I hate to disagree with that Shakespeare bloke, but I think he missed the point when he asked if a rose would smell as good if we called it something else. The question should have been: “Wouldst thou pause to shove a rose under yer conk if thou knewest it were called ‘stinky poop-pants,’ or something equally unsavory?”
What we call things is important, and if you ask me, story titles are no exception.
Take novels, for example; sure, books have covers, but more often than not, the only thing folks in a bookstore will ever see of our lovingly-crafted novel is the title and our name on the spine as they stroll up and down the aisles. When it comes to deciding whether a novel’s worth picking off the shelf for a closer look, unless the potential reader recognizes the author's name, he/she makes a split second decision based on an all-but-sub-conscious glimpse of the title alone.
Still, a lot of folks think titles don’t really matter, especially when it comes to short stories, but not me. If anything, I’d say they’re even more important for short fiction. I can only speak for myself, but a good title (ie: one that grabs me by the eyeballs) buys a lot of readerly good will. I’ll forgive a story a slow beginning if the title drew me in. Conversely, if I see a boring title, I’m less inclined to even start reading, unless it’s by someone I know.
It’s not just the interest level though. With flash fiction, where the beginning, middle and end of a story must be told in around 1,000 words or less, I think a well-considered title can save valuable wordcount by painting a picture in the reader’s head before he/she’s even started on the first sentence.
Then there’s the inspirational value. Like most writers, I have a folder in which I keep my story ideas. I’ve found these tend to fall into two broad categories: The first is the ‘What if…?’ question, where I think up weird and wonderful questions which I’ve no idea how to answer, and then try to figure out how to turn into a story.
The other method I use is to brainstorm catchy titles, in the hope that they’ll inspire a story. This seems to work far better for me. My soon to be finished thriller, Waking up Jack Thunder, and my newest WIP, Dead Doris, both started out as what I thought were good titles, looking for a story.
Of course, in the end it’s all about the writing, but if a title really does make a difference, I figure it’s worth putting in the time to think up a good one.
How about you?
As a reader AND a writer, how important is a good title to you?