Working Titles to a T – NVWP Summer Institute – Day 9 pt. 2

Next up is Michelle Evans!

Michelle Cover

Working Titles to a T: A Mini Lesson on Developing the Writer’s Craft

Michelle begins by joking about the pressure of creating a title for a lesson about titles. Funny!

She runs us through the agenda of her presentation. She’s written it out like an agenda on the wall of a classroom. This is a lesson after my own heart already. I do the same thing! Having a written record of the lesson helps me stay on point for whatever it is we’re doing.

Quickwrite1: Respond to the following quote: “I never really know the title of a book until it’s finished.” -Mary Wesley 

What’s it mean for readers: As a reader, I think this quote is an important reminder of the power of the title. That titles are often written with the same intentionality as a poem. That I should look to the title as both a source of information and a gentle prodding to open up the text and discover what’s going on.

What’s it mean for writers: As a writer, it means you often have no idea what you’re writing about it until it’s finished. The idea that writing is a vessel for thought, a ways of arriving at an endpoint. That titles carry great weight. 

What’s my process for titles: I hate coming up with titles! Well, hate is definitely too strong. Struggle would be better. I pretty much always wait until the end. I often try to go with the standard academic template of “Figurative Hook Phrase: Theoretical Terminology.” That way, I get to dabble in both realms. Hedging my bets against the use of fun, creative syntax by offering a more sterile description. 

We share out. Some of us belabor every single word of the title first. When we find it, it unlocks everything, words can come spooling out. Others don’t like certain titles. Academic titles, for instance, don’t get a lot of love from the group. Title as a guide, the core of the piece. Sometimes we change the title as we go along. Sometimes it’s a guide. As always, a proliferation of competing answers. We’re all pretty surprised at how much writing and thought was generated by a simple prompt about titles. Neat!

Michelle takes a second here to talk about how she uses a writer’s notebook. She tells us a story about how students would tell her that filling an entire notebook page was daunting. That they didn’t feel good unless they wrote on every line. So to combat this, she has all of the notebooks cut in half. Quality over quantity. She also mentions that when students use creative titles they write more enjoyable pieces.

This notebook has been cut in half! I probably should have used a better picture to capture the scale.

This notebook has been cut in half! I probably should have used a better picture to capture the scale.

Our first activity is called ‘Classic Pairs.’ We get notecards with either A) the title of a classic novel, or B) the working title for a classic novel. We get up, walk around, and try to match them up. Think about the similarities and differences between published title and draft title. Make connections. When we’re finished we introduce the title/the person.

Sample titles and working titles we had to match up.

Sample titles and working titles we had to match up.

THIS IS AMAZING. Michelle takes this opportunity to tell us how she also uses this as an informal check for understanding. She wants to hear us talking about alliteration, literary devices, thematic connections, word combinations, etc. She also says we could use this as title and theme, or character and title, etc. Many other combinations. I love it. You can hear the brain crunching, trying to make connections.

There are apparently four types of titles (this is entirely new to me)
1. Working title: draft of the title
2. Combination title: combining a suggestive with a descriptive
3. Descriptive title: describes the content
4. Suggestive title: hints at the topic, implies the title

Next she has us take well-known titles for nursery rhymes and fairy tales and “remix” them. She suggests drawing from the world of creating exciting leads and hooks. There are eight techniques for us to draw from:

Title Options

OK. Here goes!

Original title: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Remixed title(s): Disney, meet Marxism, I Don’t Think That Apple is GMO Free, The Suspect World of Repressed Polyandry

Others come up with: Long Hair, Don’t Care for Rapunzel. Ariel Shame (say it out loud) for The Little Mermaid. We talk about how the title can act as a frame for understanding the story. If we had time, Michelle would have use some of the same techniques for remixing the hook/lead. She also has her kids research fairy tales/nursery rhymes, then incorporate that into a form of rewriting. Changing perspective through title. Rewriting the nursery rhyme ten times, each with a creative title.

Michelle has students title EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING! This is habit I can’t wait to build in.

What a morning! We close the AM session, head to lunch, and return to get into our Writing Groups.


One comment

  1. Pingback: Writing Resources from the Northern Virginia Writing Project | Mr. Anderson Reads & Writes

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