Jan 242014
 
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By Elizabeth Coldwell

Many writers will say that the hardest part of writing an erotic story is the ending. Because the aim of the genre is to arouse the reader as well as entertain them, the climax you should be building to is …er, the climax. When the sex ends, so—in the majority of cases—does the story. However, as a writer you may have the urge to round off the action in some more organic way. One of the most common ways to do this, if the characters have just had their first sexual encounter with each other, is to suggest that their climax was only the beginning, and that there’ll be more sex to come, either that night or at some point in the future.

However, another type of rounding off beloved by writers in all genres of fiction is the twist ending. Think of horror stories where a character thought dead literally returns from the grave at the end of the tale, or the many detective novels penned by Agatha Christie and her ilk where the murderer is revealed to be the very last person you expected. Twist endings to short stories have always been popular, but they had a real resurgence in the 1980s and 1990s. First, many of Roald Dahl’s most macabre stories were televised in the series Tales of the Unexpected, then a number of new women’s weekly magazines appeared, particularly Best and Bella in the UK, all of which featured a one-page story with a sting in its tail. The twists in these magazine tales grew ever more bizarre, many of the stories having a narrator who appeared to be a human until the ending revealed they were actually a household pet or even some inanimate piece of furniture.

Naturally, this trend found its way into erotic fiction—in my time as editor of Erotic Stories, I published a short story in which the BDSM action appeared to be described by the slave of a dominant mistress, chained and compelled to watch as a punishment was dished out to someone else. Only at the very end did this slave turn out to be the domina’s pet dog. As a one-off, that idea worked very well, but if every story in that issue of the magazine had had a twist, its impact would certainly have been lessened.

Some twists can ensure the story remains in the memory long after it otherwise might, but they can also risk jolting the reader out of the erotic, sensual mood you’ve worked hard to create. The wrong kind of twist can even leave them feeling slightly cheated. Whole novels have been written building up to a “shock” twist ending where, for example, the narrator turns out to be a different gender than the one the reader had assumed—and while there’s a high level of skill required to pull this gimmick off, that’s ultimately what it can seem like to the reader: a gimmick.

So do you always need a clever or surprising ending to a story? That depends. Some plots almost demand it, particularly if you’re mixing erotica with horror or suspense, but if you’re writing in the true confessions/readers’ letters style, then by definition you’re looking to get from point A to point B in the most straightforward way you can. And if you want to keep your work fresh and original, here are some surprise endings you might want to use vary sparingly:

It was All a Dream
Yes, this old chestnut still pops up in submissions piles everywhere, often with the coda that some element of the dream has found its way into the real world, like a feather that was used on the heroine, and which is lying on her pillow when she wakes. Leave this one to your school essays.

It was All a Setup
You know the score here. A master gives his submissive a spanking for flagrant misbehavior, or a woman walks in to find her boyfriend in bed with their best friend and is shocked at first, then so aroused she has to stay and watch the couple in action. The twist, of course, is that in both cases the situation has been engineered so that the naughty sub and the curious voyeuse get exactly what they wanted all along.

The Stranger was Familiar
A man is on his way to a job interview, when he’s distracted by a sexy woman flashing her panties on public transport and they find time for a quickie. A married woman in a hotel bar takes a risk and chats up the sexy man on the next barstool, ending up in his room for a passionate romp. Guess what? When the protagonist in the first scenario finally makes it to the interview, the woman conducting it is the panty-flasher, and the supposed adulteress in the second is just acting out a fantasy and the man she’s coming on to is her husband.

