Monthly Archives: April 2012

New Words This Month

As I may have mentioned, I have been cleaning out papers this month. Among the marginalia I find words that I’ve highlighted or looked up, often with a definition scribbled alongside. In one ear, out the other so they say. I have absolutely no recollection of the original context of these words, nor whatever possessed me to look them up. This is all part of the fun.

What the hell have I been reading?

voluble – Speaking or spoken incessantly and fluently [How many words do we need in English to express this idea? We already have talkative, loquacious, garrulous, glib and verbose.]

waspish – Readily expressing anger or irritation [depends on the type of wasp, surely]

functionaries – people who perform official tasks. Officials.

concomitant – attendant, accompanying

moiety – division of society into two halves based on descent. An arbitrary term used to describe some sort of fragment of a molecule, or changed species.

jejure – insubstantial, not nutritious, lacking life experience

yeoman – performs secretarial and clerical work.

recapitulate – to summarise briefly

lugubrious – excessively mournful

winnow – to literally separate the wheat from the chaf.

interpolation – something inserted into a text to change its meaning

parabolic – curved in a way that’s not symmetrical

votary – A person, such as a monk or nun, who has made vows of dedication to religious service [This leads me to wonder why I had scrawled ‘an (un)cultured votary of tomatoes’ next to this word

obsequious – boot lickingly obedient

gerrymandering – Manipulate the boundaries of (an electoral constituency) so as to favor one party or class. [Written alongside: ‘I might try gerrymandering’. Upon looking it up, it doesn’t sound as cool as the word itself.

Aide-mémoire – a memory aid. [Funny how I should’ve written this exact word down as a memory aid and then forgotten about it.]

ALSO

cornucopia – A symbol of plenty consisting of a goat’s horn overflowing with flowers, fruit, and corn. [Has a specific meaning in The Hunger Games — A location inside every Hunger Games arena that may initially contain essential supplies such as food and water, medicine and weapons. It’s the location of the bloodbath and feasts – but I’d heard it before so decided to look it up. For a Hunger Games glossary, see here.]

percipient – perceptive. [I’m not sure how those words at at all different.]

Search Terms This Month

when’s easter 2012 – for those who missed the hot crossed buns and chocolate bunnies in the supermarket, this blog is for you.

sex with donuts on penis – I ask you.

tranny with long wig – Just try and find a tranny without one.

it was green once – Ah. Even the best of fruit ripens and rottens.

does eva love kevin – Welcome to the toilet wall of the Internet.

goldilocks and the three bears feminist – What I’d like to know is which of the characters in this fairytale is supposed to be feminist.

go to the bed – I don’t even know. Except no, your answer is probably no. ‘The bed’ does not sound like native English.

is thirty old for a woman? – No.

i promise to touch it – We probably won’t hold you to that.

i go to bed – Goodnight! Google loves you!

 

 

Giving Feedback On Creative Projects

photo 3

1. The SKS Model

What should I stop doing?

What should I keep doing?

What should I start doing?

(no more than 3 bullet points under each)

here.

2. The ‘Strictly Objective’ Critique Partner

I’m not sure there’s any such thing as ‘strictly objective’ when it comes to assessing creative work, but I think these questions might be good for coming somewhere close:

The SOCP doesn’t give you opinions about your story and how it could be improved. He or she doesn’t even point out weak areas. All he or she does is tell you what you have. The SOCP just finishes these sentences:

“The main conflict of your story is…”
“A basic summary of your story is…”
“At its core, your story is really about…”
“The major characters of your story are…”

Read more about this technique at YA Highway. Because sometimes it’s worth finding out if readers understand what you’re writing about let alone absorb its nuances, figurative language and its profound impact on society.

3. THE LEARNING MODEL

It can be argued that there are only four questions you need to ask yourself when learning something new.

  • What have you done?
  • Why?
  • What might you do differently next time?
  • What must you do now?

These same questions can be applied to your own creative projects.

4. THE DISNEY TECHNIQUE

In his book Making Ideas Happen, Scott Belsky explains that Walt Disney was a very enthusiastic creative person, but he knew how to put his abundance of wacky ideas to the test. Making use of Disney’s technique might be helpful at the idea generation stage of a project, though I can see potential for it to be used at later stages, too. As Belksy recounts it, Disney made use of three different rooms. Of course, Disney had the luxury of lots of actual rooms. The rooms we use may be metaphorical instead:

ROOM ONE: Brainstorming

  • Rampant idea generation allowed
  • No restraints
  • No doubts expressed

ROOM TWO: Aggregation

  • Crazy ideas aggregated
  • Storyboard produced
  • General sketches of characters

ROOM THREE: ‘The Sweat Box’

  • The project is critically reviewed.
  • Entire creative team is involved.
  • Criticism is never directed at one person, since the project has already been changed up in the process of aggregation.
While it’s not at all uncommon to make use of the brainstorming session followed by a critical analysis, I think it’s important to implement step two. This may make the difference between a successful project and an unsuccessful; between validated team members and those who feel resentful after their ideas are immediately scuppered.

Also Worth A Thought:

Do you get ‘annual performance’ reviews? Are they useful to you?

After believing in annual reviews for most of my career, I don’t really believe in them anymore. Not timely enough, demoralizing in general (everyone thinks they’re above average), and just a hell of a lot of work for everyone.

- from a Quora comment thread answering the question: ‘How should startups handle performance reviews?’

Do you know of any other models for giving and receiving critique? Do you think critique is always necessary?

