The Mad, Mad Adventure of Writing to a Title

Ideas for writing come from all over–overheard conversations, awful dinner parties, a moment in time that hits you just right and sparks something inside of you that can only be described as the literary gene. But sometimes, you have to make the ideas come. Like when you’re on a deadline, self-imposed or not.

For several of my short stories this year I’ve started with a title idea and/or cover image rather than actual plot or character ideas, and it’s been interesting to see where that leads my writing. Because of this, I’ve run into a rather interesting situation I thought I’d share with you creative types out there.

For August’s short story I started with a title which I drew from a quote from Virginia Woolf’s diary where she is describing a total solar eclipse that she and her friends saw. I loved the phrase “the astonishing moment” which she used to describe the moment the eclipse was total and the light in the world simply went out. So I pulled that phrase out and thought it would make a compelling title to write to. I popped it on a photo I took up at Lake Superior whilst hiking Pictured Rocks last summer and thought perhaps I’d do a story with hiking as a backdrop. Here’s the cover I came up with:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But then Saturday night when I started to think about getting started writing, I decided to reread the section of Woolf’s diary that had inspired the title and pull out a quote with which to begin my story. Here’s what caught my fancy:

“We kept saying this is the shadow; and we thought now it is over—this is the shadow; when suddenly the light went out . . . . How can I express the darkness?”

~Virginia Woolf

Clearly that quote and my original cover concept do not match.

Rather than lose the pathos of that quote by omitting it and just writing the story I had (very) vaguely formed in the back of my mind, I decided to try again at the cover art. I pulled a photo I just took up at Mackinac Island, manipulated it a bit, and came up with this:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Clearly this new image does fit the quotation. I’m pretty sure the story will not be about hiking. I’m pretty sure it will be “maritime” in flavor. And I’m pretty sure some bad things will happen to the characters.

And that’s all I’m sure of.

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