Saturday, September 26, 2015

Titles, Themes, and a Travesty

Scott D Parker

I don't have a long post today, so make a three short ones.


I'm one of those writers who can write a 92,000 word novel and not have a clue about what to call it. In fact, I am trying to title two books now. I'm not having much success. I want to come up with a title that is sexy, gripping, attention-getting like every other title in the world, but nothing is hitting me. Of all the manuscripts I have written to date, THE PHANTOM AUTOMOBILES is the only book where I had a title in the middle of the writing process. The Benjamin Wade books were all just numbers: Wade 01, Wade 02, and Wade 03.

So how do y'all choose a title?


I had a funny thing happened to me this week. My son selected my first book, WADING INTO WAR, as a class reading assignment. Every week each student is expected to write a short essay in class about a particular topic. This week's topic was "theme." For whatever reason, he couldn't immediately see the theme of that book. That's when he realized that the author was living in his house. So he asked me. I didn't come right out and say it. I asked him various questions that led us to the theme of the book as I see it.

What made me smile is the fact that I was the writer of the book, and when I was writing the book, I had no conscious theme in mind. I'm remember my own school days when English teachers would ask why the author wrote a particular book or story my answer always jokingly came down to "to pay the rent." Now here I was being asked the very same question. My truthful answer was this: I wanted to make sure that I could actually complete a long story having not completed a long story for seven years at that point.

I realized that, at this stage of my writing career, I am not actively driving home a particular theme when I'm writing a manuscript. Subconsciously a theme emerges and comes out through my writing, and it's very fun to discover once the manuscript is finished.

Do y'all actively have a theme in mind when you set out to write a story?


I'm not one to dog other's creative efforts too often, but I have to throw my hat into the ring when it comes to "The Muppets." The new show debuted on Tuesday, and a friend of mine asked me, via Facebook, what my thoughts were about the new show. She asked me on Wednesday. I told her I hadn't had a chance to watch it yet, but I saw the show last night. And to be honest, I barely got through it.

Like many my age, I absolutely loved the old Muppet show from the late 70s. It was wonderfully subversive in its own unique way, and it was just downright funny. Most, but not all, of the movies that have come out in the years since have been good. "The Muppet Movie" from 1979 is absolutely splendid. The new Muppet movie from 2011 was equally as good. The YouTube shorts the Muppets put out the past few years also great. I laughed out loud at almost all of them.

But there's something wrong with the Muppet show where the first true sound that resembled laughter only occurred when a human guest star, Tom Bergeron, showed up on screen. Where to begin? We'll start with Kermit. I stayed away from reviews before Tuesday because I didn't want any review, good or bad, to sway what I thought about the program. But after scraping through the first episode, I took to the Internet to see what other people said about the show. I forgot where it was, but someone said that Kermit the frog was the eternal optimist. That's right. Kermit was the center, the foundation, of the Muppet show characters. All the other characters were always neurotic. Kermit was too. But it was so nice to have Kermit be normal, like us. The Kermit in the new TV show just isn't Kermit. Well it's not the Kermit that I knew. He's kind of there, but mostly not. He's a little like Eeyore if I have to be honest about it. It's like the modern world of 2015 finally wore down the little green frog who always looked for rainbows. That's just sad.

The other characters were always neurotic, it's just that their neuroses now are so magnified. Miss Piggy is just a media hound. She always was that, I know, but without a filter, she's just crass. Fozzie is in a relationship with the human. Think about that. Not much more needs to be set on that subject. I could've lived with all this "updating" of the Muppets if the show had just been funny. It wasn't.

It got me to thinking: are the Muppets merely holding up a mirror and reflecting what our current society actually is rather than the way we wish it was?


Kristi said...

I love reading about the writing process of other authors.
For me, I don't think I could sit down and write a book if it didn't have a title. Silly, I know.
It has taken me a few books to realize that it is helpful to think about theme before and as I'm writing - it's just easier to keep that in mind for me.

Holly West said...

My titles come to me out of the blue. I don't try very hard to think of one and will usually start a book without a title, knowing that one will eventually come. And given my experience with my first published book, Mistress of Fortune, where the title I loved (Diary of Bedlam) was changed, I can't get too attached to titles anyway--of course that will change if I self-publish.

As for theme, I do write one before I start writing. For me that's part of the outlining process. I also try to come up w/ a premise but sometimes that comes a bit later.

Since I use a screenwriting structure for my mysteries, there is a step called "Theme Stated" within about the first five thousand words of a book. So I usually have to come up with my theme early in the writing.

Al Tucher said...

I often find that if I can't come up with a title, there's something wrong with the story, and I massage it until I know what it's really about. Then I usually know what to call it.