Games Writers Play #5: Title Mash-Up

Scott William Carter   February 16, 2010  

gwpSo far, I’ve been focusing mostly on ways to boost your productivity.  Well, all that productivity begs the question:  How do you keep coming up with ideas?  Most serious writers learn very quickly that story ideas are a dime a dozen — they can literally come from anywhere.  It’s what you do with those ideas that matters.

That said, having a bag of tricks you can use to come up with story ideas on demand is immensely helpful.  The Title Mash-Up is a good one.

Here’s how it works in essence:  Take parts of two titles of two stories and combine them into a new title, then write a new story about it.

That’s it.  Take a couple anthologies from your bookshelf and type up a list of all the titles.  Or, better yet, go to and do the same with anthologies you haven’t read — easier not to be tethered to the author’s original ideas when you do so.  Then start copying and pasting a list of new titles.  This works best with longer titles, ones that have conjunctions (“and,” “or,” etc.).  Pick one and start writing.

I’ve used this one a number of times.  I published a story in Asimov’s a couple years ago called “The Tiger in the Garden.” I’ve since forgotten the original titles I used, but I know that I used this game to get it, combining “The Tiger” and “in the Garden.”

The great thing?  No two writers will write the same story.  You might look at that title and think fantasy or a children’s story; I turned it into a science fiction tale about a terrorist computer hacker in hiding on a small backwater world, a man whose handle was “The Tiger.”  Now he’s suffering a debilitating mental illness that’s crumbled his once brilliant mind so that he’s only a shadow of his former self.  His only joy now?  Working in his garden.

See how it works?  The title is just a touchstone to get you thinking; to get you to ask questions.  It’s a starting point, nothing more.  Try it out.

(Hat tip to Dean Wesley Smith)


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