Some of you may have noticed my penchant for exaggerated titles designed to trigger a “wtf?” moment from the reader and generate an impulse to read the column in question despite the reader’s better judgement.
For instance, in response to my column “The Critic as Death Demon” Gregg Chamberlain wrote (on Facebook):
Caught his attention I did. I assume he went on to read the column, in which case he would have discovered the title was inspired by the colourful header image (above) and the essay itself merely polite musings on the potential harm critics can offer their victims, or rather, the inborn fear they are capable of such, which is a rather silly phobia, considering it very rarely happens.
The trick, as you all know from worrying about book cover designs or fretting over the proper titles for your short stories, is to maximise that elusive first impression moment to your advantage. It is why titles are so vitally important, not to mention so damn annoying to them as seeking to compose one.
(Note: I am noted neither for my grammar or my syntax skills–rather proud of this actually).
One of the dirty little secrets of writing is to utilize a given work as its own advertisement through the use of a catchy title and a “wham! Bam!” opening paragraph. It’s no time to be modest, or restrained. In this case “more is more.”
Oh, to be sure, you can use understatement for a title, if it is absurd enough to contrast starkly with a back page blurb, or even with itself. I happen to like the “BBB” approach myself.
Where did I pick up on this? In my writing studies while earning a BFA (majoring in Creative writing) at the University of British Columbia?
Drawing the proper conclusions after decades of intelligent and comprehensive cogitation over the SF books I was reading?
I don’t think I’ve started doing that yet even at this late date in my life. I just read for fun and always have.
Truth is I experienced my “BBB” epiphany while, as a teenager and a young man, reading as many of the varied works of my favourite mundane artist, Salvador Dali, as I could get a hold of. He had a habit of NOT being boring. Fantastic talent that. (And yeah, he was pretty good at drawing stuff too.)
He tended to use chapter headings like:
“Why I am a Genius.”
“Why I am so Great.”
“How to be Erotic AND Chaste.”
“Why I am so Disgustingly Rich.”
“How to be a Super-Snob.”
Who can resist titles like those? Not me.
Of course, you can’t always use bathos. Not a good idea if you are striving for dignity of concept and solemnity of purpose in your writing. Just don’t make a habit of it. You see, that’s another dirty little secret of writing:
It is surprisingly easy to bore the crap out of your readers.
Don’t do it.