He was…a Vampire!
This one really needs no more explanation, but if you’re submitting to one of the many anthologies of vampire short stories that are published every year, come up with a more substantial storyline for your readers to sink their teeth into…

 

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Sep 282013
 
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By Mykola Dementiuk

In many of my stories there is a character in some movie theater, watching a film and feverishly masturbating. At a certain point the character explodes in ejaculation and for all intents and purposes he actually is having sex, perhaps alone with himself—but sex out in the open and who the devil cares! Even (or especially) with the flickering lighted darkness surrounding him, he wants to be seen, as so many do. These men hover about in their anonymity, shielded with their overcoats, or simply ejaculate in their overheated pants and rush away afterwards. But I wanted to be seen. I’d just lower my pants and begin the heady manipulation that would take me away from reality. An entry into a Times Square/42nd Street movie theater was always just like that, someone jerking away as you were jerking away too. We were in the movie house for the same reason, wanting sex; if masturbating openly was the closest we got to it that night, that was fine.

Many of the tales in my books of short stories and novellas, particularly Times Square Queer, revolve around someone eventually masturbating, either in desperation to find someone to help the process along or satisfied to do it himself. And Times Square/42nd Street was ideal for that: the street was a total nirvana, sex permeated the sidewalks, you could sense the masturbating activity before you even entered the movie house—the rabidly horny sex, men with men, men with hookers or men simply masturbating. That’s why I loved the entire scene and for a few years I became a denizen of the movie house world and didn’t know of any other. Many of my stories, “The Wet Skirt”, “Eighteen Today”, “Trio at the Movies”, “The Masturbating Idiot” amongst many others, clutch the 42nd Street world the way you would hold on to your penis as you tried to ejaculate. The sensation was always that: Bliss! Peace! Perfection!

But it’s over now and a pity that 42nd Street and Times Square have been changed so much, their former atmosphere of hot steamy sex never to be reclaimed or recaptured again. It’s like watching some faded old Burlesk films, racy comedies of old Forty-Second Street lurching and speeding into prostitution, transvestitism, pornography, on and on, going headlong until it was slammed shut and disappeared from the scene, with only internet photographs to take its place. Now you can masturbate in the safety and privacy of your own little home through the comfort of computers. What rot! What a rip-off! But that’s what we have, just a Masturbating Idiot standing and doing it by himself in some imaginary movie house, stroking, stroking, stroking…

Gone are those days never to return. And I suppose that’s progress, but when in olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking…that’s when I feel my hardness growing stiffer and once again I’m back where I want to be, going Whump! Whump! Whump! huddled in some sleazy movie theatre with a slew of masturbating men surrounding me and each one fascinated and mesmerized by what they see on the screen, or what they imagine they see, as someone is looking and inching closer to a seat near them.

But when I write about that time, I recreate it in my head—and for the duration of the story I am back there. That is why, when I write, I often return to the lost era of Times Square’s queer culture of the 1970s–80s. In that sense, memories often inspire, infuse and set off my work. Does they ever do that for you? If not, next time you are stuck and don’t know how to get started, try recalling a magical, sexual moment in the past and see where the writing takes you.

 

Mick (Mykola) Dementiuk is a two-time winner of the Lambda Award, and his collection, Times Square Queer, was a finalist for the 2012 Bisexual Book Award. Visit him at http://mykoladementiuk.com/

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May 102012
 
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In regards to the last of erotica’s sins, a well-known publisher of sexually explicit materials put it elegantly and succinctly: “Just don’t fuck anyone to death.” As with the rest of the potentially problematic themes I’ve discussed here, the bottom line is context and execution: you can almost anything if you do it well—and if not well, then don’t bother doing it at all.

Violence can be a very seductive element to add to any genre, let alone erotica, mainly because it’s just about everywhere around us. Face it, we live in a severely screwed up culture: cut someone’s head off and you get an R rating, but give someone head and it’s an X. It’s kind of natural that many people want to use some degree of violence in their erotica, more than likely because they’ve seen more people killed than loved on-screen. But violence, especially over-the-top kind of stuff (i.e. run of the mill for Hollywood), usually doesn’t fly in erotic writing. Part of that is because erotica editors and publishers know that even putting a little violence in an erotic story or anthology concept can open them up to criticism from all kinds of camps: the left, the right, and even folks who’d normally be fence-sitters—and give a distributor a reason not to carry the book.
One of the biggest risks that can happen with including violence in an erotic story is when the violence affects the sex. That sounds weird; especially since I’ve often said that including other factors are essential to a well-written erotic story. The problem is that when violence enters a story and has a direct impact on the sex acts or sexuality of the character, or characters, the story can easily come off as either manipulative or pro-violence. Balancing the repercussions of a violent act on a character is tricky, especially as the primary focus of the story. However, when violence is not central to the sexuality of the characters but can affect them in other ways it becomes less easy to finger point—such as in noir, horror, etc—where the violence is background, mood, plot, or similar without a direct and obvious impact on how the character views sex. That’s not to say it isn’t something to shoot for, but it remains one of the harder tricks to pull off.

