my notebook I keep a list of prospective titles, cribbed from snatches of song lyrics or poetry, quotes from prose of all shapes and sizes, or found bits of text from the observable big, wide world. It is to this list that I turn when looking for something to write about. The title as prompt. And most of the time it survives the drafting process and remains at the head of the story. When the idea for the stories comes from something other than a found title, I tend to pluck a phrase from the text itself, swing it up front and hope for the best.
My collection of short stories, Looking Out of Broken Windows took its title from the first story in its pages, which itself was originally titled Looking Out of Broken Windows, Cracks are All You’ll See. I was going through a Carver phase, can you tell? When I finally submitted the story to Paraxis, I had trimmed the title down to a more manageable Looking Out of Broken Windows, Cracks. Thankfully the brilliant Carys Bray had the good sense to suggest I loose the Cracks from the title.
Right now I am busy subbing the novel to agents. It’s called The Mechanics of Impact and I stumbled across the idea for the title about a third of the way through the first draft. The working title of the project was Fractures until, during my research for the book, I discovered a branch of mathematics called Rigid Impact Theory and a text book on the subject called Impact Mechanics. The theory quickly found a way into the core of my novel and a little jiggery-pokery, during which I slipped the terms into that old standard format of book titles The Something of Something (where the second something is usually a place, i.e. The Bookseller of Kabul etc etc etc), and I slapped the words The Mechanics of Impact firmly on the front of my as then incomplete manuscript.
It will be interesting to see, should the novel be picked up, whether the current title survives the publication process.