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The Power of a Legendary Title

 

July 30, 2018

Katherine B. Wiens

    How do writers grab attention?  How do we entice the reader into the narrative and keep them hanging on? There are many components to keeping a reader’s attention, but the first is an enticing, strong title.  Cindy Rogers in her book, Word Magic for Writers, says an enticing title is similar to a billboard luring customers into a store. What makes a title appealing?

      It can be a struggle to find a good title for a book, article or blog post.  When working on my book, finding the right title was a struggle.  The first title I choose, God’s Faithfulness in a Broken Childhood, would have been very appropriate for the subject of the book.  This also would have been a very safe title.  When writing a memoir about a difficult childhood a safe title was attractive to me.  Just writing this story I had risked so much; did I want to risk more with an edgy title?  But I wanted people to read the book.  Also, not have the book to be seen as fitting only in the Christian genre.  I wanted it to reach a larger audience. 

     There was a different title swirling in my brain, but I thought it was too crazy.  That title was Bars, Dumps and Other Childhood Hangouts.  This is the title I chose for the book and it was a good choice. 

     There are several reasons this crazy title works.  First, it gets the readers attention and invites them to dig deeper into what the book is about.  The reader will want to dig deeper because for many people there is a contradiction in the title.  Bars and dumps don’t seem like place children should hang out.  And for those who the title is not a stretch than they have found common ground and will want to read more about a story that they can relate to.  People want to read stories that mirror their own life experience because it tells them they are not alone. 

     When something is contradictory it is also out of balance.  Our brains like balance and will seek to figure things out and find meaning.  This is another reason this title pulls people into the story.  Something is out of balance when children are hanging out at bars and dumps.  The reader may want to read the story to figure out why this is happening and how to make sense out of it.

     Lastly, the title is easy to remember.  It’s simple and it’s in three parts.  Alliterations are typically three words in a row that often start with the same letter.  For example, “fine, feathered, friends” is an alliteration.  These often have a rhythmic poetic feel and are easy to remember.  Bars, Dumps, and Other Childhood Hangouts is not a typical alliteration, but it’s simple and is in a sequence, so it reads like a list, this makes it easy to remember. 

     In Word Magic for Writers, Rogers states successful titles work because they are easy to recall, they are provocative and provide a glimpse of the book’s contents.  She gives several examples of titles that work because of these reasons.  First, George Orwell’s 1984.  This is, of course, simple and easy to remember.  But this book was written in 1948 so the futurist nature of the title is what pulls the reader in.  Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is another good example.  This title may wet the reader's appetite for a story about sex and shame.  These are two powerful drives in the human experience and that pulls readers in.  Last the more contemporary book, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingslover is another contradictory title.  We usually don’t think of poison and the Bible in the same thought.  So why has the author put them together?  Reading the book will answer that question.

       Ernest Hemingway superbly said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”  Writing is not easy.  When we sit and bleed out the words on the page we want them to be read by others.  However, if writers don’t put some thought into a compelling, powerful title the reader may not be pulled into seeing the bloody page.  And what a shame that would be.

 

Writing the "haec" out of the page

by Laurie Oswald Robinson, June 27, 2018 

The day before my 97-year-old father,

Paul Erb Oswald, died, he played 18 holes

of golf. Who does that? No one, except my

dad, who loved golf more than he loved

anything – just shy of God and his five kids. of course.

This story of an old man who grew up a

Mennonite farm boy in Nebraska during the

Depression is a good example of Richard

Rohr’s description of haecceity, or “thisness.” It is the

unreplaceable, irrepeatable essence of each soul.

That soul will be the only one like it in the history

of world and beyond into eternity.

In short, haecceity is YOU – the unique identity inherent in each being. He writes, “Each one of us has been given our gift, and that’s our little ‘haec.’ That’s what makes me, me, and not somebody else. Haec cannot be cloned. It’s the part of me that is not to be replicated.

 

Not only do 90-year-olds give themselves a pass for who they truly are as their unvarnished self – everyone else does, too! I can’t wait to be able make to repeat bad jokes and everyone thinks you are so adorable. In my late 50s, if I miss a writing deadline because my unvarnished self is procrastinating, my editors aren’t amused. They certainly wouldn’t be thinking of my thisness. They would be thinking about theirs!  

So my point is not about golf, or deadlines. Rather, it is to encourage writers to honor the gift we have for putting down on paper what really cannot be put down on paper. To use the who, what, when, where, why and how in words what really can’t be expressed in any other way, quite the same way. Finding the right word to express what we see, smell, feel, hear about any given person, place or thing in our created world. The thisness, if you will, of an experience.