Then there’s the issue of severity and gratuitousness. As in depicting the actual sex in sex writing, a little goes a long way: relishing in every little detail of any act can easily push sex, violence, or anything else into the realm of comedy, or at least bad taste. A story that reads like nothing but an excuse to wallow in blood—or other body fluids—can many times be a big turn-off to an editor or publisher. In other words, you don’t want to beat a reader senseless.

But the biggest problem with violence is when it has a direct sexual contact. In other words, rape. Personally, this is a big button-pusher, mainly because I’ve only read one or two stories that handled it … I can’t really say well because there’s nothing good about that reprehensible act, but there have been a few stories I’ve read that treat it with respect, depth, and complexity. The keyword in that is few: for every well-executed story dealing with sexual assault there are dozens and dozens that make me furious, at the very least. I still remember the pro-rape story I had the misfortune to read several years ago. To this day, I keep it in the back of my mind as an example of how awful a story can be.

Sometimes violence can slip into a story as a component of S/M play. You know: a person assaulted by a masked intruder who is really (ta-da!) the person’s partner indulging in a bit of harsh role-play. Aside from being old hat and thoroughly predicable, stories like this can also fall into the “all pain is good pain for a masochist” cliché, unless, as with all things, it’s handled with care and/or flair.

Summing up, there is nothing you cannot write about: even this erotic “sin” or the others I’ve mentioned. However, some subjects are simply problematic in regards to sales potential: themes and activities that are loaded with emotional booby traps have to be carefully handled if the story is going to be seen as anything other than a provocative device. The affective use of these subjects has always been dependant on the writer’s ability to treat them with respect. If you have any doubts about what that might be, just imagine being on the receiving end: extrapolate your feelings as if one of your own personal traumas or sexual issues was used as a cheap story device or plot point in a story. Empathy is always a very important facility for a writer to develop—especially when dealing with sensitive or provocative issues.

In short, if you don’t like being beaten up, then don’t do it to someone else, or if you do, then try and understand how much it hurts and why. Taking a few body blows for your characters might make you a bit black and blue emotionally, but the added dimension and sensitivity it gives can change an erotic sin, something normally just exploitive, to … well, if not a virtue, then at least a story with a respectful sinner as its author.

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Aug 182011
 
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When people write of erotic fiction and bad taste, they usually aim their poison pens at purveyors of writing who prove themselves from page one-and-a-half to be foul-mouthed and boorish savages whose idea of a seductive setup is a pizza boy asking, “Did one of you cheerleaders order extra sausage?”

But that’s not the topic today. This article is the second in my six-part series (you do the math, Bruce Willis) on the senses in erotic writing. Last time around I talked about the delights of the schnozz. Today it’s the mouth that concerns me — I’m writing, literally, about taste.

For a genre where so many book blurbs offer “gustatory delights,” “mouth-watering offerings,” and crap that’s “lip-smacking good,” supposedly, one would think we eroticists would have far more common with food writers than, in fact, we do. The connection between food and sex is nowhere more evident than in the way that erotic books are marketed, far more than in their content. While erotic stories about food are a solid aesthetic sub-genre, it’s also true that even erotic stories apparently unconnected to food per se require some kind of vivid description of taste to truly bring the reader in to the moment — during oral sex, for instance, or even a kiss, or a romantic meal at a zillionaire’s mansion before the orgy starts, or in the moments of burn following a shared Scotch consumed before balling fervently in a dive bar bathroom.

