It may come as a surprise to you to learn, after having had to slog through my typically long and convoluted sentences that are usually indicative of a writer with extensive English training, that I’m not a grammar nazi. (Unless, of course, you’re using “beg the question” wrong, in which case I will mock you as an ignoramus and lament the general demise of correct English. But we’ll get to that later. Oh, boy, will we get to that later!) There is a place and a function for “correct” English, of course, such as in academic writing. But for fiction? Not necessarily.
As I write this, it’s 46 degrees Fahrenheit and foggy outside. There’s a cool dampness permeating the air, with fine puddles on the wet ground. But the animals and I are inside, sitting next to a fireplace, warm and dry.
Here in Fresno, summer weather is just about as far to the opposite as it can get. Triple-digit temperatures are quite normal, and everything is bone dry. On those days we sit inside in the air conditioning.
So what does this have to do with writing? Everything!
Here’s a fun writing exercise for you. I’ll give you a prompt, and you’re going to write the scene four different times, with a variant I’ll give you after the premise. Here it is: Person A needs to get Person B to apologize to Person C (who isn’t present), but Person B does not feel that there is anything to apologize for. And here’s your wild card: First time you write it, A and B are 15 years old. Second time, A and B are the same characters, but 25 years old. Third time, again, same people, but now they’re 45. Fourth time, they’re 85 years old.
My writing workshop this week shifted to a new model we’ll be using for the rest of the semester. Instead of each writer distributing copies of their stories/chapters ahead of time and each of us writing a critique, we’re instead reading aloud to the class and getting feedback based on everyone’s initial, instinctive response to the reading.
As I write this, the folks in the next office are sorting and reading manuscripts received for a contest we hold every year. And, in between conversations about dinosaurs, David Bowie, and the weather, they occasionally pause to mock the title of one of them.
And as I sit here reading manuscripts submitted to the magazine, I admit that if I see a terrible title, I find myself much less likely to give it the deep, serious read you all would hope your manuscript gets instead of the quick, cursory skim to see if it’s really as awful as I would expect.
So — and I say this admitting that it’s something that I need to work on myself — the title matters, folks!
But what makes a good title?