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We need to talk about titles …

Objectively, titles are the worst part about writing. I don’t care how you feel about beginnings, endings, or middles.

Titles.

The Worst.

Crafting titles for high school or undergrad essays was one thing. The only stakes involved with your Hamlet pun was whether or not you’d bring a shred of joy to your jaded English teacher’s existence. It was a low bar.

Stories and novels are a different beast.

It is hard enough to draft 3,000 clever, original, and engaging words to fill a short story, let alone 60,000 + words to form a novel. Accomplishing the same feat in one to five words is an unforgiving task.

I have three methods for coming up with titles.

Title First

Rarely, I will be hit with the creative inspiration for a title before the substance of the story coalesces in my brain box. This happened with my story The Bog Season. I was walking in the post-winter woods, half-drowned in dead pools left behind by the receding snows. It put me in the mind of Baba Yaga and the title The Starwood Witch came to me. I sat on that title and the seeds of a story for over a year before I finally wrote it and changed the title to its current iteration.

Captain Obvious FTW

Most often, I will write a thing and the first title that comes to mind is the one I roll with. Chimera, the book I’m currently querying, is about a girl who fears she is a chimera. So, in a fit of inspiration, I named the book Chimera. Yeah.

Title? Who needs a title?

I throw in a placeholder, write a thing, and then wrangle endlessly with the recalcitrant title. This is the process I am currently muddling through. I have almost finished the first draft of my work-in-progress and all I have so far is the ridiculous placeholder I chose for this website. I went for a walk today to try to drum up a name, and I have … not much to show for it. Outside In? All of Me? Inside, I’m Normal? Normal Inside?

If you have another method, please let me know. Better yet, just send me an oracle AI that I can feed my story into in return for a title.

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

A photo of The aMAZEing Labyrinth board game, now called Labyrinth
Writing Inspiration

The Labyrinth Story Prompt

How many speculative fiction nerds out there played this game as a kid? I loved Labyrinth – it sparked my imagination in a way that few board games did, and I spent a lot of time imagining with board games. I have this distinct memory of lining up all the boards in my basement, from one end of the room to the other, then taking the pieces from all the games on a journey, from the first square of the first board to the end of the last board.

Usually, they would end up on the board for I.Q. 2000, which was an awesome space-themed trivia game for kids from the 80s. The pieces would all find their way back to their home planet (it was the 80s, so either E.T. was an influence or my future as a spec fiction writer was set from an early age).

Now that my oldest kid is 4, we are starting to introduce real board games to him. We played Labyrinth yesterday (formerly known as The aMAZEing Labyrinth) and it stood the test of time for sparking my imagination. Since he’s only four, we played a modified version (i.e. zero competition), which involved collecting four items, then telling a story to link them together.

A picture of gourds and four cards from The Labyrinth board game

My first four were a map, a sword a dragon and a lizard, so my story went something like this (again, remember my audience is four!). One day, my hero was walking through the forest, when he came across a folded paper, tucked within a hollow tree. He opened the paper and found an old, crumbling treasure map. The map led him into the depths of a labyrinth. Deep in the labyrinth, in a dark room, he found the treasure. It was a sword in a stone (again – four – I can get away with it for now!) and on the stone it was written that whoever could pull the sword from the stone could defeat the dragon. He pulled the sword from the stone and as it came free, he heard a roar from deeper in the labyrinth. It was the dragon! He followed the sound, and as he traveled deeper into the maze, the heat grew stronger. At last, he found the centre of the maze, and there stood the great dragon. He tried to creep closer, but the dragon spotted him. He could not get close enough to use the sword, and as the dragon opened his mouth to breathe fire on him, he squeezed his eyes shut and held the sword above his head. But then, instead of hearing the dragon’s roar or feeling the heat of its flames, he heard a tiny squeak. When he opened his eyes, he saw that the dragon had turned into a harmless lizard. He realized that the sword was a magic sword and had defeated the dragon using magic, not steel.

I’m not submitting that story anytime soon, but it was really easy to come up with on the spot. If you don’t have a copy of the game, you could use an illustrated deck of cards or a tarot set just as effectively (if not more so – see this blog for some great resources on using tarot cards for writing inspiration). On a non-writing day, it’s great to have some tools for inspiring quick stories or sparking your imagination.