How not to title a story

by look i have opinions

“I tell students, when in doubt, to title their story after the smallest concrete object in their story. I warn them off plays on words, (‘The Rent Also Rises’—no; ‘Life in My Cat House’—no) and no grand reaches, either. ‘Reverence,’ ‘Respect,’ ‘Regret,’ ‘Greed,’ ‘Adventure,’ ‘Retribution.’ And never use the worst title of all time, ‘The Gift,’ a story I read six times a year.”

—Ron Carlson (x)

Edit: It occurs to me that this advice isn’t so much for avoiding bad titles as for avoiding embarrassing titles. Which is all very well, but sometimes a writer has to risk embarrassment for the sake of boldness or integrity or experimentation or winning the reader over. Not everything can be safe, not everything can be easy on the ego.

That said, I do agree with Carlson that short story titles should err on the side of concreteness and conservatism. Short stories tend to focus on small, specific things, and they aren’t long enough to merit grand, abstract titles or clever titles that hint at complexity. (I feel the same way about movies.) Novels, on the other hand, can wear abstract or clever titles very well.

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