Erotic stories rarely get the vivid descriptions of taste that would do them justice. That doesn’t make them bad stories at all — erotic tales have a lot of fish to fry, in sensual terms, and not knowing what the character’s fourth margarita tastes like probably isn’t going to inhibit the reader’s appreciation if the point is to get the characters into bed together. But at some point in most erotic stories more than a very few thousand words, someone is tasting something where most of us have only a vague idea about what it tastes like — a body part, body fluid, leather boot. It may not get described at all, which is fine for most stories, or writers may use some stock phrase that doesn’t really tell the reader anything. Taste is a tool in the writer’s tool kit that is not always critical — but provides endless creative possibilities once you really start thinking about it.

The description of sensory pleasures in general is one of the hallmarks of vivid writing — and in erotica, the sensual details can set you apart from garden-variety Alt Sex Stories fare (which I do not mean to badmouth, mind you) and writing that is truly evocative. Most evocative descriptions of sexual encounters contain some reference to taste, and for most of us, taste is a key ingredient in real-life sensuality. Food and sex are inextricably connected, and taste and sex still more so.

Yet if you google “taste in erotica,” you get some hits that are at best distantly connected to the topic at hand, like a Nyotamori restaurant in Denver called “A Taste of Erotica,” Nyotamori being the practice of eating sushi off a naked female (or, presumably, a naked male, though I’ve never heard of that). There are any number of books that promise (and, in some cases, deliver) the connection between the sensuality of taste, in the literal sense, and the sensuality of, you know, sensuality, in the euphemistic sense.

Many very good erotic stories engage the senses at the kind of level that’s expected from the very best food writing. Sex writers can learn a lot from reading very good food writers — and surely the reverse is also true. Many anthologies have sought to mine the connection between food and sex, and not just for their marketing copy.

In fact, I contributed to one of them recently, the anthology Torn, edited by Alison Tyler, in which I waxed philosophic for some lengthy pages about the musky taste of the Cherokee Purple strain of heirloom, from the point of view of a character who doesn’t like tomatoes.

Now, my reason for making the character not like tomatoes was twofold. First, it created tension between the two characters, since the other one really liked tomatoes, and in fact grew them in great quantities. Thus, the experience of taste became a dominant/submissive exchange between them. But my second reason was that, by not liking tomatoes, the viewpoint character was forced to experience them with a certain lack of expectations. Tasted in an erotic context, tomatoes proved way sexy, and the endless variations of different varieties at different points of ripeness proved fertile ground for what I found to be a deeply sensual experience (writing about it, that is). Since I don’t usually write about food much, this was particularly cool; like the main character, I was experiencing something for the first time. Or, if not for the first, at least without the jadedness that comes from having done things the same way a million times.

What’s more, I like tomatoes a lot. But I also turn out to be mildly allergic to certain heirloom varieties.

Therefore, tomatoes carry a certain charge of danger,  a certain taboo appeal…just like the other tastes one might encounter in erotica.

The best thing about writing erotica is that as one does it one also gets, ideally, to learn about writing everything else. Every sensual detail brought into a story helps the reader connect with the characters and the fictional world you’ve created.

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May 122011
 
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When I need to write erotica, it’s usually because I have promised someone a story or book. I often draw a blank, and have to “jump start” myself with a concept, theme, or image. Therefore, I do a lot of thinking about how strong stories start.

When I say strong stories, I don’t mean stories you will think are strong — you, the reader. I mean stories I will think are strong — I, the writer.  I need to generate a narrative critical mass to keep myself going through the first few thousand words of story — and by then, I’ll know one way or another if there’s a coherent narrative there, or something dull enough that I’ll abandon it.

I have literally dozens — possibly hundreds — of uncompleted novels on my hard drive; some of them are 200 words long. I’ve probably begun thousands, if not tens of thousands, of stories I’ve never finished. I’ve had lots of experience in what works for me, and what doesn’t. The problem is, what works is different every time, so I constantly have to fine-tune the process.