RELATED

You won’t benefit from anonymous criticism from Seth Godin

8 Urban Myths To Squelch During Story Critiques from PV

http://stevelaube.com/how-many-critiques-spoil-the-broth/? from Steve Laube

Various ideas for critiquing a work of art

The Hunger Games Links

#HungerGames

It’s safe to say this post contains spoilers.

Volunteering As Tribute

Plenty has been said about this story and I doubt I can add another single thing, but I have been collecting links on this for ages as they raced through my feed, refusing to read them until I’d seen the movie and read the book. Dutifully, I restrained myself (and had more luck than with Season Five of Mad Men, which isn’t screening here yet), so now I have made up my own mind.

BOOK VERSUS FILM

Here is one overview of the differences from Lit Reactor.

Love the books, liked the movie, don’t think the film would have nearly as much value for those who hadn’t read the books. – The Beheld

It seems to make a difference whether you watch the film first or read the book first. I fit into neither category because I watched the film as I was partway through the book. I’d already seen trailers and screenshots of the film, which would have informed my vision of District 12 and the world of the story, but I can empathise with those who say that the film did not live up to the expectations of the world they’d built inside their heads. It’s true: a film set, no matter how lavish, can never live up to a good imagination.

If I noticed one area in which the film fell down, it was in the dialogue. Dialogue could have so easily been taken straight out of the book, but it hadn’t been. (Noticeable mainly because my viewing and reading of this story happened simultaneously — probably not noticeable otherwise unless you’re a megafan.)

For instance, there’s a scene in the film where Haymitch Abernathy says to Katniss, ‘Nice dress, sweetheart.’ He then turns to Effie Trinkett, who is about to get into an elevator with them (I think), and Haymitch adds, nastily, ‘Not yours.’

I remember this scene because the rest of the audience in the theatre laughed, and I don’t find that kind of humour funny. I mean the kind of humour in which one woman is complimented on her looks while at the same time another woman is dished out a backhanded compliment. You’ve probably seen this meme: When Did This Become Hotter Than This? I hate that meme, because in its attempt to embrace a healthier body image for women, all it does is try and shift our views about ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ body types. Women are still being judged primarily on their looks. This is why we should remain a little skeptical when evaluating The Hunger Games (the movie, especially) as some sort of feminist triumph. Is it really? (See below.)

While Effie Trinket is not a character to empathise with, she does exhibit a lot of the virtues which are expected of women in her position: enthusiasm, an outward appearance of politeness and a level of personal grooming which makes her look almost scary (AKA ‘Emotional Labor’). On the scale of disagreeable characters in The Hunger Games cast, Effie Trinket is one of the more harmless.

In general, movie adaptations of books are more open to cliche, whether it be at a story level or at a dialogue level. Perhaps cliches don’t stand out as much when they come in movie form, whereas on a page they never fail to clock us in the head.

One example, true of many book to film adaptations, is that the romantic element is played up in The Hunger Games movie. That’s an example of a storyline cliche.

As for dialogue, when Rue is fatally speared in the movie, I remember Katniss crouching over her. She says something like, ‘It’s going to be okay.’ I remember thinking, although I’d not reached that part in the novel, ‘No, she’s really not. You probably shouldn’t say that.’

Then I got to that same scene in the book:

One look at the wound and I know it’s far beyond my capacity to heal… There’s no point in comforting words, in telling her she’ll be all right. She’s no fool.

I much prefer the honesty of the book scene. Why did they change it for the movie when there was really no need to? I wonder if the dialogue in the film was influenced by the track which plays at Rue’s death, the one by Taylor Swift in which the lyrics go, ‘Just close your eyes /  The sun is going down / You’ll be alright / No one can hurt you now’.

Anna Sarkeesian (Feminist Frequency) has intelligent things to say about the differences between the book and the film in this video, and I find particularly interesting the reaction of the audience inside the theatre where she saw this movie. That, I suppose, is the main benefit of seeing a film with an audience. At home, you don’t get to see other people’s reactions. I also find it disturbing what people find (and don’t) find funny.

THE GENDER GAMES

It’s interesting to read about how the Hunger Games was sparked in the mind of Suzanne Collins, in an article entitled Suzanne Collins: the queen of teen fiction for tomboys by The Guardian.

I find myself irked more and more by the term ‘tomboy’. I always have, even as a kid when I was one.

First, a tomboy is a girl, so why a portmanteau including not only the word ‘boy’, but ‘Tom’ – a boy’s name? Nothing in the word ‘tomboy’ suggests we’re actually describing a girl.

Second, the fact that the concept even exists makes salient the fact that a ‘real’ girl has to be a certain way, not that girls come in all flavours and have a wide variety of interests, clothing styles and sporting aptitude. I can see why the word tomboy may have been useful back in 1900, but I’m disappointed to see it still used un-ironically in the headlines of a major newspaper.

Third, as I have noted before, it is assumed (I think wrongly) that boys will not be interested in a story about a girl unless she is an FFT (see below), so at the very least she must be a girl in a boy’s body. I don’t think this is the case for Katniss, and I don’t even like such black and white gender distinctions because I think they’re unhelpful, but it’s the assumption that continues to bother me. The proliferation (domination?) of ‘tomboys’ as a representation of ‘strong female character’ is almost a form of femme phobia.

