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Crime, Mystery & Suspense Short Stories This Whole Writing Thing Uncategorized

Title Fight

You can do a lot with fiction. You can remove all narrative or all punctuation. You can go stream of consciousness and remove spelling norms and paragraph breaks. Cormac McCarthy removes the dialogue quotes. Do it right, and you can remove most everything in fiction and still have terrific writing. Except for one unavoidable thing: a title. Every piece has a title, to include those forever “Untitled.” It’s called something or else it ultimately can’t be something.

I’m doing a workshop soon for Sisters in Crime on short story writing, and I’ve been playing with the importance of titles. I know, because I’ve horked up some bad ones.

Smarter authors than me have held forth on title strategies, so I’ll just recap what I’ve learned by experience. A story’s best title is like the primed wick to its fireworks. It’s just sitting there, waiting on a spark — a reader or editor’s eye. Said best title catches said eye and promises to light the works. A promise it delivers when the thematic meaning and story unity plays out on the page.

For grins, here are three past stories of mine with their initial title idea, excluding working titles.

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Crime, Mystery & Suspense France Short Stories This Whole Writing Thing

It’s a Spider’s World: “Queen and Country”

Lesson one on writing a spider story: Never write a spider story.

Don’t do it. It’s been done. Since mythological times. Spider women. Tangled webs we weave. Innate fears and phobias. The built-in burdens alone will wrap poor writer you in literary silk. See what happens with spider stories? The metaphors have started already.

Lesson two: If you’re going to write a spider story anyway, have a plan.

A better one than I did, when in 2013 I started on something called “Orb Weaving in Wonderland.” There was this professor guy Nick, and he was using a field trip in the French Camargue to romance the fetching young Rachel. The story, soon retitled “Nephila Rachelis,” had it all, if all means an uncentered blech of sci-fi, Western, morality play, and mixed message. 

Lesson three: If you’ve started a spider story, know when to de-tangle and walk away.

The thing was, now “Nephila Cassandris” (Rachel/arachnid, too on-the-nose, that metaphor problem again) had

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This Whole Writing Thing

Music Speaks, No Mistake

Image result for Music Free Clip ArtIn Twelfth Night Shakespeare dubbed music the food of love. Beethoven considered it a higher revelation than wisdom or philosophy. Nietzsche said without music, life would be a mistake. To him, and he wasn’t the sunniest of guys, music exalted the soul. Little wonder few topics get writers going–or even squabbling–like how music fits into wordsmithing time.

What style or go-to artist do you put on? Crank it up or keep it down? Radio serendipity or playlist certainty? Or do you embrace the zen of silence? Hardly idle questions. Among author folk, music can be as essential as pen and paper.

A confession:

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Crime, Mystery & Suspense Short Stories This Whole Writing Thing

I Have No Idea if There Were Communist Go-Go Parties (or, Balancing Research with Creative License)

I have written Communist go-go dancers. Not in a comedy, either. Technically, they were recruits among honors-level university students, but they broke into go-go dancing as the Party’s party night deepened and the drinks mounted. The setting was early ’70s Budapest, and the Happiest Barracks in the Iron Curtain reveled in its post-crackdown decay.

Our POV Helena takes it from here:

For the next hour I danced with every man who asked and every man who cut in, a parade of faceless political officers with tobacco and vodka on their breaths. Some were bolder than others, but none too bold. When the folk music stopped and the newer records began, we changed to whatever fast dance went with the song. I twisted, I ponied, I did the loco-motion, I thrilled at the heat of it all, and when the men tired the other girls and I go-go danced for them.

It was after the go-go dancing that Typhon approached. He brought with him two coupes of sparkling wine.

“You must be thirsty,” he said over The Byrds. He reached out the wine as if completely certain of my accepting, kissed my offered hand, and said, “The Socialist Workers’ Party appreciates your contributions to dance.”

–“Sparks to the Bear’s Hide” (MWA’s Ice Cold, Grand Central, 2014)

Now, I have no idea if such recruiting events ever devolved into Marxist Laugh-In cutaways. Mine did. For good reason: