Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Power of A Title

What does a title say about your work? I don’t know about you, but sometimes I cringe and shield my eyes with embarrassment when I see a ridiculous title. It’s kind of sad, really. As writers we can spend months or even years writing a wonderful story that becomes our baby and then the baby is beaten over the head with the ugly stick of a bad title.

Am I the only one who sees this? I don’t think so.

A title is often a reader or viewers first impression of a book or movie. They make their first decision about the worthiness of the work by hearing the title. If the title seems reasonable and interesting they may look at the cover. If the cover is attractive they may read the blurb on the back and if the blurb intrigues them they may thumb through and read a couple of sample pages to get a feel for the writing. If I’m right in believing that a good title can help a work in reaching the right audience, a BAD title can really hinder the success of a book or movie when it screams to the audience “I’m not worthy of your time,” or “I’m too stupid for you to bother with.”

What should a title tell the audience about the book or movie?

1- It may hint at an important thematic element
2- It may introduce the audience to a main character
3- It may give a peek into the story
4- It may clue the audience to the genre, style and tone
5- It may provide mystery and intrigue

Lets look at a few examples of good and bad titles in movies and literature.

Cowboys and Aliens- Okay, they lost me already, but the good news is the title gives a clear image of what the movie is supposed to be. It clues the audience in to the genre and style. So why is it bad? Because it sounds ridiculous, in my humble opinion. The movie may have some redeeming qualities but I am not willing to give it a shot. Someone, somewhere must feel different. I just haven’t met that person yet.

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed up Zombies- Attack of the Killer Tomatos- Pride and Prejudice and Zombies- etc. etc. See my comments for Cowboys and Aliens. These titles are BAD and they tell me that the movie or book is also BAD. But at least they’re honest. They are not pretending to be something they’re not so the audience can go into the experience with their eyes wide open.

Pooh Gets Stuck and Cooking with Pooh- These are BAD titles because…do I seriously have to explain it? Maybe my middle schooler is rubbing off on me but come on. Many titles with “Pooh” in the title are going to seem a bit…funny. Future titles such as, Tigger Plays with Pooh and Pooh Runs would be just as bad. Sorry for the gross out. The good thing about these titles is it clues the audience into the genre and introduces the main character. And though I‘ve never read it, I suspect Cooking with Pooh is about…cooking. I like knowing what I’m going to get.

Water For Elephants is another title I absolutely hate but it does manage to accomplish at least part of what it intends. To me the title sounds kind of artsy so if it is appealing to the artsy crowd—Mission Accomplished. An alternate title might have been Carnie Love. Carnie Love tells me a little more about what the story is about, but would misinform me about the tone and genre of book/movie. If I saw Carnie Love on the Marquee I would expect something with Adam Sandler, not a dramatic love story.

Here are a couple of my other favorites, just for fun.

I’m Gonna Get You Sucka! – What assumptions do you make from this title?
Buffy the Vampire Slayer- This introduces us to the main character, explains the genre, style and tone of the movie, and tells us what the movie is about.

So while many of these titles are a bit silly or painful, they may not actually be as bad as we think at first glance. I actually appreciate the honesty and creativity of these titles. I doubt anyone who does a Google, Amazon or Goodreads search of The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies, will find multiple books or movies using the same title. I personally prefer a more concise, pithy title, but to each his own.

Check out my blog for some of my favorite movies with titles I love.

What is my point to all of this? Simple. Take the time to create a memorable title that informs the reader in some meaningful way. Come up with an entire list of titles. Chances are pretty good your publisher won’t LOVE the working title of your novel. Spend the time to come up with alternatives. If you don’t, they will. It’s a little strange to me that a writer may spend months or even years writing their book but only give the title secondary thought.

A title does matter. It can be powerful, serious or funny, mysterious or foreboding. Give your choice of title its proper attention and choose multiple titles that fit your work. Make sure you love them and then submit them to the publisher. Maybe the publisher will still edit your title, but don’t shortchange yourself by failing to give your title its proper attention and abdicate the naming of your work to someone else.

What do you think? I would love to hear your comments about the titles you hate.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Autism Awareness- Guest Blogger Danyelle Ferguson

Filling the Spiritual Cup for People with Autism and Their Families
By Danyelle Ferguson

April is Autism Awareness month. Throughout the month we hear a lot about signs to look for, the stress of raising a child with autism, and even about legislature bills and hope for a cure. But one area that hasn’t been discussed is how to help individuals with autism and their families be a part of their church congregation.

I know from personal experience how difficult it is to regularly attend church with a child who has behavioral, sensory, and transition issues. For a good eight years, my son couldn’t handle the lights in our chapel, the echoes from the microphone system, or the crowds of people. During the majority of those eight years, my husband and I took turns staying home with our son during the larger congregational meeting, then going with him to attend his Sunday school classes. We were lucky to have people in our congregation who worked in special education. They volunteered to help our son understand the church routine and adapt lessons so he would understand the teachings. But most church leaders are overwhelmed and unsure how to serve and help families with special needs.