There’s nothing “wrong” with starting a story and not finishing it. But it becomes increasingly dangerous when you depend on writing to generate your income. False starts — on everything from short stories to novels to scenes-in-novels to conversations within scenes to individual character descriptions  — are built into the writing process. But they don’t just spend time; they spend ideas. If I blow an opener and waste a story idea, that idea might feel depleted when I go back to them. Since I write for a living, every false start is a potential financial liability.

So when it comes to writing erotica specifically, these are the kinds of “jumps” that I often find can work for me in opening a story that I’ll want to continue.

What Works?

The first thing that almost always works for me is a visual description of a woman taking action in a non-sexual context that’s eroticized. Generally, this means she’s arriving somewhere. I usually frame this within the context of her clothing. I do this because I’m clearly Ed Wood reincarnated, and women’s clothes obsess me. In all seriousness, I do this because clothing provides clues as to what is about to happen, and describing a woman’s clothes could obsess me from now until doomsday.

The sluttier she is dressed, the better. If someone nudged her into dressing that way, better still, because then I’ve got a guaranteed conflict to begin with. Boyfriend talked her into it by promising you something dirty? W00t. Desperately need $200 and agreed to be a lingerie model at the car show on the very last day before she enters the convent? Ba-da-bing.

This all assumes, of course, that the female in question actually wanted to dress that way to begin with, but someone kind of eased her into it with the promise of some reward. This is not some cryptic anti-feminist message, though it certainly may have its problematic aspects. It’s the way my brain generates drama. I’m not saying it’s good drama…but it is drama. Basically.

On the other hand, If she just dressed that way because, you know, she’s “adventurous,” that’s fine too. The point, for me, is in describing the drape of her skirt, and exactly how precariously short it is, and how little room there is between that phenomenally short black skirt and the top of her black patent leather go-go boots, because clearly, I missed my calling and should have been a creepy clerk at Hot Topic.

The second thing that usually works for me is a description of someone’s facial expression. This starter very often does not stay at the beginning of the story, because I often find that there are stronger ways to start stories, from a reader perspective. But from a writer perspective, describing facial expressions is very hard for me — and I find that I like it. It allows me to describe something expressive, without having to commit to a specific set of interactions.

Describing facial expressions out of context creates many questions. Every character has expressions that are peculiar to them; as a writer, by picking a “way” someone looks, and then describing it, I create a static physical image that I don’t know the context of. Then I have to invent that context, and voila! I’m off and running. This often works.

Sometimes posture is integrated into the description; someone may be leaning forward and frowning, or leaning back and smiling, or turning his head and looking enigmatic, or pouting and brushing her hair. But the face is where it happens for me, in the theater of my mind — especially the eyes.

What Doesn’t?

There are two things, on the other hand, almost never work for me when starting a story. There are probably far more, but these are the two I’ve really noticed.

Unfortunately, I’ve found these things out by doing them over and over again. I often do them anyway, because apparently they’re central to the way my mind works. Half the time when I abandon a start after half a page, I discover I reflexively started it with one of the two things that doesn’t work.

The first thing that usually  doesn’t work for me is a line of dialogue. For some reason, dialogue is excruciating to me. I hate it. I don’t like reading it, generally, and I really hate writing it. I think my dialogue sucks. I don’t particularly like talking to people in the real world, so why would I want my characters to talk to each other? Unfortunately, dialogue is an absolute deal-breaker in fiction. You’ve got to have it, or your story just won’t proceed.

Because it’s a method of jumping into a scene, I often fall prey to the temptation to start a scene with a line of dialogue. It’s almost always a disaster. If you’ve read an erotic story by me that starts this way, chances are that I added the dialogue later — or cut out an opening paragraph. Either that, or you’ve hacked my hard drive and you’re reading my unfinished crap.