 

We tell stories over coffee or cocktails with friends. But oral storytelling is different than written storytelling. The writing we do on social media is not the same as staring down a blank piece of paper and laboring to make it live and breathe. On social media, we flip out Facebook blurbs and one-liner texts. But what spins into cyberspace is not the same as a slice of life sculpted out of a piece of paper, or a blank page in Word.

I spent many Sunday afternoons in Dad’s living room watching Tiger Woods work his magic. As exciting as it was to watch the thisness of Tiger on the screen, it was not the same as golfing with Dad at Fox Ridge Golf Course in Newton, Kansas, on a muggy July Wednesday evening. I can still feel the sweat rolling down my back. I can still see Dad checking out all the balls on the course to see if they were his. I can still hear him exclaim – “Wow, Laurie, that was good! Almost as good as mine!” I can still sense how Dad and I were always competing, though never talking about it. I certainly was a chip off the old block, and never more so than when on the golf course.

For me to know what the golf course could teach me about my one-of-a-kind relationship to Dad, I had to actually golf. And to really know it a year and a half after Dad has gone to the biggest, greenest golf course in the sky, I have to write about it. On a blank page that comes alive with the thisness Dad and daughter.

The Voyage Across the Atlantic

I like historical fiction.  My own ancestral history of journeys from Switzerland to Russia and finally to America fascinate me.  I wonder often how they had the courage to pull up stakes and move to foreign lands.  I know their faith upheld them.  But how did it all happen?

I just finished reading Anna’s Crossing (2015) by Suzanne Woods Fisher, a story of Amish and Mennonites who came to America from Germany in 1737.  Fisher is the author of the bestselling Lancaster County Secrets and Stoney Ridge Seasons series.  Since her grandfather was brought up in the Old Order German Baptist Brethren Church, she had some understanding of the ways of the Amish.

 

Fisher in her “Author’s Notes” gives background to her story.  She writes that authors often start out with an idea that grows through many stages to a book.  The result is not due to just one person.  Helpers give advice, point to useful research, proof, edit, design covers, market books.  Photos and images can make a dramatic difference in attracting the reader.  Appropriate publicity will draw attention to the book, much of it behind the scenes or at least not obvious to the one who chooses the book. The passion and writing desire of the author often can be perceived and appreciated in the finished product.  Of course all those who read are most important to the success of the book.

This author used much historical information to understand the times (1737) and the people who made this voyage across the Atlantic. Other books and newspaper articles about the Amish and about this particular ship gave concrete evidence.  Websites were a source of specific information. She visited museums. She found the ship’s passenger list and even a partial diary from a person who survived the trip.

Fisher drafted the story around the basic facts but then had to imagine how a story could unfold.  Many decisions had to be made about how much detail to include, how much of the unmerciful conditions and pain, and what would flow to make the story readable and inspirational, a primary goal.

For my own history writing, I have gathered facts and information about the moves of my ancestors.  Fisher shows me how to connect the data and then envision the missing pieces to write my story that would give sustenance and hope to my grandchildren about the people from which they are made.

                                                                                                                       --Kathy Goering  April 27, 2018

Birthing a Book

There's been a silence lately on my own personal blog site. I’ve been absent. Busy, but absent.

My fingers have been flying over the keys on my computer. Pages have been flying out of my printer at an alarmingly speedy rate, too. In fact, I think I'll buy stock in HP, as my purchase of ink cartridges is surely affecting the economy!

I have been focusing on an amazing project - a book proposal (what an intense writing project THAT is!) and then, the book, itself.

Soon I'll be attending a writers' conference, and in preparation for a critique or two with an agent or two, I've been working diligently on the proposal - getting it as close to perfection as is humanly possible (by this human, at least). I needed to submit it.

And, once that was 'ready' to submit, I was to have the first three chapters ready to submit. But, my book isn't a typical chapter book, so I didn't know how to comply, so I just dug in - literally - and finished the whole book. I thought I'd just have it ALL ready and let the whole thing be scrutinized.

I've been hard at it for the last month or so. And, three days ago, I hit the SEND button as I held my breath. Seriously. It was the most intense and intentional 'action of hitting send' I'd ever done. I jokingly compared it to giving birth...I was giving birth, electronically, to a manuscript....and a dream. Praying and trusting God to bless my effort.

So thankful for the opportunities ahead. So thankful for the blessings I'm seeing. So thankful I am now DOING what it is (writing) that I have known for a long time I was called to do!

Thankful I am retired and able to do so. Thankful to be the conduit through which God is able to reach people with His messages. Eager to be a part of His plan. 

--Elaine McAllister

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