Crafting a Strong Title
Titles can be admirable for different reasons. My nonfiction book, Legal Guide
for the Visual Artist, has a good title because the title very accurately describes the
contents of the book. My novel was far more difficult to title because it moves through
the fantastic images of the soul with striking juxtapositions and lacunae as the narrator
embarks on a voyage of sea changes. Ultimately, A Floating Life worked as a title with
an embracing openness that served the novel well.
I’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts my admiration for The Sense of an Ending
by Julian Barnes. On first encountering the title, I felt dubious because “Sense” seemed
indefinite while “Ending” allowed no qualification. After reading the novel, I find the
title very apt. The novel deals with how the process of contemplation can affect our view
of the past. The word “sense” takes several meanings. It refers to how the ending of the
narrator’s relationships felt—which undergoes an enormous change as the narrator is
forced to reflect on the past. It also suggests trying to make sense of complexities that
defy easy calculation. And it may also suggest how the narrator, at an advanced age,
senses more closely the final evaluation of himself that he will carry to the grave.
By the time I finished reading the novel, “ending” seemed quite open to
qualification. Which ending was being considered—the ending of a love affair as the
narrator saw it as a young man or as he understood it four decades later? Or the ending
of certain illusions about his past and himself? Or a different ending entirely, such as the
approaching end of the narrator’s life? Did these endings make sense? Could the endings
carry multiple meanings, be sensed in different ways? How did the narrator sense it, the
other characters? How did I sense it as a reader?
The more the title’s ambiguity offered up different meanings appropriate to the
story, the more I appreciated it as a title worthy of a fine book.