Sunday, 2 January 2011

Snappy Titles

I often try to work out what leads a story to be more narrative or image (see previous post). Sometimes an idea for a story comes to me, sometimes it's a character and sometimes it's just a title. I'd been swaying towards thinking that just working from a title often resulted in more of an image because I just sat down and let the words fall out; so I wrote the title rather than titling the story, if that makes sense.

Not so, apparently. Cold Snap is the kind of pun I love. It came to me in a flash (with the weather, obviously) cold snap, a turn in the weather, a neck broken in cold blood... perfect.

And what came out was one of the strongest narratives that I think Missing Pieces has seen so far. That's one of the reasons it's the second piece in this chapter, it sets a nice contrast with the first, both strong pieces (imo) but in very different ways.

So what difference does a title make? Well, it fires the imagination, it can set up a twist, it can round off a good story and make it excellent. Maybe not as important as the first line it nevertheless begins the work on the reader's impression of the piece. It is likely to be the first thing they see so it has to have some kind of punchy appeal or instil instant curiosity (depending on the market of course).

There are lots of things that round off a story. And the hard thing with micro-fiction is working them all into a piece. The fewer words you have to work with the more work they have to do. Cold Snap is one of the longest Missing Pieces, one of the few that will ever break the 1000 word barrier, so it better do a lot if I'm to justify that. To break it down, I've tried to include a sense of the greater world the characters inhabit, there are more places than just the story location, more people than just the lead characters. There is a greater twist than just the obvious (I hope), it would have made a more typical micro-fiction if he had just broken her neck, or if the twist had been for her to break his.

You could deepen the characterisation of course, work it more to short story length, work a lot more on Sami's motivation for breaking her neck, build the feeling of xenophobic aggression, then maybe build on his reaction and strengthen their relationship on the way back to the village. But then you could say that about almost any short (or short, short) story. Even the most perfect, short snappy piece might be an equally fulfilling longer piece.

It's also worth pointing out the names are all genuine Nordic names. It's something I was once advised to think about, when I had a propensity for making up ridiculous fantasy names. Real names sound more real. They can lend more credence to a story. I still sometimes go for the more ridiculous made up names, when I think they're appropriate or I'm intentionally going for a clich├ęd approach. But I think the more you mature as a writer the more you learn how you need to think about each part of a story (and how important each part is to the whole). It would have been just as wrong to call the characters in Cold Snap Gorath and Elee'ia as it would have been to call them Bob and Sally.

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