What's in a Title?
If you've ever sat, stumped and frustrated, staring at that screen while trying to think up a title, you're not alone. Unless you are one of the lucky few who titles flow like a fountain (I envy you), then you've had the issue.
Now, you've probably also heard the advice that titles don't matter. And I like that advice. I really do. There's a good amount of truth to it. If you're worried about a title for a novel, maybe there isn't too much of a need to stress over those couple little words. Most publishers end up changing the title anyways, right?
But I'm on the side that titles do matter: whether they get changed down the road or not.
Though there are a lot of reasons, I hold one reason titles do matter above them all: a title can serve as a spark for a story. A few words, and the story tumbles from your fingers with reckless abandon. Sure, it doesn't happen all the time, but isn't it nice when it does?
I was working on a short story about a year ago, staring at that foreboding blank screen, when a title popped into my head: Old Chocolate. (More on this story in the coming week or two.) It sounded interesting. Who would want old chocolate? Or was it the people who were wanting the chocolate who were old? Is chocolate crucial to this story? Is is a theme? A symbol? Is it just a cute little title that has little to do with the story?
I took these questions and ran with them, and within a couple of days, I had first draft for a story about a woman stopping by at a chocolate shop before visiting her mother at the nursing home. And although I changed a lot in the story through the revision process, the title just worked. It always fit and served as guiding light.
Not all titles end up guiding you through a story, but when they do, it's a relief. There's less pressure on me for everything to work and a little more on that creative spark that brought the title into existence in the first place.
Is that to say you should be rushing back to your manuscript and fretting over that title that was just ok? Definitely not. But maybe in the shower or when you're doing a mindless chore, give a little more thought to the title of what you're working on (or want to work on) and let your muse whisper a few words into your ear.
That little title might just serve as a foundation for the revisions (and sometimes pain!) to come.