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Pen IN Hand
January, 2008

Peggy Bechko

Creating Great Titles
Intrigue or straight-shot
By  Peggy Bechko

You've finished your novel or your screenplay and you've been cruising with a "working title." Well, now's the time to create that great title that's gonna grab attention let your reader instantly relate and identify, and ultimately lead to a sale. This isn't a long column so I'm going to keep it tight and just give a few quick dos and don'ts.

If you want to create the feeling that there's something lurking, something there below the surface, do think about intrigue. Titles like One Flew Over The Cookoo's Nest. Immediately the questions arise. One what flew over where? What the heck? This is good, you got their attention. After Long Silence. There was silence? Where? Something came after it? 

If you want to be more direct, using more of a "hit them over the head with it" style, think short, staccato, and blunt.  Titles like Stake Out, Clueless, Eraser, G.I. Jane, Pirates of the Caribbean, Grass. All of those pretty much tell you what you're in for. They, in a sense, relay the story and give a glimpse of the tale's environment. They're easy to remember and to promote (don't forget the easy to promote thing). They stick in people's heads and are easily blurted to friends when recommending them. 

Now, something you don't want to do is create a very long title without a really, really good reason. Even with a really, really good reason it's not a good idea. A long title is cumbersome, hard to remember, and pretty much hell to promote. It won't fit on printed bookmarks easily and it sure won't make a marquee. So take my advice, don't go there.
Here's another. Don't confuse the reader, whether reader of your novel or the all important reader who might send your script along to the next level. By that I mean, don't title something Gettysburg hinting at a civil war movie and then turn around and make it a laugh-out-loud comedy.     

One last one from me and opinions are divided on this, so you're ultimately going to have to decide how you feel about this for yourself. I am not a fan of the "understood only after reading the book or seeing the movie" title. It just doesn't work for me. It annoys me. My advice is don't do it. Don't put a title out there that's so obtuse that you can't understand how it relates until after reading or seeing the story. Why risk alienating your audience? Some claim it can work well for a novel. I don't think so. It most certainly won't work well for a movie title. 

And remember, after all this, your jewel of a title that you work and sweat over is very likely to be changed by some editor, producer, or star with clout. There're a lot of people out there with creative ideas and an equal or larger number with huge egos who want to put their own stamp on every project. Sometimes they're right, sometimes they're wrong. I was lucky. Most of my titles are still my titles. That's life. 

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Author of Doubleday western novels, Harlequin romances, Fictionworks' fantasies (eBook format), Peggy Bechko has also optioned screenplays domestically and abroad, written for an animated series and for variety of other venues. She's working on a new novel and collaborating on a animated series.

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