Updated: Aug 6, 2019
Artificial intelligence (AI for the uninitiated), we’re told, will take our jobs, run our homes and our lives and make almost virtual slaves of we poor, dumb humans. The mind in the machine has the ability to outsmart us at chess, process thousands of calculations a second and never ask for a day off or for health insurance, vacation time or maternity leave.
The future is here with a resounding bang and a shock to our feeble minds and we are totally, unquestionably to blame for all of it. The Frankenstein we’ve made with coding lives within an electrical charge that can anticipate our every move and, like Hal, tell us to “take a stress pill” and calm down. For sure, it has turned the tables on us, and we are the ones moaning, “My mind is going.”
I was about ready to cave in to the belief that the future was here and thank God I wouldn’t be around to see how destructive it would be to humans. But, then, as it sometimes happens, one of those quirky turns of fate hit me. Smack! Flash! Oh, wait, this isn’t a comic book, but it sure felt like something from Flash Gordon or one of the other super heroes.
Hand to head, I stared at the 700 lines of type before me and wondered why I hadn’t seen it before. What was the problem? I believed in AI and that it could do no wrong. Of course, it was right, and I never questioned.
POV In Writing
Allow me to provide a bit of background here. It does relate to this nifty discovery.
I’m writing books, short stories, blogs, etc. and that has become the one thing on which I want to concentrate. But writing is more than writing, especially when it comes to books. Writing a book requires not only research and concentration but tackling that damn bête noire of all writers, the passive voice. Or, sometimes, which point of view (POV) you are going to use.
Can you use only one POV or might you dare use more than one? How about the time frame? Can you do that “Last Year at Marienbad” thing and go back and forth as they also did in the opening scene from “Sunset Boulevard?” Can I tell the story from the perspective of a watchful squirrel perched on a branch outside the window, a spot that provides a wonderful view of the people and the predicaments within? I can do all of that and more but there is still one thing where I may need some help; the title.
Titles Rule the Kingdom in Book Writing
I don’t care what anyone tells you, they write to sell books, not because they “must” or they do it because “it’s my life.” Rubbish. Book designers will tell you it’s not only the title, but the type, the color, the placement, the use of graphics, blah, blah, blah. No, sorry, folks, I’m not so sure that this is anywhere near as scientific as they would have you think. But the title, above all else, does seem to provide that tiny extra something that hooks the reader by the nose and pulls them into turning the pages. Titles rule.
How do you produce a title that is sure-fire? Writers aren’t masters of title production. Writers fill pages with sweet phrases, thought-provoking words that carry the readers to places they wished they could have gone. Or they stretch the mind and reinforce that numbing idea that this writer must be smarter than me, so maybe I should try and try and try to read this book. Susan Sontag, thanks, I know you were brilliant, but I haven’t gotten around to wrapping my mind fully around your brilliance. I love photography, so that’s one place I’m spinning my wheels when it comes to your writing.
Unquestionably, titles can be awfully tacky, but they still sell books. Same with films. How many famous films started out with different titles? Until that bridge was crossed, and the writer banished from the set or the producer’s office, it would have sat in a file cabinet or been thrown on the floor, unproduced and a waste of effort.
Change the title and it’s on its way to filling the seats at the local triplex or whatever and then gobbling up the local currency in the foreign markets. TITLE IS KING. Give me some room here. I didn’t mean to be sexist, but if I said “Title is queen” it would have had an entirely different roll on the tongue, wouldn’t it?
What are some of the better-known films that had title changes? How about “Pretty Woman” that was supposed to be “$3000?” Would that have sold tickets? No, it wouldn’t. Or the James Bond winner “Tomorrow Never Dies” was originally “Tomorrow Never Lies.” Tom Cruise’s “Edge of Tomorrow” was to have been “All You Need Is Kill.” Then there’s “Snakes on a Plane” which first appeared as “Pacific Air Flight 121.” People want action, drama, entertainment, not a flight schedule. The highly successful series that started with “Back to the Future” first saw the light of day in a script titled “Spacemen from Pluto.” Would that one have sold?
Yes, titles are very important and marketing people know that; writer’s try but they’re not good at it. Writers too often fall in love with a title for many peculiar or not-so-peculiar reasons and they want to hang on. But if you want to make lots of money, you follow the lead of Barbara Cartland who wrote 723 novels, translated into 38 languages and won the Guinness’s’ World Records title of publishing the most novels in a single year. Her production was two romantic novels a month, each 50K words. She died in 2000 at age 98 and, yes, she lived in splendor. The total number of her books sold? One billion copies. I guess she got the titles right.
The dear lady didn’t use AI. I suppose she had that gut instinct approach and knew, really knew, what her readers wanted in her virginal heroines. I also know she didn’t bother with a typewriter or American Indian pencils (a la Truman Capote) because she dictated her books to her assistants who wrote and taped as she lounged on one of her many couches.
Did she start with the title or come up with it later? I don’t think we’ll ever know unless someone out there, one of those “wonderful people out there in the dark,” wants to research it to death. An afternoon’s work for Cartland was often 7K words. Not bad. How many drafts, if any? No one knows.
The AI Approach to Title Production
Today, we try to be more technical about title selection. I fell into this rabbit hole when someone offered a free book title generator program that could turn out hundreds or thousands of book titles. Yes, there are many of these title generator programs and they fall into many categories; crime, romance, non-fiction, etc. All you have to do is give it a few key words and you’re off to the races.
When I tried with my key words, it gave me 700 titles, some so ludicrously ridiculous that I couldn’t imagine anyone would think it was worth the paper it was printed on. Not to use my sample, I decided to try a fresh approach, and I chose The Bible. For my keywords, I used: religion, Ten Commandments, Bible, sermons. What did it provide?
A quick list appeared, and I was instructed to pick two and then proceed from there.
Here’s what I got:
The Lazy Man’s Guide to religion, Ten Commandments, Bible, sermons
Religion, Ten Commandments, Bible, Sermons: Do you really need it? This will help you decide
Don’t be fooled by religion, Ten Commandments, Bible, Sermons
Have you heard? Religion, Ten Commandments, Bible, sermons, is your best bet to grow
Now you can have your religion, Ten Commandments, Bible, sermons, done safely
How to save money with religion, Ten Commandments, Bible, sermons?
Of course, I could have chosen better/different keywords, but some of the 700 titles would still have been downright silly and useless. Could it have provided me with something else? As I maintain in my striving to be positive, there’s always a crumb if you look for it. A professor I once had in an oceanography course told us to “look for your snail” and once you find it, become an expert and everyone will come to you. I turned it around to “look for your crumb” and you will be amazed at what you find.
Yes, the list might have clued me into thinking in a different way, a twist, a single word that could turn the entire thing around to something special. Not a total loss but reading through all 700 titles was tedious but the crumbs were there. I collected them lovingly and put them in a safe place for use in the future.
How can you find free title or heading generators? Do a simple Google search. You’ll find them and, hopefully, some unexpected and totally wonderful crumbs.