Insert Title Here
The title of a movie or a book is usually the first thing an audience encounters, but for me at least, it’s one of the last things I come up with. I’ll have a placeholder that I can refer to it as for my own needs, but it won’t always work as the Official Title to give to audiences. Titles have to do a lot of legwork, so it’s not surprising that they’re hard to do. You want something that describes what the story’s about, but it has to be memorable. And short. The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford meets all of those requirements… except the last one.
I like unusual titles that don’t sound like they could refer to a bunch of other things. My least favorite, which I always strive to avoid, follows a pattern:
This is followed closely by my second least favorite kind of title:
The Adjective Noun.
Even some of the work I’ve posted on the Media page have what I’d consider to be working titles. Afghanestern is just a weird word to someone who’s never heard it before, but I can’t think of a better one that also describes what the story is.
I was amused to see that the title of the Tom Cruise vehicle Edge of Tomorrow might as well have been changed on the DVD cover. The original title could refer to any number of science fiction scenarios, but was downplayed for home media under the tagline Live. Die. Repeat., which fits the story about soldiers re-living an alien invasion over and over again much better.[ref]It’s apparently based on a Japanese novel called All You Need Is Kill, which I find cryptic and intriguing. Good title.[/ref]
While we’re on the subject of nonsensical titles, I’ll mention Blade Runner, which is a cool phrase, a great movie, but makes no sense given the story. There’s an off-hand reference that people who hunt down rebellious Replicants were called “Blade Runners,” but why?
Why, of course, is that the title was changed from the story that inspired the movie, which was called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? That wouldn’t do, supposedly because the voodoo of market research tells us movie titles can’t end in a question mark. This rule has saved us from such titles as Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back?
Beyond titles, I probably spend just as much, if not more, time mulling over character names, which are just titles for people. When looking for ideas, the website behindthename.com is really useful, even giving a blurb about where a name comes from.
I used to try really hard to give all of my characters Meaningful Names, but that runs the risk of using things like Richardine or Ethelbert. Nowadays, I care more about how a name sounds, especially for a movie. You won't see it written down, so unusual spellings are pointless. Plus, doesn't it seem natural that a Charles Foster Kane would be a megalomaniacal tycoon, or Selina Kyle would be a slinky cat burglar?
Say the names out loud. Feel how they move your mouth. How they taste. See what I mean?
Except we're biased because we know these characters, and their names already have meanings for us. In reality, names like Kane's would be aspirational at best. When a baby receives its name, no one knows what its personality or accomplishments will be. A person blessed with the name Charles Foster Kane is just as likely to be a wealthy businessman as a high school custodian.