It has been said that the gender of Katniss is pretty irrelevant. She’s an every-hero. I find it interesting, though, that she almost seems to have outrightly reject everything that could be associated with femininity. Not only looking pretty — that’s the most obvious one, and I have to admit, a welcome change — but even cooking. Nor does caring come naturally to her. She is making soup for Peeta in the woods. While master cheffing is a masculine pursuit, the day-to-day drudgery of household food preparation is feminine, and I can’t really blame Katniss for wanting to avoid it. Hence:

I’m the first to admit I’m not much of a cook. But since soup mainly involves tossing everything in a pot and waiting, it’s one of my better dishes.

But when a character is the opposite of all things feminine, I start to wonder if it wouldn’t have been better to throw in a few surprises, to show that Katniss has not rejected her gender altogether, but instead embraced the best parts and thrown away others as she sees fit. Where are the heroines who have managed that?

See also: The Gender Games, and another video from Feminist Frequency in which Katniss is evaluated as a strong female character. Conclusion: while the first book stands strong, the next two books in the trilogy see Katniss fail to continue in her growth as a person, and even regress.

Here’s another analysis of Katniss as a strong woman. The proliferation of such musings (this included) tells me something. We’ve been missing this character in her non-existence!

Dr Jennifer Shewmaker is impressed that in the movie Katniss isn’t sexualised at all.

WOMEN AS ACTION-HERO SUPERSTARS

Sociological Images always offers intelligent commentary, and in this article, argues that: “The Hunger Games should serve as a wake-up call to Hollywood that women action-hero movies can be successful if the protagonist is portrayed as a complex subject — instead of a hyper-sexualized fighting fuck toy (FFT)”

I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment. I may be holding back with a few criticisms of this film for the simple fact that the producers actually took a risk and cast a genuinely strong female character as a lead in a big budget movie. Of course, the cynic in me says it wasn’t all that much of a risk, given the phenomenon which had been created by the author of the trilogy herself.

The Mary Sue references The Hunger Games in an article entitled ‘The Long Arm of the Lore: Female Heroes In Pop Culture‘, and with Katniss Everdeen as evidence, concludes that ‘kick-ass heroines are cool again’. Were they ever really uncool, or is it simply the case that audiences have had no choice?

On this point, Skepchick quite rightly questions the so-called ‘market-drivenness’ of the ghettoisation of female action leads. It comes from Hollywood producers.

Lots of people are saying that the opening weekend of The Hunger Games were good days for women and filmWill The Hunger Games Be The First Real Female Franchise?

MASCULINITY

No discussion of gender would be complete without a thought-provoking article on masculinity in The Hunger Games. (From Bitch Media)

THE BOOK ISN’T CHALLENGING OR LITERARY ENOUGH TO BE STUDIED WIDELY AS A HIGH SCHOOL TEXT

It is sometimes said that Modern Children Lack The Attention To Read Dickens, for example.

Literacy Journal’s stand is that The Hunger Games doesn’t deserve a place in the 6-12 ELA canon. I’m guessing that this is a view not unique to literacy advisors and advocates.

I can’t pretend to have made up my mind about the perceived ‘dumbing down’ of literature. That young adults today are reading less challenging works is certain. When I say ‘less challenging’, I mean the sentences are more simple at a syntactic level, the works themselves are shorter, and the plots are action dominated. I would also guess that a narrower variety of words is employed overall, but I can’t be sure about this.

What I am sure of, though, is that when it comes to the formal teaching of literature in schools, the single most important thing is that the students enjoy it, if not from the outset, then certainly by the end. I’m also sure that the literary merit of a book lies only partly in the book itself, and in large part with the way in which it is taught.

(Did you see this week that the Horrible Histories author has requested that his books not be taught in school? He surmises that if kids are made to read something, they won’t like it anymore. I’m not so sure about that. This request shows an enduring mistrust of teachers and the wonderful work so many teachers do in the classroom with regards to turning kids on to reading. As a side note, I have no idea what school inspectors have got to do with inspiring kids to read. Inspectors exist to make sure teachers and administrators are doing their jobs.)

To that end, The Hunger Games offers lots that I could immediately see as exciting and engaging in the classroom. With enthusiastic teaching, this book could lead to discussions about historical and topical issues such as war, the impact of reality TV, the distinction between public and private self (with Facebook as an example), a parable of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the list goes on.

It’s also a cautionary tale about Big Government. And undeniably a Christian allegory about the importance of finding Jesus. Or maybe a call for campaign-finance reform?

- from The LA Times

That’s not to say that I don’t have some sympathy for advocates of the slow reading movement, and the idea that some of the most life-changing books are worth the struggle.

Down here in Australia and New Zealand, many high school students have been reading John Marsden’s Tomorrow When The World Began as part of their English curriculum. I have taught this book myself, and I’d argue that Marsden and Collins are on a par as far as dystopian YA action fiction is concerned. Whether these novels are not challenging enough is hard to say. Certainly, for the top students, more challenging novels might allow them to write more nuanced essays and therefore get higher marks. But it would take an experienced teacher of gifted and talented students to say this for sure.

WHY IS KATNISS’ SKIN NOT DARKER?

A Whitewashed Hunger Games from Ms Blog.

I suspect the producers believed they were already taking a big risk by making a movie with a reluctant, non-sexualised action hero, and that they were absolved any further from doing anything else for equality’s sake. That’s the cynic in me.

You’ll not be surprised to learn that there is to be a Katniss Everdeen Barbie. (I would prefer the term ‘action hero’, but there you have it. For more on that issue, see here.) As pointed out by Jezebel, the doll doesn’t really have that ‘Seam’ darkness to her. She’s white all right.

