Just A Hint Of A Title

Titles are important -- be it a poem or a story or a novel -- but they are even more important in creating effective Hint Fiction. Last year I talked briefly about the importance of titles but Ben White just recently did a blog post where he says it even better:

The angle for a title (for fiction of any size) is usually a summary or some key/noteworthy words. Perhaps a rephrasing. Moby Dick is about, surprise surprise, Moby Dick (more or less). Most, perhaps even the “good” ones, don”t bring anything new to the table. Fine—but when you write a story that is only 140 characters or 25 words or less, that’s actually pretty inexcusable. You worked hard to cram as much story as you can into a sentence or two, and you’re telling me you couldn’t think of anything else to add? That title could’ve been a whole new element, supported a completely different layer of interpretation. It can do something.

With a novel, titles are often placeholders or descriptors (i.e. The Magician, or something else equally mundane and logical). With micro- and flash-fiction, the usual maxim is that every word counts. That’s actually a lie. There’s plenty of relative fluff even in really compelling stuff. Maybe it counts, but it’s not necessary. But if a title makes up 10-30% of the total word count, it’d better be necessary.

My rule of thumb for a nano title: if the story reads the same way with or without the title, then the title isn’t carrying its weight.

Ben and I actually talked about this last week, and he brought up a good point about the difference between nano fiction (or Twitter fiction) and hint fiction. For the stories Ben edits, writers are restricted to the 140 character limit. There is no room for a title. A story has to stand on its own with just the body of the story itself. Oftentimes, Ben told me, a story might be somewhat good but could be improved upon greatly by just the right title. By adding the right title a writer adds a new layer to the narrative (note, it is possible to make the story worse by adding the wrong title, which should be obvious but which I feel I should mention anyway). A reader will oftentimes glance at the title before reading the story, not really understanding the title's significance until they finish the story and look at the title again and then something clicks.

Ben gives an example of one of his own stories in his post (which you should read, of course), so I might as well give an example of one of my stories published recently. Except I'm going to show you the story first without its title.

She saw his picture in the paper and remembered waiting on him two days before: the lighter fluid, her quip about barbequing, his vacuous gaze.

If you're not familiar with this story, you're probably thinking Hmm, okaaaay ... Truthfully, the story doesn't work on its own. In fact, I'm positive Ben would reject it for Nanoism (for reason other than the fact it's actually 143 characters). There's an element that's missing. That element, of course, is a title. Now here's the story with the title included:

10 Items or Less

She saw his picture in the paper and remembered waiting on him two days before: the lighter fluid, her quip about barbequing, his vacuous gaze.

Now that that extra element has been add, the story becomes much more effective (at least I like to think so, though I am sort of biased). That's why a title is very important in Hint Fiction -- it gives the writer a chance to add another layer to the story, sort of cheating the 25 word limit.

Does your Hint Fiction story need to have a title? Not always -- the Hemingway piece certainly didn't -- but it definitely won't hurt.