Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The title's the thing

I have great difficulty coming up with titles for my blog posts sometimes. Because the particular brand of eccentricity I bring to the task of blogging leads me to reject out of hand the possibility of titling a post with a simple statement of its subject, I am forced to rack my brain searching for a suitably relevant quotation from something I've read or watched, or from some amusing conversation with a friend. Failing that, some minor word-play may serve the purpose.

And yet I obsess over it, to the point where I sometimes find it very difficult to begin a blog post without the title. I sit here trying to come up with some decent line from a Shakespeare play that has something to do with the importance of certain things so I can use it to title a post I intend to write which will be ostensibly about Shakespeare, but get seriously derailed onto a tangent partway through. The irony of complaining about this problem in a post the title of which is a minor reference to Hamlet is naturally not lost on me.
You'll note that I already know it will be derailed. While I don't come up with detailed plans for my blog posts, I do think about them in advance, running lines through my head, essentially narrating bits of them to myself, and much of what I have thought to myself will end up verbatim in the finished post. So if I already know so much of what I'm going to write, why am I delayed by so simple a thing as the lack of a title?

It is of course in no small part due to the notable occasion when I decided to come up with a title after writing the post and forgot about it until about 13 hours later. I don't want that to happen again. But I think there's more to it than that.
Comparing it to titling/naming other things, I consider books and stories. Now for either of those, I would be perfectly happy to write the whole thing and come up with a title afterwards. Of course in that case it would be a sufficiently big project that I wouldn't forget the title. Fiction takes more thought than blogging, or at least more thought than the way I blog, since I basically just write down my own thoughts, which I've already had so I knwo what they are in advance.
But also, the title need have little relevance to the content of the book or story. for example, John Green of the Vlogbrothers recently finished a book titled The Fault in Our Stars. Now certainly the title must have some relevance to the content - things will be related in the course of the book which seem to be, perhaps, cruel jokes on the part of fate, which I believe is what the quote from which that title is taken really refers to, not that I remember it exactly. The point is, the title of a story mostly needs to sound good. As an important but secondary concern, it should have some relevance to the story, but it need not actually describe the events. TFiOS certainly doesn't deal with stellar structure.

But my blog post titles, say I, are different. "How so?" you may sneeringly and sceptically ask, "After all, your particular practice of these obscure titles is largely a sort of intellectual elitist snobbery on your part, isn't it? In-jokes and things, rather than usefully conveying the actual subject of the post?"
To which I respond, my, how much like me you sound. But while you have a point, this whole blog is an expression of my thoughts. I try to make them interesting to a certain extent, but mostly I just try to make them me. And while I acknowledge it's perhaps not the most helpful attitude, since anyone who hasn't been reading my blog from the start might have some difficulty locating a post on a particular subject unless they think like me, which is a mildly frightening idea. Also, I find my own thought-processes more difficult to follow in reverse. Hell, even the original way round, retrospect doesn't exactly do wonders for the clarity of my thoughts. As a sidenote, this is why I have difficulty remembering passwords for things - I can't be sure exactly which bit of free associating I may have done to reach a probably unguessable password.
Wow, that was a big digression. While I acknowledge it's not the most helpful attitude, since blah blah blah, what it is is expressive of me. Also, while it might be confusing to someone who hasn't read the posts before, I hope they'll be fairly memorable to those who have read them before, at least in most cases. And also also, where possible I really do like the titles to tie into the content of the post, to a greater extent than the title of a story. I can't always manage it, but I like to.
Which is where the difference comes in. Because my titles must be vaguely interesting, quirkily me, and vaguely descriptive of the post content all at once. Furthermore, the title does actually potentially affect the way I write, due to relating the title and the thoughts behind it to what I'm actually saying. It can sometimes lend structure to otherwise largely disparate and incoherent thoughts, or simply change the way I express them. For example, not a post, but the title of the blog itself: A Dinosaur, Not a Spaceship. I had several ideas going into creating this blog for things I wanted to write about (Some of those original ideas I have still yet to get to), but by choosing that title, it changed the way I expressed them because I thought of links to that title, with the analogy of putting boxes on one's head and pretending to be different things (Note to self: Talk more about putting boxes on my head).
In the same way, for all that I have my thoughts pretty well lined up on this one, my post not really exactly about Shakespeare will in all probability be written in a more interesting fashion if I can come up with an interesting title. That said, at some point I have to admit the possibility I may be succumbing to brain crack, bite the bullet, and choose something only vaguely relevant, as I have done on other occasions when a snappy title has failed to leap out at me.

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