Sunday, January 3, 2010

Idea Garage Sale: Fun with Titles

Before we get started today, I'd like to say Happy Birthday to our late lamented role models and world-changers, JRR Tolkien and Lucretia Mott. A world without the Huge High Fantasy Trilogy (and hobbits) and voting women would be a world impoverished indeed.

Anyway, to the subject at hand. This week I couldn't find the Elmer's glue (I knew we had some; it's as much a state of nature to have a half-dried-up bottle of Elmer's in the house as it is to have dustbunnies), and standard procedure for losing things is to ask my husband if he's seen it - finding things is his mutant ability - but I didn't want to interrupt him at work over something so trivial, so I started an e-mail, heading it: "Mystery of the Missing Glue." The first line of the e-mail was: "Change one letter of that, and you've got a pretty good title for a Nancy Drew story." Then I glanced sideways and spotted the glue hiding under some stuff my husband was supposed to file that was leaking out of his in-box, so I went on to other subjects.

"Mystery of the Missing Clue" really is a good Nancy Drew title, though. And it reminded me of the title I thought up, oh, years ago, that would be guaranteed to catch the eye of the 10-year-old mystery buff scanning the spines of library books for key words: "Secret of the Mysterious Hidden Clue." It's a can't lose proposition, as far as getting the kid to pick it up is concerned. Slap a decent cover on it - something with an innocent assortment of Meddling Kids in the act of finding something that the menacing shadow sneaking up on them doesn't want to find - and it's a sale. Or a check-out. Few kids have the allowance necessary to really feed the ravenous mystery habit, which requires at least three fresh titles a week, so it's a blessing that librarians gave up their prejudice against stocking Nancy Drew sometime in the sixties.

Of course, if you suck people in with a title that good you'd better deliver, and I find I enjoy playing with the possibilities more than pinning down that particular story. It could be a parody (ala Whales on Stilts, but I couldn't ever do that as well as MT Anderson does), or it could be part of a series (but then I'd have to come up with equally good titles and stories about the same person over and over), or it could be a stand-alone with a mystery buff using her knowledge of the genre and discovering that knowledge's benefits and limitations in the real world, or -

And then there's the clue. What is it? How can it be a clue if it's hidden? What's it the clue to? How dangerous is it? You can't let down that demanding ten-year-old mystery buff if you want a return reader.

So rather than just leave it as the shining, vague, but perfect mystery in my head, I'll toss it out there.

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