Last week I focused on the critical importance of capturing a great title for any script you write. Here I offer up a simple title search exercise that has proven very successful for myself and with my students and clients over the years in finding a title that really works.
First, reread the early draft you have completed or, if you haven’t yet gotten to draft, meditate on your preliminary jottings about the script you hope to write and the ideas you want to deal with and make a concerted effort to capture in your mind what you want to leave in the heart and mind of your audience once your story has been experienced.
What is the essence of that feeling? Try to feel it yourself. Ponder this for a few minutes, keeping your focus solely on what you want your audience to feel when the stage lights make their final fade to black or the movie reaches its final fade out.
Next, keeping this focus in mind, write down as quickly as you can a list of every word or phrase you can think of that even in a small way describes or connects to this feeling. Put down anything that comes to mind through free association, keeping each item as short as possible, a word or two or three should suffice for each.
As you do this, don’t allow yourself to think about an actual title. Just make a list of words or phrases that in some way captures the essence of your project emotionally, intellectually, or both. Don’t judge anything you put down. Some of your items may sound silly. Or out in left field. Put them down anyway if your brain has brought them to the surface. Just let these descriptions flow out of you. And don’t stop and dwell on any of them. Force yourself to create as long a list as you possible can–at least fifty or more items.
Next, when you’ve run completely dry, immediately put the list away for at least two days without looking back over it. It’s critical that at this point you don’t go back over what you’ve come up with right away. In fact, the exercise is largely worthless if you ignore this step and don’t distance yourself from it.
When you finally do come back to your list, read it over carefully, putting check marks next to the items that trigger even the slightest positive response. Don’t necessarily be looking for a title yet. Then look back over the checked words and phrases. See if any can be combined into something interesting. If so, put them together.
Usually, but this time a title has jumped out at you. All of sudden you see it sitting there in that list. You may have to create it by putting together words from two or more items on the list, but it’ll be there.
I realize this may sound too good to be true , but it almost always works. The three keys to success are first focusing clearly on what you want to leave your audience with at the end of your story; then giving your mind free rein when composing the initial list; and third, getting some distance from your list before dissecting it.
Try it and see.
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I’m the Program Director of the low-residency MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen being offered by the New Hampshire Institute of Art. Our last residency ran July 21-31, 2016 and we are now considering applications for starting the program with our January 2017 residency that runs January 6-15. I’m also a playwright and screenwriter, producing partner in my production company Either/Or Films (The Sensation of Sight and Only Daughter) a professional script consultant, and the author of The Playwright’s Process.