For more YA whitewashed book covers, see The Yalsa Hub

See Also:

This sense that movies should feel real started in the fifties and has been slowly evolving ever since. “We used to go to the movies for fantasy, to get take us away from everyday life,” says Turner Classic Movie host Robert Osborne, who also wrote 80 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards. “The women all looked like Katharine Hepburn or Carole Lombard and the men all looked like Cary Grant or Robert Taylor.” Now, we want people to really look like the taxi driver or the waitress at the corner deli, he says. (This also means that we want our ballerinas to look anorexic and our downtrodden victims in eighteenth-century France to be near death.)

Why Extra-Skinny (or Fat) Actresses Win Oscars

THE WOLVES, THE WOLVES

The Wolf Muttations Could Have Looked Much More Horrifying – some concept art by Ian Joyner at io9. This is probably true, but I found the wolf muttations in the movie perfectly horrifying enough, thanks. I’m just glad the directors didn’t cut to the part where the wolves ate the blond boy. Instead, we saw the look on Katniss and Peeta’s face and heard the chomping licky sounds. That’s good enough for me.

THE HUNGER GAMES = TWILIGHT?

Fortunately not. While there are some similarities, The Hunger Games is better written at a line level (ie. I didn’t want to snap all the adverbs in half and throw them across the room), the main character is not moony.

Still, there is that old love triangle thing. Or is there? Feministe argues that the relationship model in The Hunger Games is not your cliched love triangle at all.

TERRIBLE COSTUMES?

I’m sure there are a number of costume designers who are miffed they didn’t get contracted for the costume design of The Hunger Games, because it would’ve been a great gig. A number of commentators have noted that the costume design was not good. But as a non-costume designer I enjoyed the costumes of this film. I particularly appreciated the pink eyeshadow of Effie Trinket, which made her look as if she had some sort of eye-disease, and the blue ponytail of Caesar Flickerman. The whole atmosphere of this movie reminded me very much of the second episode of Black Mirror, which is probably no good to you at all, since I’m sure more people would’ve seen The Hunger Games than the second episode of Black Mirror. But I highly recommend that series if you enjoyed the atmosphere of The Hunger Games. To be honest, that mood wasn’t what I’d been expecting.

TOO UPSETTING?

E.L. James (author of 50 Shades Of Grey) has said that killing children for sport is just a little too upsetting for her. This sentiment was echoed by an avid reader I know – a teenage girl who lives on my street. When I asked her if she’d read The Hunger Games she said, “No, and I don’t intend to”. She, too, had heard enough about the story to know that it would upset her too much.

While I didn’t find the story upsetting, I do find the general theme upsetting. We’ve been sending our young people off to war for generations. Many countries around the world still do. There are young boys in African countries today who have been taken from their parents and trained as nothing but fighters their entire lives. So I would argue that we should be finding The Hunger Games upsetting. Watching this movie, we can at least acknowledge our own privilege.

How did America turn into Panem? Like others, I imagine war broke out as a consequence of over-populationa and global warming. I find this quite upsetting too. The Hunger Games may be an imagining of a post-climate change world.

And all of the above are probably why The Hunger Games finds itself on lists of banned books. Sheesh.

For More On The Hunger Games:

1. The editorial process revealed by an intern (for those interested in writing).

2. A great map of Panem.

3. Collected mentions of The Hunger Games over at Slate, subtitled ‘An Ending A Tea Partier Would Love’, which is fortunately ambiguous enough that I can’t work it out yet, not having read the next two in the trilogy.

4. Here is a description of each song in the soundtrack to the movie. I thought the standout track was the end anthem, which is unfortunate since this is the part where everyone in the theatre walks out.

5. 7 Things You Might Not Have Known About The Hunger Games from Buzzfeed

6. Ideas For A Hunger Games Party from The Daily Meal. [Not much at all, I should think, kind of like our 40 Hour Famine parties we threw as teenagers.]

7. A Hunger Games Wiki for true fans.

8. An excellent summary of themes over at Connect The Pop, a SLJ blog. Here’s part one.

9. Like me, it turns out Jezebel has been curating interesting links on The Hunger Games this week. Check it out if you’re still intrigued. Especially if you’re interested in statistics.

10. Hunger Games influences baby names, but Katniss isn’t so popular.

11. How The Hunger Games Should Have Ended

12. 15 Women Who Could Direct Catching Fire Instead Of The Actual Candidates, from The Marysue

13. Female Authors Are Prominent on the ALA Banned Books List. (The Hunger Games is one of them.)

14. The Hunger Games Gets An Honest Trailer, by some people who didn’t much like the film, via the Mary Sue

15. A Film Review from Ladybusiness

16. The Sunday Salon: The Hunger Games, Merchandise, and Androcentrism from The Literary Omnivore

17. Another bunch of links, this time collected by SLJ

18. If Hunger Games Were 10 Times Shorter And 100 Percent Honest from Cracked

19. Philip Seymour Hoffman explains why bloody Hunger Games Is Good For Kids from WSJ

20. An Exercise In Editing or, Why The Hunger Games Makes My Eyes Bleed from R.L. Brody

21. What’s Wrong With The Hunger Games Is What Nobody Noticed from The Last Psychiatrist

22. A Radical Female Hero From Dystopia from NYT

23. A spot-on sartorial satire: Fashion’s extremity of appearance, values and language makes it a perfect subject of satire as seen in ‘The Hunger Games’ from Financial Times Style

24. Things The Hunger Games Can Teach Us About The War On Women  from Good

25. The Ultimate Hunger Games Victory Feast

26. THERE’S A THE HUNGER GAMES-THEMED SUMMER CAMP IN FLORIDA, which sounds awesome — gotta admit — until I remember the plot of the actual story.