Today, I’d like to share a few tips for church leaders and congregation members to help individuals with autism, as well as some ideas of how to support the whole family.

1. Ask if the child with autism is using any techniques at school to understand his schedule. Many children with special needs use a picture system or a written detailed daily calendar so they know what to expect. If there is something the child is using successfully at school, then take that concept and use it at church too. Many school teachers are happy to provide any special instructions that may be needed to create the schedule.

2. Find out about the child’s interests, hobbies, and strengths. Then become his friend. Talk to him about the things he’s interested in. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box to express gospel teachings. For example, if a little boy loves to play Mario video games, then talk to him about how Mario is a good friend to Luigi. Then reinforce that concept with how Jesus wants us to be good friends with everyone. If the little boy asks if Jesus loves Mario, then say yes. To that little guy, Mario is just as real as you are. Be willing to enter the child’s world and share your teachings in a different way that is appealing to him. He’ll not only remember what you taught him, but he’ll also start to seek you out because he enjoys talking to you.

3. Take the time to figure out how you can help the parents refill their cups each week. Give them an opportunity to take a break and attend their Sunday school classes. When parents have the opportunity to decompress and enjoy church services, then they are much happier in their lives all around. They are better parents, better spouses, and have more patience to take on the challenges that await them during the upcoming week.

4. If the child with special needs has a difficult time during the larger congregational meeting, then friends could ask to take the child for a walk in the halls. If you often sit near this family each week, you could bring a few quiet items in your bag that this family’s kids would enjoy. If the parents need to go out with cranky kids or diaper changes, you could offer to sit with their other children. It’s often little things that make a huge difference. I often felt like our family was the misfit family of the congregation. It was other families who showed us a bit of extra love who helped me feel welcome and accepted at church.

5. Pray for the family and let the family know that you are praying for them. The power of prayer combined with the knowledge that others are praying for you is powerful. Answers and miracles come through prayer. Be specific in your prayers . . . and also be willing to listen for promptings to follow when they are given as well.

There are a million other things I’d love to share with you as well. This is just the tip of the “advice” mountain. Overall, what I feel the most important thing a church leader can do for anyone living with autism (or any other special needs) is to genuinely be interested in them and show love through friendship and service. Do as the Savior taught and “Love One Another”.

Danyelle Ferguson is the author of (dis)Abilities and the Gospel: How to Bring People with Special Needs Closer to Christ. She enjoys helping others along the journey of special needs through parent support group presentation, church program trainings, and answering emails from her readers. You can find out more about Danyelle on her website:

Give Back to Your CommunityIn conjunction with Autism Awareness Month, Danyelle is donating 1 copy of her book, (dis)Abilities and the Gospel, to a church, charity or library, for every 10 book orders she receives through her website. For more information, visit her website:

*I'd like to thank Danyelle for sharing these tips with us about Autism Awareness and how a church family can assist and teach children with special needs. Check out her website for details on her new book (dis)Abilities and the Gospel: How to Bring People with Special Needs Closer to Christ.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Hawthorne Effect in Writing

The Hawthorne Effect is a phrase coined in 1955 to explain the findings of experiments conducted at the Hawthorne plant for the Western Electric Company from 1924-1933. In essence the experiments set out to measure the effect of lighting on employee productivity. Will employees be more productive if they have better lighting? Will they be less productive? Does it really make a difference?

Researchers found that regardless of whether there was more or less lighting provided, productivity increased because the research participants knew they were being watched. They knew they were part of an experiment and their productivity was being monitored. Therefore their productivity increased. Interesting.

So how does this apply to writing?

Writing can be a solitary activity. We write in the quiet of our office or in our bedroom or anywhere else that provides the peace we need to think and create. To avoid distractions we separate ourselves from others so we can focus on the task at hand. For me this is very necessary. I simply cannot focus on a story when the kids are screaming and climbing on me. We may set goals for how many words, or pages, or chapters we will write in a day or a week or a month. We may outline on a calendar how long it takes to finish our first draft and we measure our productivity by how well we stick to our schedule. This is good. It breaks a large daunting task into easily chewed bite sized pieces. But what happens when we find we're not sticking to our own schedule? Do we slap ourselves on the wrist, "bad writer", and resolve to do better tomorrow, only to see another day slip away with low productivity?

While solitude may be necessary to attain proper focus in our creativity, it may also hinder us because we are accountable only to ourselves. What would happen to our writing production if we allow ourselves to be accountable to someone else? Let me suggest a couple of ways we might allow others to help hold us accountable for our productivity.