The second thing that almost never works is a summary of events. That might get me further than a line of dialogue, but it usually won’t get me very far. “The night they first had sex was totally awesome” doesn’t ask any questions for me as a writer.

When I put stuff like that down on the page, I find myself shrugging. “So? Why say any more? You already said it.” Even if that summary is only backstory (“Though they started out with a strong mutual attraction, they had been having mediocre sex at best since he moved in to her place”), it lays out too many of the answers to questions I haven’t even asked yet. It’s not that it doesn’t give my mind room to work; it doesn’t make my mind work just to complete a scene that’s already in front of me.

That’s why I gravitate toward the concrete descriptions of physical realities that have social cues underlying them (clothes, expressions, posture).

Don’t think for a second I’m telling you that if you avoid these types of openers you will write more effective fiction. I think all these things work great as openers for stories. I’ll even go back and add either summaries or dialogue at the start of a story, once it’s written. I think both can be strong ways to start stories.

But in terms of getting the draft down on the (virtual) page, those kinds of openings don’t work for me as a writer — and the more I stick to the things that open my brain up to finishing a picture that’s already there, the more I let my subconscious do my work for me.

So…feel free to leave your views in the comments. What works for you, as a writer, to begin stories that you’ll want to keep going?Do you find yourself opening stories, predictably or reliably, with a certain kind of description, scene or interaction? And if so, how reliably does it work? Are there things that don’t work?

Share your ideas as you wish, and maybe we can each pick up some new ones.

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Nov 112010
 
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By Sascha Illyvich

In our last article covering plot for romance stories, we discussed a three act structure to achieve our story. That three act structure carries us regardless if we’re writing 30k or 100k. The main determining factor lies in where your plot is. If it’s erotic romance, we already know that the focus is on character growth through inciting incident all the way to climax and that sex plays a huge part in that.

In fact, sexual interaction drives the plot by developing character growth. M. Christian has done a nice job of giving us a reason to label ourselves or not give a shit but when it comes down to the truth as writers, we’re only concerned with two things: Telling a great story and finding an audience that loves our great story.

To extend plot from a 20k story (where we focus only on the major acts) we add intrusions into our plotting.

Take for instance a basic story outline from earlier:

Act One: Inciting Incident – What is the eternal incident that brings the characters together?
Act Two: Crisis/Ordeal – This is where we begin to throw internal issues of the characters into things.
Act Three: Confrontation – Our characters confront the issue and deal with it. If it’s an action story, a villain and H/H all share the same issue only the villain either dies a megalomaniac or fails to learn the lesson after it’s too late.

That will get us through about 10 to 20k worth of words. Now let’s go for a larger market (the novella market)

Not only do we have our major acts, but each act has a structure in it that dictates what else must go on. Again, using Morgan Hawke’s well researched plotting pad we have the following:

Act One
1-Inciting event – Denial
Act Two
2-Crisis – Anger
3-Reversal – Despair
4-Ordeal – Sacrifice
Act Three
5-Climax – Acceptance

In that basic three act structure we’ve added stages of grief for character development. This gives us range of emotion for character development AND gives us a better climax due to a better conflict. Now we’ve added angst in the mix and made things a little deeper.

When I write a story I set out to identify the market first and foremost. Am I targeting Harlequin, or Loose ID? The difference in storytelling lies in a very simple question: How deep can I go?

I ask this question because it makes a huge difference depending on the market. Markets like Harlequin (for the most part), Liquid Silver, some of the sweeter romantic e-book publishers and some of the print lines have a basic formula they follow. It’s the SAME as what I mentioned in the last post but the human emotion level cannot go so dark and deep.

Publishers like Loose ID, Kensington, Sizzler Editions, Berkeley and Samhain allow for more depth of character emotion because that is what SELLS. It sells because the average reader for those markets expects a fucked up character they can relate to. They want to think the world is ending if not only does their relationship screw up but they can’t get over their fears or realize their greatness.

The newer generation of romance authors struggles for depth. Look around you at all the vampire novels and were-shifter novels. Those characters have flaws that you can’t possible think match the human condition—except they do.

