Tue 22 Jul 2014
by Sarah Crysl Akhtar
It’s like the pangs of afterbirth. There’s your lovely story, ready to send out, and you can’t for the life of you think what to call it.
Happened to me once. Put a working title on a flash piece so I could at least submit it. Revised the title when I did the rewrite, but knew it was still a dud. The right one finally came to me, literally in the nick of time, shortly before the due date, so to speak. And to my enormous relief, one commenter remarked that the title was perfect for the tale. If she’d known how I sweated that one. . .
I’ve looked in some strange places for titles. I loathe, fear and despise mathematics, but my offspring has a gift for it. Go figure. And it so bothers me, being locked out of that world he inhabits so naturally, that with the bounteous help of Wikipedia, I’ve named a number of my stories for mathematical or scientific concepts. Those titles sounded so elegant, while making me feel closer to my kid. And strangely, they expressed just what I wanted to say.
Without the intuitively perfect title, a story’s luster is a little dimmed. And a bad or mediocre title may keep readers away from a piece they might have truly enjoyed.
If you’re struggling to name your story, take a little break. I once had to leave something alone for a couple of months, until my main character’s voice called to me so clearly that the right title fell naturally into place. It was frustrating not to be able to submit something I believed in and had worked hard on, but part of growing into your craft is recognizing when you haven’t fully achieved your intent, and waiting until you do.
Resist the urge to slap something on your story because you’re facing a deadline or just want to mark it as completed. You don’t want any child you love to go out into the world ill-named.
Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s shtetl forebears gifted her with the genes that impel her to make much from little. So of course she writes flash fiction, cultivates orchards on her windowsill and bakes fabulous shortbread. Her son gives her what’s immeasurable–the best of all possible worlds. Less miraculous fruit of her labors has appeared on Every Day Fiction, Flash Fiction Online and Perihelion SF Magazine.