27. Katniss is “A Wreck”: A Conversation with Suzanne Collins and Francis Lawrence: TIME talks to the writer-creator of ‘The Hunger Games’ and the director of ‘Catching Fire’ — the first in an exclusive five-part series

28. Catching Fire in the New Year: The Hunger Games and Pop Culture as Teaching Tools from CtrlAltTeach

Titanic Priorities

While ‘women and children first’ was observed to a large extent at sea, a little more of that sentiment might have gone a long way on land. More than £414,000 was collected for the victims’ families in the major British fund, an outpouring of public sympathy unparalleled before or since. A vast majority of the  crew had lived in Southampton and so much of this money was disbursed there. However, the local Titanic Relief fund records reveal that, despite the massive sum at fund trustees’ disposal, many widows and children lived on meagre pensions that did not relieve their poverty. The trustees, drawn from banking, judicial, government and church circles, assumed that working-class people, and women in particular, were incapable of managing money responsibly and would only waste what was given them. Like those receiving other forms of charity, Titanic widows and family members were adjudged ‘deserving’ or ‘undeserving’ and treated accordingly.

- from Women And Children First: OUP Blog

Salient because I’m reminded of the contraception debate taking place in America right now, and the die-hard notion that women without money and status (read: the single mothers of today) are not responsible enough to be given adequate means with which to decide how many children they birth, and not adequately deserving to use public funds to support the ones they already have.

What makes a good book title?

Here’s a secret: many, many, many titles are changed once a publisher gets hold of them. In fact, every single one of my book titles has changed, if you can believe it.

- from Alison Winn Scotch, writer

So if you’re working with editors and publishing experts, choosing titles isn’t going to be a major issue for you. And here’s an editor’s view:

Well, I will admit to thinking that if Marketing truly had their way, the title for every book would be an artless string of words broadcasting its selling appeal. The Hunger Games would be called ACTION PACKED DYSTOPIAN LOVE TRIANGLE .

- from Boxcars, Books and a Blog

Those of us without publishers and editors get to choose our own titles: a great privilege as well as a heavy burden, at times.

Here’s what Robert McKee has to say on the subject of film titles:

To anticipate the anticipations of the audience you must master your genre and its conventions. If a film has been properly promoted, the audience arrives filled with expectancy. In the jargon of marketing pros, it’s been “positioned”. “Positioning the audience” means this: We don’t want people coming to our work cold and vague, not knowing what to expect, forcing us to spend the first twenty minutes of screentime clueing them toward the necessary story attitude. We want them to settle into their seats, warm and focused with an appetite we intend to satisfy.

Positioning of the audience is nothing new. Shakespeare didn’t call his play Hamlet; he called it The Tragedy of Hamlet. Prince of Denmark. He gave comedies titles such as Much Ado About Nothing and All’s Well That Ends Well, so that each afternoon at the Globe Theater his Elizabethan audience was psychologically set to laugh or cry

- Story

McKee then writes about the 1980s film Mikes Murder as an example of bad positioning, because the audience expected a crime plot when what they got was a coming-of-age story with Debra Winger. Although this was a good coming-of-age story, word spread that it wasn’t very good. It attracted the wrong audience.

How We Chose Our app Title

I’m not good at choosing titles for my own stories. I try not to worry about them too much until I’ve finished writing – but filenames need something in order to be saved, and in the case of app development, the project needs a title before the first byte of code is entered, and according to the developer, changing it is a right pain in the butt.

We came up with The Artifacts as a the title for our storybook app after brainstorming as many possibilities as we could. It wasn’t a long list. The Artifacts is a title that did not come easily at all.

The Apple app store is set up in such a way that no two apps can have the same title, and with all the apps out there, it’s actually amazing that there are any original titles left. I wonder how much harder it will be to title apps in fifty or a hundred years’ time! We originally had ‘Strongbox’, but this had already been taken by someone who wrote a password management app. I have to admit, it does sound like a password manager, so I couldn’t bemoan the fact that we didn’t get in quickly enough!

I regret that The Artifacts can also be spelt ‘The Artefacts’. This is a minor nuisance, though I did consider this before we chose it, and concluded that most people would spell it with an ‘i’. I came to this conclusion after doing Google searches for both spellings, and ‘artifacts’ had far more returns than ‘artefacts’. I would recommend doing the same if you’re considering a title which contains a word with an alternate spelling.

Our app is slightly harder to find than it might be due to an entire series of very popular apps with ‘Mahjong Artifacts’ in the title.

So, as you can see, in these days of the Internet we require some extra jobs from our titles. Not only should they be appropriate to the story’s themes, audience, atmosphere and genre, but we should be wearing our SEO hats as well.

We have yet to see whether The Artifacts is a good name for a children’s book, and the truth is, we’ll never really know if we’d have been better off choosing a different one. There’s no control group for these things!

