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Home » Archives » July 2007 » Entitlement
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07/27/2007: Entitlement

I used to work at a company that named things. It was a wonderful job. I'd show up for work and be told: "beer that tastes like vanilla! Go!" Or "anti-depressant!" Or "computer chip!" Or "laundry pre-soak agent!" And then I'd sit down and start making lists of names -- lists of hundred of names -- that would fit that product.

Often, the first step was to think metaphorically. You can't make a list of hundreds of names for a laundry detergent that just tell you literally that it eats grease. So do I and there's just not that much to say about it. So instead you think figuratively. The naming company owned hundreds of books on gems and sailing ships and animals and weather and planets, so that you could find the perfect abstract way to suggest that a car was fast, a drink was exhilarating, or a wipe was soothing.

I've written before about how I use this same method when I need to name a script. I often will try to come up with some concrete symbol for what's going on at the heart of the story. If it can relate to both the A and B stories, well, even better. "Harsh Light of Day," one of my Buffy episodes, did this, relating to the actual sunlight that was important in the action story, and, figuratively, to a cold realization that was important in the emotional story. My Battlestar episode "The Passage," was already named when I was assigned to it, I believe, but I love that title, since it relates literally to a specific hazardous mission and figuratively to a death that results from it.

Even if you can't find anything literal in the script that connects to the name, a figurative title can often still work, cutting right to the most important concept of the episode. My newest Battlestar episode title works in this way, but I don't think we're making those public yet. Let's imagine though, that you're writing an episode about regaining an old friendship. I'm not talking about calling it "Mending Fences," since that's so familiar that it's lost any charge as an actual evocative image. But you could call it "Vital Repairs," or something in that area.

The best thing about finding a title like this, if you can, is that it can actually improve the writing. I like to come up with a title before I write the episode. In fact, I like to come up with it before I write the outline. If I've really managed to come up with something that captures the vital core of the episode, there's nothing that can possibly help me more than to have a constant reminder of that. Every time I open or save the document, I see the name. If you do this, and you keep it in mind as you write, it can act like a handrail that'll keep you heading right down the middle of the story. Play around with it. Sometimes a literal title works best, or a figurative one feels labored, but finding a title that constantly reminds you of your main goal is precious.

Lunch: leftover chicken piccata from Maria's. Can't get enough. It's so lemony!


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