writing techniques

How to Write a Good Title

The title of anything is what people read first. For most writers, a title is also one of the hardest things to write.

When I’m trying to come up with a title for what I wrote, I spend maybe weeks or months hoping inspiration will strike. Surprisingly, it sometimes works. But, not often enough.

So, I use other techniques like writing down the five most important things about what was written. These could be names, objects, animals, or anything mentioned throughout the writing. After I have the five things, I get rid of two of them.

Next, I add in the two things that almost made the first list of five. Of course, this is just mixing words together different ways in the hope something appears to make sense. However, it also makes me think more about what is important in the story that should be in the title. Sometimes this works and a title pops out that I like. A lot of times, not.

Another technique I use is more logical. If the story is about two people, I put their names in the title with a description of the environment they exist in such as riding a train. These titles are sometimes okay.

While there are lots of opinions about this, I think short titles are not that good. The best titles are at least five to seven words. These are harder to write, yet tell more about what was written. A one or two word title does not say much.

Out of all of this, the single most important thing to writing a good title is taking the time to think about it. A title should be as important as what is written.

Being in a Writing Group

For almost a year, I’ve been president of a writer’s club. It’s been easy because the other board members have been an invaluable help. I’ve also been part of a critique group for several years. I encourage writers to get involved in a writer’s club and a critique group to connect with the writing community in their area and help improve their writing.

Of course, the wrong personalities can make joining a club or group a negative experience. I found these types of organizations few and easy to quit. The biggest challenge is finding a writers’ club or critique group to join.

Most communities do not have a club or group for writers. There are online ones, which I joined, too. However, the online life seems too impersonal and distant. I found meeting and interacting with people is better for my writing.

If there is no club or group, a writer could form a critique group which are small, informal, and focused on critiquing. Plus, there are lots of guidelines on how to do conduct this group. A club can be more complicated and formal with bylaws.

To start a critique group, a writer could go to the local library. Many writers come to the library seeking a group to join and libraries generally support writers. Another place to go is the English Department of a community college.

I recently went to a small writer’s conference where I met three students from the local community college. With no creative writing classes offered, they formed their own critique group with help from an English teacher. It quickly became several critique groups.

I have another year left as president. The club has been a great way to make connections with the writing community. Also, my critique group has been a great way to improve my writing. Writers should meet other writers.

Editing Again?

I’m finishing another edit of my novel. Before I wrote the book, I had been thinking about the story for almost a year. When I finally started writing, it came out fast and easy. I liked what I wrote, until I read what I wrote.

I have gone through numerous, much needed edits. While the basic story remained the same, I made a lot of changes such as in the characters, how the story started, and the ending. All right, maybe more than I thought. After each edit, I thought I had written a bestseller until I read it again. It was a non-seller.

I tried different ways to edit such as starting with the last chapter and going backward chapter by chapter. I wouldn’t recommend this. It’s very confusing and I don’t think people were meant to read a story backward. At least not me.

On this, my final edit (I hope), I focused on each scene within a chapter. I questioned everything and whether the words belonged where they were placed. I was not kind to my words. I think some were hesitant about being written down since they had a good chance of being deleted. Some took the chance, anyway.

This process required many re-readings on the same chapter, yet it seemed to work better for me. I also joined a critique group who have been great at finding things wrong. Yet, we meet too infrequently.

My method is slow, but when I’m done with each chapter I feel better at what I had written. Until, I re-read what I wrote.

P.S. The picture is Harry, a friendly Sasquatch from the 1987 movie “Harry and the Hendersons” and my recent toy.

Books on Writing

Like many writers, I read Strunk and White’s Elements of Style several times (it’s a short book). Nowadays, books on writing have more imaginative titles like Sin and Syntax, Eats Shoots and Leaves, and The Transitive Vampire.

The current books with their creative themes are good because they generate interest in writing readable English. But, we should not ignore older books on writing, even with their plain titles. Things haven’t changed that much.

I recently read A Handbook of Short Story Writing by John T. Frederick, published in 1924, and If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland, published in 1938 (recently reprinted).

Both had basic writing advice that is just as good as the current books. One advice I found useful: a writer should always write to someone.

It may be a stuffed toy, an imaginary friend, God, or someone the writer knows. It could be a small audience of people, a bigger group in a specific genre, or the writer through a diary. When writing, there is the intent of a reader.

Back to books about writing.

People who write text messages, emails, notes, or shopping lists do not need to read books about writing. Those who want to communicate by writing, should.

Whether it has an imaginative title or was written a hundred years ago, writing readable English means writing so a person could be understood clearly. Whether a writer is writing to someone, no one, or to themselves, there is the hope of a reader.