Although The Artifacts is the best we could come up with at the time, I do wonder what a publishing expert would have to say about it. Maybe the reason nobody had bagsied it first is because it’s just not a very attractive title! We might have called it ‘Asaf’s Artifacts’, which would place it more firmly as a children’s book, but I have a personal aversion towards alliterative titles. (I’m not the only one.) This may be completely unjustified. Perhaps when choosing titles we should cast aside personal preferences and peeves?

HOW DO YOU CHOOSE YOUR TITLES?

We’re all choosing titles all the time. Whether it’s a blog post or a short story, for an app or an essay, or a folder for your family photos, a label for a drop file, or for making a playlist on iTunes, choosing titles is, most of the time, a non-event.

When I’m writing a short story, I usually have an outstandingly crappy title until I’ve finished. Then I put the ‘writing part’ of my brain to rest and think really, really hard only about the title. I try to see the story from a global point of view – its themes and message. For me, titles usually don’t happen ‘organically’. I really need to focus my mind and I agree with Miss Snark when she says:

It seems to me that titling is a separate skill [from writing itself].

- Miss Snark

Of course, it’s easier to start with what not to do!

Writers: If you want to give your MC a certain name just so your title can be a pun using that name, don’t do it.

- @sarahlapolla

Relatedthe discomfiting trend of publishers relying on puns or clichés in book titles. And I’m sure there are plenty more oddly specific tips to be had if you’re an editor and you’ve seen them all.

Taking a random sample of books which I ‘saw’ people buy on Book Depository (no, that’s not so creepy – it’s a widget on their site), here are a few titles which must have jumped out at me at some stage. Others come from my own bookshelf and Best Of lists from last year.

TITLES WHICH INCLUDE WORDS YOU MIGHT FIND ON THE COVER OF A WOMEN’S MAGAZINE

This kind of title promises some sort of mystery to follow, a secret shared, or implies some sort of pact between author and reader.

  • Notes On A Scandal by Zoe Heller
  • The Outcast by Sadie Jones
  • The True Story of Butterfish by Nick Hornby
Although none of those books is the slightest bit reminiscent of a women’s mag, I would imagine the words ‘scandal’, ‘outcast’ and ‘true story’ have a similar psychological effect on a consumer: salaciousness and schadenfreude.

AMBIGUOUS

  • Stranger Magic by Marina Warner
By ‘ambiguous’ I mean: contains homophones. ‘Stranger’ has two meanings here, and I haven’t read that book, but ideally I suppose the book is about both senses of the word. This title jumped out at me because the title of one of my own short stories is ‘How To Leave A Stranger’. In that case, ‘leave’ has a double meaning: ‘How to get away from someone you don’t know very well’ and ‘How to meet with a stranger for a limited period of time and yet fail to get to know them at all’.
There are also titles with metaphorical double meanings, like most episodes of Mad Men, for instance, which are inclined to refer both to something literal in the episode and to something figurative in the characters’ arcs. I like titles that can achieve more than one task at once like that; the title then becomes a sort of easter egg, in that you don’t fully understand it until you’ve read the story or seen the episode, thus creating a ‘them’ and ‘us’ division between those who know the story and those who don’t. Those who don’t know are forever locked out… Okay, now I’m probably turning this whole title thing into a conspiracy theory.

TARGETED AT A SPECIFIC AUDIENCE

  • Adverbs (I’m sure I wouldn’t have picked up Daniel Handler’s short story collection if I weren’t interested in language. I’d say short story writers have more leeway for creativity and ambiguity and all sorts in titles, because it seems to be so that only the most avid of readers pick up short stories in the first place.)
  • Lipstick Jungle (How many blokes picked this one up?)

PROVOCATIVE

  • Stupid White Men by Michael Moore
As a white man himself, Michael Moore gets away with this title (insofar as he gets away with anything), but I can see how it would be easy to put your foot in it.

THE LANGUAGE OF ADVERTISING

  • 10 Short Stories You Must Read This Year
  • Get Ahead! Medicine 
  • Praise! Our Songs And Hymns
  • Think And Grow Rich
  • Change Your Thinking

Actually I’ve heard a number of people moan about the title of this series, which comes out annually in Australia as part of National Reading Month (or whatever it’s called). There’s this rebel in all of us which makes us avoid doing what we’re told to do, or what we know we’re meant to do, so when I’m told I ‘must’ read these stories, I feel like I’m back at school, preparing for an English exam.

Here’s another similar but worse example: Stop What You’re Doing And Read This! with a response from author Sally Zigmond (who sings its praises but bemoans its bossy title).

WACKY

Wacky titles make me want to pick up the book to see what on earth it’s about. Sometimes I’m thinking, ‘How could someone write a whole book about that?’

  • The Never-Ending Days Of Being Dead by Marcus Chown
  • Visible Panty Line by Gretel Killeen

Remember when Prince changed his name & no one knew what to call him because no one could say it out loud? Don’t do that to your book.

- @sarahlapolla

I suppose it might be a useful exercise — when completely stuck — to brainstorm a title which fits into each of these categories (which I have completely made up) and see if any seem appropriate.

21 Ridiculous Books That Will Have You Shaking Your Head from Buzzfeed

THE PREDICTABLE

Sometimes it’s best if titles aren’t fancy at all, especially when the author name alone can sell a book.

  • The Collected Stories (Grace Paley)
  • The Best of John Wyndham
  • New Australian Stories 2

THE MATTER-OF-FACT TITLE

I notice that a title consisting of two words tends to sound matter-of-fact, whereas a longer one can sound wacky/pretentious/intriguing (depending, of course on what those words are!)

