Titles are another big classic.
What should a title do? It’s here to help readers identify your story, first. And make them want to read yours more than the next one. But that’s hardly a motive when we talk about literature, so let’s talk about the ideal title, the one that’s here for reasons outside mercantile concerns.
A title should introduce your story; and it should be part of the story. Titles are the first thing the reader will see. They must perform the same function as the opening: intriguing, asking a question that will be answered later. They are not part of the opening, because they will stand alone in the table of content, or on the cover; therefore they must have a striking meaning and sonority, and not require the following sentence in the story to act as a crutch. Since the title will be immediately followed by the first sentence, the two must strike a balance, either by means of contrast (the reader is led by the title to expect something, then the first sentence directs his expectations in the opposite way), or by developping or providing a context for the words of the title. Once a solid hook has been established, the story can start for good.
Then, as the reader closes the story or the book, one things will remain under their eyes: the title, again. So it’s the final word as well as the first. Now the story is ended, the reader should be able to decipher what the title was trying to tell them. Sometimes the title may not be related at all to the story; then it must be understood to cast a new light, to provide extra meaning. And since it is known that a well-meaning reader can find meaning in just anything, the relationship between title and story should not be too far-fetched. Well, it can, all right. It’s just dishonest.
I’m a living example that knowing the theory doesn’t mean applying it well. But I’m working, I’m working…