Vampires are outcasts as manifestations of human sexuality that we often repress.
Werewolves change once a month and embrace a more primal instinct. As humans we have to justify our love of violence simply by tuning it out and growing numb. I’m not sure that’s the best example but it makes sense to me.

So now the plotting question is, who is controlling who? The author, the readers, or the characters?

Next time we’ll cover another facet of writing

Sascha Illyvich

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Oct 152010
 
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How important are titles? I hear this question at almost every writing workshop or panel I attend.

The answer is that titles are very important for books. Would you have ever wanted to read “Two Mules in Harness”? Or see the movie. Luckily, Margret Mitchell changed the title of her book to “Gone with the Wind” – a much more romantic and intriguing title. What is gone with the wind?, potential readers are likely to ask themselves.

Then there was the book about women who were daughters of alcoholics who fell in love with men who turned out to be alcoholics. All these women were obsessed with their men and would do anything for them and take any form of abuse from them. Publisher Jeremy Tarcher read the ms, and felt that the idea of women who would do anything and take any form of abuse was much larger and would appeal to a much larger audience than a book just about women with alcoholic fathers who chose men like dad. He put the author through six drafts (paying her extra to do it) and retitled the book “Women who Love too Much.” And since there is hardly a woman [or man] who doesn’t feel she loved too much at least once in her life, the book became a must have as millions of women wanted to know why they acted like that and how they could stop.

In case you don’t get the urge to purchase “Trimalchio in West Egg,” you may be surprised to learn that you have probably read it, or seen the movie, and may even have a copy of “The Great Gatsby” on your bookshelves.

Some titles practically guarantee big sales. Consider these titles, for instance, “Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex but were Afraid to Ask” and “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Or these recent novels “Angels and Demons,” “Rich Man, Poor Man.”

Titles can make or break a book. Because the title is often the first thing someone learns about a book. If it is captivating or compelling or raises a powerful question in the reader’s mind or makes a promise, one is more likely to pause and consider the book and that is 2/3s of selling a book to a reader right there.

A good title with a bit of sizzle or sell to it even makes it easier to find a publisher for a book. They know that if the title catches their interest, it is likely to catch a reader’s interest as well.

Alright, you may be saying, it makes sense that dreaming up a good title is important if you are writing a book, but is a great title essential for a short story?

Well, no, in the sense of selling it. But, yes, in another sense. Let me explain.

If your story appears in an anthology or magazine, it is the title of that anthology or magazine that will impact and hopefully sell the general public.

So in that sense, the title of your story doesn’t need to be great to sell an editor, because the title of any one story will not have any impact on the public buying the publication it is in. The perceived quality of the story is what sells the editor. If a story for an anthology is good, you can call it something as pedestrian as “Lesbian Encounter” or “Gay Story” and an editor will take it. And if they are busy and fighting deadlines, they may never think to retitle it.

On the other hand, if you want your story or stories to be remembered, don’t just make them memorable, because people often remember really good stories they read, but if the title wasn’t memorable, can’t recall it. In the long run, giving your story a memorable title may even earn you additional sales, as anthologists may remember it when looking for stories to reprint.

Harlan Ellison could have called his story “The Rebel” and any scifi editor would have been happy to buy it. But readers remembered the story forever, and it was remembered well enough to be nominated for and win awards, when he titled it “Repent, Harlequin, Said the Tick-tock Man.” He scored another title bullseye when he came up with “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.”

Or Richard O’Connell could have titled his story “Choice,” but who can forget “The Lady or the Tiger?”

As for Fitzgerald, who having heard it once can forget the title, “A Diamond as Big as the Ritz.”

So if you want your work to live and be remembered a cool, stick in the mind title will take a good story a long way toward immortality.

No matter how you look at it, or what the media, a good title is a good idea, and a necessity over all. It might not be essential for selling the story the first time, but it might go a long way toward helping sell it again. And again. And again.

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