  • Larry’s Party by Carol Shields
  • Mad Meg by Sally Morrison
  • The Beach by Alex Garland
  • The Birds by Daphne du Maurier
  • The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

MATTER-OF-FACT BUT SLIGHTLY RIDICULOUS

  • Hippopotamus by Stephen Fry

THE JUXTAPOSED TITLE, or doesn’t quite make sense GRAMMATICALLY

  • A Good Scent From A Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler
  • The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock
  • Ordinary Dogs by Eileen Battersby
  • People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry
  • The Wine of Solitude by Irène Némirovsky
  • The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
  • The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje
  • The Beautiful Indifference by Sarah Hall
  • The Quality of Mercy by Barry Unsworth
  • The Disenchantments
This sort of title seems particularly prevalent right now, or perhaps is more indicative of the sorts of books to end up on ‘Best Of’ lists. Some of these titles remind me of Stephen Pinker’s famous: ‘Colorless green ideas sleep furiously’.

FAUX-INSTRUCTIONAL

  • How To Be Good by Nick Hornby
  • How to Disappear by Duncan Fallowell

MIGHT BE NON-FICTION BUT ISN’T

These titles often require: ‘a novel’ somewhere on the cover

  • The Marriage Plot: a novel, by Jeffrey Eugenides
  • The Outlaw Album is a collection of stories by Daniel Woodrell
  • Salmon Fishing In The Yemen by Paul Today
  • A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman by Margaret Drabble
  • The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

OMINOUS

  • Call For The Dead by John Le Carre
  • The Church Of Dead Girls by Stephen Dobyn
  • After the Apocalypse by Maureen McHugh
  • A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

GRANDIOSE

  • How Fiction Works by James Wood
While Woods’ is a brilliant book, in my opinion, the title is grandiose because it’s hardly an encompassing look at How Fiction Works. That would require a tome indeed. Rather, it’s a list of interesting observations, tied together in no discernible comprehensive way.

WHAT ON EARTH IS THIS ABOUT?

  • State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
  • There But For The: a novel by Ali Smith
  • Little Altars Everywhere by Rebecca Wells
There but for the is a brilliant title for a brilliant novel. Ali Smith invents new forms of fiction in the interstices between parts of a sentence – commenting “but the thing I particularly like about the word but … is that it always takes you off to the side …” 
Which is proof that your title doesn’t actually have to make sense… as long as your book is brilliant, otherwise it probably just looks stupid.

MAIN CHARACTER(s) AS TITLE

  • Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
  • Girl With The Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
  • Fluff and Billy by Nicola Killen
  • The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht
  • Gold Boy, Emerald Girl by Yiyun Li

SETTING AS TITLE

  • Morgan’s Run by Colleen McCullough
  • Dublin by Edward Rutherford
  • Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner

ENTIRE SENTENCES

  • One Day I Will Write About This Place by Binyavanga Wainaina
  •  I Don’t Want to be a Pea! by Ann Bonwill
  • I’m A Big Brother

SINGLE WORDS

  • Next by James Hynes
  • Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Pure by Andrew Miller
  • Wish by Peter Goldsworthy
  • Prey by Michael Crichton
  • Smut by Alan Bennett
  • Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
One possible problem with single word titles is that there is no context whatsoever. I recently recommended Michael Crichton’s Prey to a friend who also enjoys thrillers. She responded with, “It’s um… it’s not a religious novel, is it?” So if you have a one word title, you may benefit from an explanatory subtitle.

Snowclones as Title

For a definition of a snowclone, see here.
  • Colour Me English by Caryl Phillips
  • Cookie Craft
  • We Need To Talk About Kelvin by Marcus Chown
  • Gay Men Don’t Get Fat by Simon Doonan
Of course, those last three snowclones both came from other hugely successful books of similar titles: Child Craft, We Need To Talk About Kevin and French Women Don’t Get Fat. So now we even have French Children Don’t Throw Food: Parenting Secrets From Paris, by Pamela Druckerman.

MODIFIED CLICHES

  • A Match Made In High School by Kristin Walker

MADE UP WORDS

  • Atrocitology by Matthew White
  • Affluenza by Oliver James
  • Retromania by Simon Reynolds
  • Mindfulness by Ellen J. Langer
  • Robopocalypse by
  • The Etymologicon by
Some titles are so successful that the neologisms become part of the common language. The good thing about these is that they’re easy for potential customers can find via a search. The bad thing about some of these is that they’re not that easy to spell.

Related Links:

1. Four Writers Tell About Their Titles

2. A list of books which changed titles between manuscript and publication

3. Criteria for a Killer Title

4. Book Titles In The Form Of Questions from The Guardian

5. Picking Your Perfect Title from Daily Writing Tips

6. Book Title Formulas from BookEnds, LLC

7. Finding (and losing) Book Titles from Beyond The Margins

8. Oddest Book Title Of The Year from Marginal Revolution, and here at Beatties Book Blog

9. Why I Came Up With My Title First, and The Story Later, from Beyond The Margins

10. 12 Book Titles That Came From Poems, From Huffington Post

11. The One With All The Episode-Title Formulas from Vulture

12. The 40 Worst Book Covers And Titles Of All Time, collected by Smashing Hub

13. How to find the right title: a brainstorming exercise, from Roz Morris

14. 17 Overly Optimistic Book Titles from Mental Floss

15. You can judge a book by its title, from Salon

Sort of Related Links:

1. How 50 Big Companies Got Their Titles

2. The 8 Principles Of Product Naming

3. 7 Words That Only Bad Movies Have In Their Titles.

