They Shoot the White Girl First…

Posted by @ 1:18 pm on December 31st, 2009

The title of this post from the opening line of Toni Morrison’s, Paradise.

Opening lines are like titles. I am going to briefly discuss titles. This might help you, or will maybe interest any students you might attempt to shepherd/lose. I’ve found students often go no-title, and I am against no-title, unless you have been writing for 20 years and work in minimalist miniature black and white photos. Or do heroin.


See that young lady and her cleavage (probably done by this guy) on the cover of a magazine I consider vituperation to the brain, body, beauty, soul? It is going to help me.

Let’s talk The Grocery Store Rule, shall we? Say I have some chips, we’ll call them Nasty Nachos (so crisp they are crack, etc.) and I want them in your local grocery store. Where exactly do I want my chips placed? It matters, since the grocery store is going to charge me depending on location. Bottom of the shelf, middle aisle, with the dust balls and the Karo syrup (what the hell is Karo syrup?), not so much. The end aisle, where I have to pass and curl my cart around your product, costly. What’s the most expensive product placement? Where do all us hungry hamsters have to pause, stand, gaze, fidget, pay? The checkout line.

Enter Cosmopolitan magazine. They have our eyeballs for a few seconds. They don’t need us to buy the magazine, but to look at the cover, and certainly go right ahead and leaf through the pages, observe the ads—the actual purpose of the magazine is to carry ads, much like TV shows are filler between commercials.

Like most evil, ad people are very smart. So I think your title should borrow from advertising, from the cover of the glossy magazine. Can you make me look?

Sex: Cosmo goes a bit heavy on the sex, but then again the porn industry in this country makes more money than the automobile industry (and this a supposedly “discreet” aspect of our fascination with sex). I know this because I am reading Zak Smith’s, We Did Porn. I picked it up because I was hoping it would discuss the daily life/politics of the porn industry, and would contain a lot of fucking. Yep, it do. Sexual references I think work.  (Sex, Drugs, Disasters and the Extinction of Dinosaurs; Pornogami; The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories.)

Bizarre/Shock: “Get a Healthy and Sexy Vagina.” OK, I’ll do that. If you look to the left of the Cosmo in your checkout aisle, you might also find headlines about Michael Jackson’s face on the moon and an alien goat dating a teen star with a sagging ass. Odd. (The Restaurant at the End of the Universe; Dance Lessons for Zombies; 26 Monkeys, also the Abyss; Foop!)

Curse Words: People like curse words in titles, not sure why. (Laura Bush: Bitch or Victim? Fuck this Book; On Bullshit.)

Vague: Not often will I suggest a writer go vague, but here we go. This advice could make you lose 14 pounds! What advice? Note how much of Cosmo’s advice is blurry, obtuse, found inside the pages, maybe. (Neverwhere; He Knew he was Right; A Simple Plan.)

Put Two Cool Words Together: This is big with indie writers, mainly because they are into music, and musicians love the one word title, or the two-cool-words-put-together. You will note these read like the names of garage bands. (Super Fetus; Shelf Monkey; Snot Blaze.)

The Noun Pulled From Your Book’s Pages: See influence of bands above. (Snuff; Holes; Popcorn.)

Fear: One of the most cynical forms of interest. While you work on your sexy “Hoo-Ha,” Cosmo is going to help you outsmart an attacker. This technique used when your news station flashes a runover tricycle, seg to child’s shoe, and a voice over: DO YOU HAVE A DRIVEWAY?!–SEE THE DETAILS AT NINE. Read this or… (How to Avoid Huge Ships. How to Survive in the Woods. Are you Loathsome Tonight?)

I am actually not against no title. I am against “Untitled” as your title. My favorite title is from Ken Sparling. (A close second is How to Read a Book.) There is no title in Sparling’s work, period. Not on the book, not on the title page, nowhere. None.

There are a lot of great words inside.

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