1- Share your goals with others. I have often heard it said that if a goal is not written down it is merely a hope or a dream. Hopes and dreams are good, but may not motivate to action the same way a goal can. Writing a goal down makes it real. I also think that sharing the goal with others makes it real. Share your goals with someone you respect. Not only will they help to keep you accountable, they will also be able to celebrate in your successes.

2- Join a critique group. If you are in a critique group, the assumption is that you will have something to be critiqued. Right? Do you want to commit your time and energy to attending a group physically or online and commit to critique everyone elses work while never submitting any of your own? Naturally you will want to get as much use out of the group by offering your writing for critique on a regular basis. This will keep you writing.

3- Join other groups that track production. I am thinking particularly of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Each year as November rolls around, internet groups pop up that writers can join to track their progress during the month. While committing to write 50,000 words in a month may not be your speed, the concept is excellent. Make a commitment and allow your group to track your progress towards meeting your goal. FYI-You don't have to wait for November to do this. Find another group or create your own.

4- Track your own progress on your blog or website. With a bar graph widget you can show the world your goal for how many words you expect your mansucript to be. Color it in at every 5000 words. It can show you the percentage of goal accomplished and will also show others how you are progressing and keep them excited about your work in progress. Do you want everyone else to know you've been stuck at 20% of your goal for the past month? Probably not.

When we know other people are watching, our efforts and production will increase just like in the Hawthorne experiments. Accountability increases productivity. It works in the business world, it works in the church and it can also work in our writing. Conduct your own experiement and see if it works.

How do you hold yourself accountable to your writing goals?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Happy Birthday to the Church!

April 6th is a momentous day to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was on this day 181 years ago that the Church was organized in a log cabin belonging to Peter Whitmer, Sr. at Fayette, Seneca County, New York.

The Church was organized in a way "agreeable to the laws of our country." (D&C 20:1) Six men were selected to become incorporators of the Church as required by law. Those men are Joseph Smith Jr., Oliver Cowdery, Hyrum and Samuel Smith, David Whitmer and Peter Whitmer Jr. Organizing legally was important, but it is easy for anyone to organize a church according to the law. More importantly, the Church was organized in a way agreeable to the Lord.

On April 7, 1829 Joseph received golden plates on which the prophet Mormon had abridged the ancient record of the early inhabitants of the American continent. Like the Bible, this record testifies of Jesus Christ. With Oliver as his scribe Joseph translated the plates in less than three months and the first edition of the publication called the Book of Mormon was completed in the spring of 1830. For anyone who has ever written or attempted to write a work of significant length, the speed with which the translation was completed is a witness to the miraculous work and divine intervention which made it possible. (For more information about the translation process read By the Gift and Power of God, by Elder Neal A. Maxwell) The coming forth of the Book of Mormon was a marvelous work and a wonder and key in preparing to organize the Church.

In June of 1829 Joseph and Oliver were instructed to wait for the proper time to organize and then in early April of 1830 Joseph receieved a revelation that directed him when he should organize the church.

D&C 20:1 The rise of the Church of Christ in these last days, being one thousand eight hundred and thirty years since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh, it being regularly organized and established agreeable to the laws of our country, by the will and commandments of God, in the fourth month, and on the sixth day of the month which is called April.

On April 6, 1830 the Church of Christ was established, restoring to the earth the same organization with prophets, apostles, pastors, teachers, evangelists and so forth, that existed in Christ's church. Amos taught that "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets." (Amos 3:7) Once again, a prophet holding the keys of priesthood government was set in place to lead the people in accordance with the Lord's will and desires.

April 6th was absolutely a momentous day. During the events of this Church organization and Gospel Restoration, many who were present followed the Savior's example. Just as Jesus was baptized by immersion by an authorized priesthood holder, many in attendance chose to be baptized by those holding the restored priesthood authority from God. The Sacrament was administered to the baptized members and they received the Gift of the Holy Ghost. April 6th was a marvelous and historic day.

As an interesting side note, there is some diputation among memers of the church about whether or not April 6 is also the true birthday of Jesus Christ. I won't go into details of the arguments for or against, but you might check out these links if you are curious.

While this debate is interesting, the exact date of the Savior's birth doesn't really matter to me all that much. I don't mean to be ambivalent about His birth, in fact I feel quite the contrary. To me personally, the significant fact is not the exact date of His birth, but rather the fact that He was born. The fact that He is the Son of God. The fact that He is the Savior and Redeemer. The fact that through His atoning sacrifice of pain and death all mankind can be saved through faith in Him and His tender mercy and grace. The fact that Christ restored His church through the prophet Joseph Smith. Knowing the "when" doesn't concern me nearly as much as knowing and believing the "who" the "how" and the "why". These questions are all answered through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So--Happy Birthday Church!

*The official name of the Church was changed to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 26, 1838 according to a revelation received at Far West, Missouri. (D&C 115:4)