Tag: titles

Short story or maybe novelette: “For Jeromé—with Love and Kisses”

“For Jeromé—with Love and Kisses,” by Gordon Lish

Apparently orginally came out in 1983; appeared in The Antioch Review, Vol. 68, No. 3, Annual All Fiction Issue (Summer 2010), pp. 546–588—JSTOR link here

43 pages, no idea how many words

I had a hard time with this story because it just goes on and on. It’s clever, but it’s not clever enough to hold up all the way through. I had no idea Lish could get so verbose, based on his work on Carver.

The title, with its play on “For Esmé,” falls flat for me. Maybe that’s deliberate—the narrator read “For Esmé” and its subtlety was completely lost on him.

Thomas Pynchon was apparently not really born Pinkowitz, but I can see why the joke was too good to give up.


Short story: “Drink to Me Only with Labyrinthine Eyes”

“Drink to Me Only with Labyrinthine Eyes,” by Thomas Ligotti

First appeared in Nyctalops #17 in 1982; featured in Pseudopod 434, April 17th, 2015

No idea how many words

An effective story.

The title is a pun on a poem/song that, as far as I can tell, has nothing to do with the story. I would have titled it “The Hypnotist,” banal as that is.

Short story: “Better to Curse the Darkness than Light a Candle”

“Better to Curse the Darkness than Light a Candle,” by Joseph Cusumano

Featured in PseudoPod 561, September 22nd, 2017; ably read by Cheyenne Wright

Maybe 5,000 words? Not sure (the podcast is 43:06)

A good witchy story.

The title is clever (and made me want to listen), but it doesn’t fit the tone; I would have called it “Diogenes.”

Short story: “Here is My Thinking on a Situation That Affects Us All”

“Here is My Thinking on a Situation That Affects Us All,” by Rahul Kanakia

Appeared in Lightspeed Magazine issue 66, November 2015

2501 words

In his Author Spotlight, Kanakia says: “My writing process is changing continually, and it’s gotten to the point where I no longer have any idea how I do things. Right now, in particular, it’s going through a lot of flux. I used to write without any outline. I’d just have a character, a situation, and a sense of where I wanted things to end up. But I’ve lately come to realize that when I did this, I’d often leave out very critical elements and end up with weak stories that didn’t have strong character arcs. Basically, with each story I’d set off hoping that it would be like ‘Here Is My Thinking …’ (i.e. the kind of story that tells itself), but if it turned out to not be that sort of story, then I’d have zero idea how to turn it into something compelling.” I can sympathize with this. I almost never outline fiction, and like Kanakia, I have a sense that I leave too much up to luck. I can see how this story came together without outlining. The narrator’s story has a natural order to it that doesn’t require scene.

I don’t think the title fits, although I’ll admit it’s a good title. The situation affects humanity and the spaceship in two very different ways. Though I suppose it’s important to join the two together to some extent, given the spaceship’s attempts at compromise.

On the title and opening line of a short story

“The opening line of a story is absolutely crucial. It’s so crucial that the mere thought of it ought to terrify any writer into a lifetime of silence. That first sentence has to excite me into the rest of the story. It has to be so seductive that I can’t bear not to continue. I work on the opening sentence relentlessly, in my mind, and can’t begin writing until I have one I believe in—one that thrusts me as if violently into the story. I revise fanatically, but I don’t discover the first sentence on page 3. If I did, I’d throw the whole story away.

“That said, it’s also true that the opening line isn’t the opening line. The first words a reader sees in a story come in the title. The true opening line of a story is the title. The apparent opening line is actually the second line. What this means isn’t simply that the title is as crucial as the opening sentence, but that the opening sentence plays off the title. Whenever I hear that a writer chooses a title after the story is done, I’m astonished, baffled—for me, that would be like leaving out the name of the main character and deciding on it at the end. Think of how much information you get from a title like ‘Death in Venice.’ The first sentence takes place in Munich, but already you know that the story is going to Venice. You know that a death will take place. Death infects the opening sentence.”

—Steven Millhauser in an interview with failbetter.com

I think Millhauser writes a short story in order to capture a feeling, and he knows what the feeling is when he begins. The title, the opening line, the main character’s name all have to feel right in order for him to proceed. For me (perhaps in part because I lack confidence), the process is usually more open-ended. Often I start with a bit of a scene or a hint of a voice or just an idea; I keep writing until I’m able to envision this thing as some sort of story; I try to come up with a title that fits the essence of the story I have in mind; I have doubts about the major characters’ names and change them. It’s inefficient. I much prefer it when I manage to do something like Millhauser.

Short story: “Beyond Sapphire Glass”

“Beyond Sapphire Glass,” by Margaret Killjoy

Appeared in Strange Horizons, August 10th, 2015

991 words

For someone like me who sees artificial/simulated consciousness as just another form of consciousness, this is a little tragedy. Janna has a chance to change her (?) mind and join Hannah in “heaven.” Instead she torments herself talking to someone whom she considers dead, making it harder for either of them to grieve and move on.

Not a big fan of this line: “I got that vacant look on my face.” I get what the narrator means, but it would flow much more naturally if the observation explicitly came from another character, like: “Kevin says I get this vacant look sometimes. I think I had it then.”

I accidentally listened to this podcast episode twice because while the story itself is memorable, the title and the title image are both meh. Very generic fantasy stuff.

Short story: “Twitcher”

“Twitcher,” by David Tallerman

Recorded for episode 431 of Pseudopod, March 27th, 2015

? words


What an appropriate title for a zombie story about a birder.

How not to title a story

“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.

Short story: “A Turtle, A Lizard, A Snake”

“A Turtle, A Lizard, A Snake,” by Meredith Alling

Appeared recently in Monkeybicycle

503 words

An excellent story about a minor failure that comes as a painful blow to the ego.

I don’t really like this type of title. The reptile metaphor is good, but it doesn’t feel important enough to be in the title. Plus the capitalization of the articles bugs me.

Short story: “The Terrors of Basket-Weaving”

“The Terrors of Basket-Weaving,” by Patricia Highsmith

Collected in The Black House in 1981; also in The Selected Stories of Patricia Highsmith and Selected Novels and Short Stories

? words

This story bears some resemblance to Virginia Woolf’s “Solid Objects,” which portrays a similar obsession (artistic? primal? both?). One protagonist ultimately abandons civilization, the other clings to it.

The title is so grandiose that I wonder if the author is having some fun at her character’s expense. After all, Highsmith is a practitioner of a craft as ancient as basket-weaving, and is far more dedicated to it.

Then there’s the symbolism of an empty, torn-up baby basket finding its way to someone who is childless by choice. Contrary to the usual trope, Diane doesn’t seem to be threatened by the symbolic loss of a child, or the lost opportunity to have one, only by her own latent creative potential. Maybe that’s why the symbolism doesn’t weigh the story down: the thing being symbolized is somewhat unexpected, and mysterious.