But when one is talking about a collection of short stories, then the title of each of the individual stories is released from such a burden. Then the author can think about the title's relationship to the story, whether it adds a layer of meaning, revealing something that isn't perhaps so accessible just from the text itself. Or perhaps it offers a counterpoint that takes the story in a wholly different direction from that seemingly in the text.
One of my favourite films Nick Roeg's "Bad Timing" is a twisting and turning non-linear narrative, which the viewer comes to realise all hinges around the title itself. I love that idea, that everything stems from and ultimately comes back to the starting point of the title.
I've published 4 collections of flash stories, some 128 tales. I went back over them and picked out my favourite ten titles and below explain what I like about them. The common theme is how they integrate with the thrust of the story, but that doesn't mean they all came first before I wrote the story itself. far from it. Some come part way through, many came only after the story was finished. it's quite rare that I have a title and that everything flows from that. But finding a title at the end of the process of writing often comes from a way of sewing it all up in a pleasing way, even if that way offers some echoes that reverberate after the story has ended. See what you think.
1) "Lunar Tic" (from the collection "52FF")
A man is in prison with the electric light on 24 hours a day so he can't distinguish night from day. My spin on werewolfism, as he is afflicted with a mental state where he longs to see the moon for the transformation it enables. The title puns his mental affliction with the catalyst that brings it on.
2) "Cry Baby Bunting" (From the collection "Long Stories Short"
A story about a child being snatched during a street party to celebrate a Royal Wedding. I originally wrote and published this on my blog in real time on the day when such a royal occasion was being celebrated up and down the country, though not in my area. Writing live, the title was "A Royal Weeding", but when I came to turn it into something more honed, the metaphor of bunting features heavily in the story as both celebration and mocking threat, that I knew it had to have a central prominence. Then a dim and distant recollection of the nursery rhyme came to me and it was perfect for the story.
3) "Ur, Um" (from the collection "28 Far Cries")
I think this is perhaps my favourite ever title as it tickles me with its sense of playfulness. It's a literary story about language with a title that seems to represent a total lack of literacy and articulateness. The ancient city of Ur is taken as the first ever human city and the prefix has come to stand for the primal or the first in many fields - in this case an Ur-language, that is the ancestor human tongue from which all languages subsequently developed, which in my tale a man wakes up one morning to find he can only speak in this tongue. Since it is related to all our current languages, people think they recognise it, yet can't understand him. hence the 'Um'. The story is subversively comic as he becomes a celebrity and a diplomatic incident all at once.
4) "Strains" (from the collection "16FF")
Like many words, 'strain' has several shades of meaning. Firstly there is that notion of straining to attain something at full stretch. Then there is the notion of straining a liquid through some sort of filter or membrane. There is also the notion of a family strain, as in being related to the same (genetic) strain. Finally there is the meaning of strain as distant music or sound in the air. This tale combines several of those different strains of meaning (did you see what I did there?) It is about trying to recapture the quality of sounds heard while still in the womb, but forever being denied the membrane of the mother's abdomen through which such sounds were filtered. It's a simple one word title that perhaps suggests more than it reveals until you have finished reading the story.
5) "The Caller To The Bingo Caller's House Calls House" (from the collection "52FF")
I like the repetitions of the words in this, but each time the same word has a different meaning. The whole story is contained within the title, as the tale is told in bingo calls by a man who comes to prey on the Bingo caller's house while he is away calling numbers. This title was definitely the last piece in this particular jigsaw and only arrived when the story had been finished.
6) "Just Aphasia Going Through" (from the collection "16FF")
A pun on the word 'aphasia' as sounding like 'a phase you're' "Going Through". For a story all about creeping dementia and the loss of recall of words. unfortunately of course, dying brain cells are anything but 'a phase'. This title came about halfway through writing the piece.
7) "28 Grams" (from the collection "52FF")
This was an easy title to come up with, for the piece was literally that, 28 lines, each containing a word with the suffix 'gram' in it. It also was intended to echo other titles such as the movie "21 Grammes".
8) "Tendering Her Resignation" (from the collection "Long Stories Short")
Tender is a wonderfully multi-layered word. Nurses tender. Money is tender. Jobs are put out for tender, while when we've had enough of a job, we tender our resignation. When we are resigned to our lot, that such a job is not for us. In this tale, a daughter gives up her own life to stay at home and tend to her housebound mother. but her frustration bleeds out around the edges, much as with her mother's ulcerated wound staining each fresh bandage. The daughter is both tender and resigned.
You can sample the full story here.
9) "Calliopes, Caltrops and Cantos" (from the collection "28 Far Cries")
This title took an age to come up with. It's a story about a poet-soldier and I knew I wanted to show that seeming contrast between the creative act of poetry with the destructiveness of war in the title and that I had it in my mind it should be alliterative. 'Cantos' represented the poetic, 'caltrops' (an anti-cavalry defence) symbolised the war and 'Calliope' interceded between the two, both standing for the epic muse of poetry and song, but also being a discordant steam organ emitting squalling sound as the antithesis of Calliope's divine singing.
10) "Per Capita" (from the collection "28 Far Cries")
'Per capita', that slightly technical economic term derived from the Latin. Meaning per head, which is exactly what i wanted to allude to in a tale about a beheading video. I wanted to explore how these videos are designed to play on the emotions, they are recruiting ads within their constituency after all. The victim is a pawn in a much larger game of symbols, so that even as they are decapitated, their fate is calculated to boost support to the cause of the executioners. After 3 per capita videos, the US and the UK have recently decided to declare war on ISIS. I've blogged on the legality & impact of these videos here.
11) "Compulsory Consumer Choices Even Unto Death" (as yet only published to blog)
I wanted a long-winded bureaucratic title to reflect the world gone mad in this dystopian tale and yet one that also meant exactly what it said. How even in death and the manner of our despatch into the afterlife, we are faced with choices.