4. The Best Recent TV Show Titles from Toronto Sun

5. How 13 Classic Video Games Got Their Names from Mental Floss

6. The Grammar Of Clickbait Titles from The American Reader

From Weepies To Chick-Flicks – notes on the documentary

A while back I watched a documentary by Clara and Julia Kuperberg about the history of movies made for a female audience. Nora Ephron, Jennifer Garner and other women in film offer some insight into the industry.

I took notes, probably meaning to write a blog post about it. Since I’ve been going through my random scraps of paper this week, intending to unclutter my cupboard, I came across them again, though I forget what I meant to write about. I’ll scribe the notes anyway.

1. Traditionally, an audience can both love and hate a man, but a female lead must be morally unambiguous. [This idea interests me, because I have been noticing of late that readers and reviewers are very harsh on plots in which the female lead is less than likeable. An antihero is safer if he’s male.]

2. Scarlett in Gone With The Wind was the first modern heroine. Before Scarlett, a woman without scruples had to be the villain. How do you get away with a main character who is unlovable? Surround her with characters who do love her. In Scarlett’s case, that is Mami, Brett and Melanie. Through these characters we can see what is lovable about Scarlett. [I have yet to watch or read this story.]

3. Evil women are always punished in movies. Scarlett is punished by not getting her man. (Subtext: Serves her right for being a bitch who knew what she wanted.)

4. To this day it is hard to write women who fall outside the traditionally portrayed fictional women who have dominated film over the last 30 years.

5. Movies have become blonder.

6. Chick-flicks are made for money, not for audiences. When it costs so much money to make even a small movie, everyone goes for the formula: start with a stereotype and turn that person into somewhat of a human being. (Screwball comedy?)

7. Can we blame Marx? [I have no recollection of why we might blame Marx. I actually went and looked up what Marxism really means. I’ve got through life so far without the foggiest.]

8. Movies are actually more bland than our real lives are. [This is a problem. Don’t we go to the movies for escapism?]

9. Chick-flicks are not really made for women. They are made for girls.

10. A movie made with equal parts for men and women is called a ‘two-hander’. If a film falls into this category, the man’s part has to come first otherwise it is thought that no guy will go to the movies. [Wikipedia tells me that a two-hander has those two characters and ONLY those two characters.]

10. There’s less taste for drama in movies now. There’s so much great drama on TV already and so expensive to promote a movie. If you want great drama, watch TV. [Again, I’m not sure ‘there is less taste’ for drama in movies; rather, producers are not willing to take a chance that audiences will buy tickets to see drama in movies now. Instead, action is a safer bet. Perhaps action is genre of movie which will always look better on the super large cinema screen, whereas I’m perfectly happy to watch my drama on our wide-screen TV in our living room. Maybe this is all my fault.]

11. Thre is a great amount of sentimentality and puritanism in the American public and you can’t go broke mining that. [I have never heard the phrase ‘broke mining’ in my life, though I can guess what it might mean in this context. It’s also possible I mis-scribed it. But I like it so I’m keeping it.]

12. If you’re making a romantic film today, you’ll have a much harder job than you would have 50 or 60 years ago. The main thing you need to make a romantic story are two lovers who, for some reason, can’t be together immediately. In the 40s and 50s, there were so many things that could keep two lovers apart: distance, class differences, social taboos, war etc. Today we’ve got email, Skype, planes, women are allowed to have sex – it’s more difficult to come up with a plot device which will keep two people apart for long enough. [No wonder so many of the storylines are ridiculous.]

***

When a beautiful actress is cast in a movie, executives rack their brains to find some kind of flaw in the character she plays that will still allow her to be palatable. She can’t be overweight or not perfect-looking, because who would pay to see that? A female who is not one hundred per cent perfect-looking in every way? You might as well film a dead squid decaying on a beach somewhere for two hours.

So they make her a Klutz.

- from Flick Chick by Mindy Kaling

***

The twentieth century has been an Age of Romance like no other. The idea of romantic love (with sex as an implicit partner) dominates popular music, advertising, and Western culture in general. Over the decades, the automobile, telephone, and a thousand other liberating factors have given young lovers greater and greater freedom from parental control. Meanwhile, parents, thanks to the rampant rise in adultery*, divorce and remarriage, have extended romance from a youthful fling to a lifelong pursuit. It’s always been the case that young people don’t listen to their parents, but today, if a movie Mom and Dad were to object [sic], and the teenage lovers were actually to obey them, the audience would blister the screen with jeers. So, as the-parents-of-the-girl convention faded along with arranged marriages, resourceful writers unearthed a new and amazing array of forces that oppose love.

- Story, Robert McKee

McKee uses the term ‘blocking characters’ to refer to a character somehow blocking the coupling of the romantic leads. He also notes that the 20th century may have been the end of romance. Some writers have retooled romance as the ‘longing story’, in which characters spend most of the movie longing for a lover — perhaps because they can’t find anyone.

*Has there really been a recent rise in adultery? I suspect that has happened all throughout human history. If anything has changed, it’s our more forgiving attitudes towards it. McKee admits himself that by the 1980s, cultural attitudes had changed: We felt that life was so short and precious that if two married people want to have an affair, we should let them. (Bridges Over Madison County.)

Sort of Related: Anatomy Of A Tearjerker, discussing a song by Adele, from the Wall Street Journal