• Richard Lutman

WHERE DO TITLES COME FROM?

A title should:

1. Hook the reader

2. Add depth, resonance or meaning to story

3. Prepare the reader

4. Indicate tone

THE BUTTERFLY LOVERS: is the Chinese version of Romeo and Juliet. It has been a film, opera, a novel and a stunning violin concerto. The story is a modern retelling of the legend. I knew the title before I started.

CREEK BAIT: title came from a bait shop in Jamestown, RI. The story is about the futility of life. The main character searches for the meaning to his life at a bait shop.

A PRETTY HAND: I remembered this line from a western movie. One of the main characters pulled out the pardon to show his saddle pals and said: “Don’t the governor write a purty hand.”

THE MEDALIST: after seeing the 1936 film “Petrified Forest” I’d always wanted to write a similar story. The main character is a crippled guitarist who had once been a prize winning guitarist. The medal became the main symbol of the piece.

THE GREAT CAUSE: originally called “Heroes” about the end of the world. The publisher suggested the new title. As I went back to look at the piece I realized there were no heroes.

THE MAGICIAN: a western is about a saloon girl who is given a ray of hope by a magician. I love westerns and wanted to write something different. I didn’t have a title in mind until I’d finished.

DE NADA: Robert Stone’s short story “Porque No Tiene, Porque Le Falta” influenced this story. After reading it I had my title. The main character is caught in the lure of wanting something defined. I was also influenced by images of a jungle and an overturned jeep in the jungle.

A VIEW OF TOLEDO: I remember seeing all the different pictures of the painting in an art history class.

CROSSING THE GREAT DIVIDE: in 1996 instead of flying back from Hong Kong to Rhode Island I decided I’d land at Los Angeles and take a train east. There was a couple that continually argued and a kid (not theirs) who kept running up and down the aisles. When it was announced that we were crossing the great divide I had my title—not only the physical Great Divide but the great divide between the couple.

THE CALF:: originally called “Rain Smoke.” The publisher didn’t understand the image, which I loved but as I dug into the story the central action centered around a dead calf not the rain smoke.

THE BLUE LADY: originally titled “Lopez and the Colonel” told too much of the story. After I had it critiqued at a writer’s conference the agent said the story didn’t seem to have a central image. After I read it a few times it became clear that the image and legend of the Blue Lady was the best title and centered the piece.

BIRTHDAY BOY: I had the title for this story already in my head. I liked the simple power of it.

THE STARS ARE OUT IN CABLAND: I drove a cab one winter in Newport, RI. The night I started one of the older drivers came up to me and said: “Welcome to cab land.” I knew instinctively I had a great title for a piece.

LAUGHTER FOR A PADRE: the title of this story was changed three times: The first draft was called “Espiritu,” which I thought was a great title because the setting of the story was a town called Espiritu. The second change of the title became “The Laughter of God” a title I really liked, however the publisher didn’t and the final title became “Laughter for a Padre.” The crux of the story was about the padre’s battle with his faith.

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