Every writer I know needs to have a working title of his or her current project. It’s a label, a simple and often generic description of the story that’s taking shape. That’s all it needs to be. And sometimes you get lucky and find increasingly that as your script takes shape your working title resonates ever louder. If that’s the case, consider it a little gift from the muse.
In the vast majority of cases, however, there comes a time in the writing process when that working title needs to be looked at anew and an all out effort must be made to discover the title that truly resonates and that will seduce readers into opening that cover page to discover what’s inside.
A good title is provocative and alluring (for you and everyone else), something that will stop people in their tracks and make them want to devour the script then and there. It needs to capture perfectly the central idea you’re dealing with and it should reverberate strongly in the reader’s mind after the script has been experienced. In other words, what you want to capture is a title that pulls the reader in and defines perfectly what the reader is left feeling and thinking after the read.
Of course, a good title does not a good script make, but a weak title can seriously threaten the future life of a good script. It’s a label for what’s waiting to be read between those covers and eventually for what’s running in theatres or seen on the screens of the world, and your title needs to reflect the life and passion found in it. It’s imperative that you settle for nothing less because it represents your initial gateway into that rarefied world where scripts find legs and start attracting serious attention.
Look at a handful of some of the all time great titles:
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ?
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
A Streetcar Named Desire
Death of a Salesman
Angels in America
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
Crimes and Misdemeanors
To Kill a Mockingbird
It Happened One Night
Five Easy Pieces
The Rules of the Game
Obviously, I could go on and on. But my point is clear. Every great title pulls you in, makes you want to discover and embrace the story it represents.
My next blog will walk you through a simple and field tested title search exercise that I’ve found is quite successful in uncovering your own perfect title.
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.