Titles, opening lines, and endings

titlesI have the tendency to obsess about stuff that doesn’t really matter, such as titles, opening lines, and endings. Or do they matter?

Let’s see.

There are a few books whose titles I consider to be brilliant (this might just be about personal preferences so…), such as:

  • The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
  • Darkness at Noon
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • Heart of Darkness
  • The Turn of the Screw
  • The History of Love

Now, it’s obvious that a title can pique a reader’s interest enough so they actually open the book and try to read it. A great cover, an intriguing blurb, and a title that says something. I like titles that say something, even though I often choose for my own stories and novels simple titles (which is contradictory.)

My opinion?

A title is just a title. It doesn’t change the way a reader will feel about your book after he reads it. Yes, an interesting title is as good a marketing ploy as any other, but it’s not crucial to the overall reading experience.

It’s funny that sometimes I come up with a title for a story almost instantly. I’d say it’s the first thing that comes to mind, in that strange flood of scenes and information that comes when I get a new idea. And other times, it just won’t come. I try out different titles, but nothing sounds right. I have a story, and characters, and stuff happening, but I just don’t have a name for it. That’s when I put my thinking cap on and try not to come up with an idiotic title. That’s also when I usually come up with a really simple title, like The Writer, or Jazz, or closer.

Now, about opening lines. I wrote a blog post about some of my favorite ending lines  while ago. And, yes, I’m obsessed about opening lines, ending lines, and all kinds of short phrases that sound smart.  It only takes a couple of words for a reader to stop and ponder. To jot down your sentence.

When it comes to opening lines, sometimes I go for some really smart openings, like I tried to do in virtually every single chapter of The Writer. Other times I just go for a different effect: I want to make the reader as if he’s just interrupted something. Just throw him into the middle of a scene, and see what happens after that.

I don’t know if my obsession with opening lines is healthy or not, if it’s that important or not, if all the brilliant opening lines are brilliant only because the books themselves are brilliant.

Somehow, a bad novel with a great opening is just a bad novel. But a great novel almost always deserves a great opening line. Something that would be used to characterize the entire book. Think Lolita, as an example of that. Or Notes from the Underground.

But what about endings?

Well, there are some endings that we’ll never be able to forget. The Great Gatsby has, in my humble opinion, one of the most memorable ending lines.

I’m not talking about how to end a novel, but about the ending lines, the last paragraph. Is it just as important as the opening line? Do you get to reveal something important just then? Or end it with a question?

There are quite a lot of possibilities.

Just like I said about opening lines, even a brilliant ending line won’t chance anything about an awful story.

I once read that you should build up words within sentences, and sentences within paragraphs, and paragraphs within chapters, and chapters within the novel, in such a way that the very best comes at the very end. The center of attention is always towards the end. Or something like that.

If that’s so, then the ending line should always deliver a powerful punch. It should feel like an epiphany, even though the writer doesn’t really reveal much.

Don’t know. You tell me, if any of these elements are important, and how do you feel about titles, opening lines, and ending lines.

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2 thoughts on “Titles, opening lines, and endings

  1. Openings and endings are very important to me! I always love a mysterious opening with a clever ending… one that leaves a wow! I didn’t expect things to tie in that way! Titles are important for the ability to grab attention of potential readers … but I love a clever title that like openings leads you to wonder, what’s the reason for this title? …

  2. Ps: the heart is a lonely Hunter is an AMAZING book and the movie they did from it “a love song for Bobby Long” was very good as well! A favorite!

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