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Writing prompt 11: Twisted Titles

15 April, 2008

Good writing prompts are always available to you in any book of short stories. Scan the table of contents for a short story title that provides a twist of interest for you. Can you find one that stirs your imagination and impels you to write?

It’s best not to read the story connected with your chosen title. You want to follow your own interpretative process. Why burden yourself with trying to ignore how the author interpreted the title? Imagine using the title, A Christmas Carol, without thinking about Ebeneezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim, etc. Almost impossible.

Below I’ve listed 15 story titles from Australian writers. I hope some appeal and help you conjure up an image or an incident that starts you writing.



What to write

Word prompts are not inherently creative. Their value is in helping you unlock that great creative storehouse, your mind, by providing ways to play with ideas, words and images.

  • You can use each title as a prompt to freewrite or complete a clustering or mapping exercise. In both instances, you aim to record the associations your mind makes as it plays with the title.
  • Or you can explore a title by creating a poem, short story, or personal account.

Twisting a title

Take a playful approach with the titles. If one doesn’t interest you, modify it into something that does, ‘twisting’ the original title to find an intriguing spin-off. Give yourself time and space to push beyond beyond the first image or idea you come up .

  • For example, perhaps the title  Serious Swimmers does nothing for you. Start playing with the title. Does your imagination fire up when you try Serious Non-Swimmers? Serious Tennis Players? Seriously Swimming? Even Serial Swimmer?
  • Think of contrasts, opposites, something that’s out of the ordinary.  Using the example above, maybe brainstorming about opposites leads to new titles such as Dry Swimmers, Desert Swimmers, Polar Swimmers, Moon Swimmers.

Remember: Writing prompts don’t usually set hard and fast rules. It’s up to you to decide how you want to explore and interpret a writing prompt.

♦List of titles♦

Sources for the title below: Dark Roots, by Cate Kennedy, 2006, and Journeys: Modern Australian short stories, edited by Barry Oakley, 2007.

Possible questions and comments are included for the first five titles to illustrate how you can explore.

  1. Dark Roots (Cate Kennedy)
    Explorations: Hair? Genealogy? Childhood? Teeth?  A growth? Something in nature? Secrets?
  2. Driving the Inland Road (Julie Gittus)
    Explorations: A real road? A psychological one?
  3. The Romance of Steam (Ian Callinan)
    Explorations: Steam train? Steam room? Steam in a restaurant? Camping at a hot springs? A luxurious bath? The old steam radiators? Steamy tropics? A steamy night with someone?
  4. Stone (Liam Davison)
    Explorations: A noun, such as a significant stone? Or a verb, e.g., stoning someone, being stoned?
  5. The Correct Name of Things (Cate Kennedy)
    Explorations: What things? Who says/thinks there’s a ‘correct’ name?

  6. Cold Snap (Cate Kennedy)
  7. What Do I ‘Do’ With Cancer? (Steve J. Spears)
  8. Serious Swimmer (Michael Faber)
  9. Elsewhere (David Malouf)
  10. The Last Visit (Paddy O’Reilly)
  11. The Testosterone Club (Cate Kennedy)
  12. The Worst Thing (Philip Canon)
  13. Rite of Spring (Margo Lanagan)
  14. A Perfect Circle (Peter Symons)
  15. Travelling (Joan London)
2 Comments leave one →
  1. 22 October, 2012 7:52 am

    Glad you liked my title.


  2. 20 April, 2008 2:09 pm

    These days I haven’t given my pieces titles, as I’m terrible at it, and I’ve been gently chastised by my writing group to add titles, even if they’re crap, just to anchor the reader in what I’m trying to do with the piece. Your post has generated some ideas. Thanks!
    Glad to help. I was thinking the other day about story titles. The trend now seems to be to ‘harvest’ a phrase or word from the story and make it the title. That should make it easy to find something for your group. And it’s still possible to play with what title to choose by trying out different terms from your story. Each word/term will carry a different resonance for you, as well as for your readers.


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