For those of you like me who often start stories from titles, finding titles that really spark the imagination is not an easy thing at times.Â So I have a few tricks to get titles before starting a story.Â This post details one of those tricks.Â Or better put, a writing exercise.Â Challenge yourself to do this once and see how it works.
I’m not sure who suggested this trick, but I’ve written many stories from it over the years, including a Nebula nominated story called “In the Shade of the Slowboat Man.”
A couple things are needed for this to work.Â A large digest or magazine collection.Â A notebook.Â And an hour of time.
Start by opening a magazine, digest, or old pulp at random to the table of contents and scan down the titles.Â You are looking for a title that can easily be divided in half, a title with two clauses.Â Do NOT look at the stories.Â Just the titles.Â Nothing more.
Take half of one title and write it in a column in your notebook.Â It can be the first half or the second half of the title.Â Doesn’t matter.Â But only write down half the title.Â (And remember, titles are not under copyright protection, so you are doing nothing wrong here. <g>)
Once you have an entire column of phrases, which will take maybe a dozen or more issues of a magazine, put that sheet away, find a different magazine or at least another decade of magazines and start a second sheet of paper with a column with more half titles.Â Â The reason to try to find a different magazine or a different decade is that titles run similar in magazines and similar in decades.Â Old pulp magazines are really great for this if you can find some.
When you have your second list done, then put it beside the first list.
Take half of a title from one list and combine it with half a title from the other list in one way or another and then write the story.
For example, my story “In the Shade of the Slowboat Man” came from this exercise.Â “In the Shade…” was half a title.Â “Slow Boat” was the other half.Â I added the word “man,” and linked the two with “of the,” then made slow boat one word, and ran with it because it was so weird.
Again, this is a writing exercise, like finding three words in a dictionary and writing a story using all three.Â But I use this title exercise a lot, especially when I am stuck.Â I have dozens of sheets of paper with half titles on them and when searching around for a story to write, I take two of these sheets down from my board and jam two half titles together and sit down and write.
The muse never comes to you.Â Sometimes you must run out and grab it and bring it kicking and screaming into the office.Â This exercise is nothing more than a way to do that.