Titles Matter

University of Bonn

University of Bonn

One thing I’m always telling my students – especially my Writers Bureau poetry students, is that ‘titles matter’. I think it’s particularly important if you want to catch the judge’s eye in a competition and/or if you’re writing poetry.

There’s a good article about that here, which is specifically about poetry (and ‘American’ poetry at that), but it can apply to fiction too.

In my class, we recently read a poem by one of my favourites, the American poet Billy Collins, which has the great title “Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep A Gun In The House.”

How could you not carry on reading, after a title like that?! (and incidentally, the words of the title are never referred to again in the actual poem. It’s working hard, as a title – enticing you, the reader, to read on but also giving you something extra – an ‘explanation’, if you like, for the poem).

Interestingly, the judges of the 2013 National Poetry Competition, Vicki Feaver, Nick Laird and WN Herbert said, of the poem they eventually chose as the winner, “they were first struck by the poem’s unusual title, but then drawn in by its atmosphere.”

The poem is: ‘Clothes that escaped the Great War’ by Patricia McCarthy and you can read it here.

I recently ‘rediscovered’ a poem I’d written a few years ago about the sea. And guess what I’d called it? I know (*blushes*).. you’ve got it, I’d called it ‘The Sea’. I’ve renamed it ‘The Mesmerising Med’ now. Not fantastic but a bit more interesting than ‘The Sea’!

Readers’ Day: Birmingham, 29th March 2014

On a completely different subject, if you live in and around the West Midlands, you might be interested in a Readers’ Day that West Midlands Readers’ Network are organising on 29th March, in the iconic new Birmingham library (which I STILL haven’t visited!).

The day is being hosted by Oxygen Books and features Girl With a Pearl Earring writer Tracy Chevalier, and Richard and Judy Book Club best-seller Beatrice Colin, along with “a feast of other exciting writers and reading from across the world.”

Full details including how to book here

Must admit, it’s very tempting but I’ll have to see if I can get a day pass from the ‘Middle of Nowhere’! (my current address).

Germany Calling

Am off to Germany at the weekend, for a bit of a mini-break! Many, OK, hundreds of years ago, I did a degree in German (and English), so it will be very interesting to see if I can actually remember any of the old ‘Deutsch’, which I haven’t spoken for about five years (eeek) or whether, every time I attempt to utter a word, a well-meaning German person will speak for me, in perfect English.

I will also be researching a strange fact: why are there no German heroes, in English/American novels? Apart from Oskar Schindler, I can’t think of any – can you?

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12 Responses to Titles Matter

  1. Jade Reyner says:

    I completely agree with you about titles and when I read titles such as the one that you mention above (the one about the gun!), I think duh! why can’t I come up with something like that? It really is worth spending the time trying to get the title just about perfect. 🙂

  2. Wendy Clarke says:

    Titles don’t matter in womag stories as they usually get changed anyway! Enjoy your mini-break, Helen.

  3. A yes, very true, Wendy! Thanks for pointing that out!

  4. In my ‘ideas’ book, I have written down what I think is a really good title. Trouble is, I don’t have a story to go with it. *Puts on thinking cap*

  5. Michaela Eyley says:

    Who is Oskar Schindler? From Schindler’s list? That’s a good question and I never thought about German heroes in English/US books. Are there more French or Spanish ones then and are the Germans singled out/avoided? Hmm…
    On another note, I wish you a cracking time in Bonn and should you feel the need to brush up on your German, you know who to contact 🙂

    • Thanks, Michaela! Yes, Oskar Schindler, from Schindler’s List! Off the top of my head, The 3 Musketeers (although originally written in French, I think) Cyrano de Bergerac (Hollywood film starring Gerard Depardieu) and Don Quixote are a couple of examples of French and Spanish ‘heroes’ that are also part of our culture. Can’t think of any German ones though – sorry. But maybe you can?! And yes, I may well decide to try to brush up on my German after our visit to Bonn. I have a feeling it’s going to be ‘peinlich’!

  6. Tracy Fells says:

    Completely agree on titles being important, but as Wendy mentions above they often get changed in magazines – no matter how hard you’ve tried with them! Funny but I was certain Oskar Schindler was Polish – just googled and you’re quite right. I have a number of German friends and despite the claims of Basil Fawlty they all have wonderful senses of humour. Helen – perhaps it’s time for you to redress the balance and have a German hero/orine.

  7. Jan Baynham says:

    Titles can draw you into a story, can’t they? I like the ones where it’s not obvious until near the end of the story why the writer has chosen the title and you think ‘Ah, so that’s why the story was called…’! Enjoy your trip to Germany, Helen.

  8. Linda says:

    Thanks for introducing me to Billy Collins, never heard of him before but I loved that poem and have started reading some of his others.
    Enjoy your break.

  9. Bill Strachan says:

    Hello – My daughter-in-law sent me details of a competition and I thought I would forward them to yourself. Perhaps you can make others aware of it on the blog. Maybe she is trying to tell me something! http://dyingmatters.org/stilltime


    On 12 February 2014 18:57, Blog About Writing

  10. philippabowe says:

    Titles can be excellent fun – to read, and to invent for your own work. Or really frustrating when the right one doesn’t come. (I must confess that when I first saw your post it was on my phone, and an effect of the tiny screen was that I misread the “l” in “Titles” as “ti” – goodness, I thought, Helen’s taking us in a new direction, but which one, feminism or erotic fiction?)
    Thanks for the poetry. I particularly enjoyed both the title and the body of the war poem, a very effective way of making the reader feel all the impact of the tragedy.

  11. The very first thing to catch readers attention is a nice title. Make it very interesting so that they will read your story.

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