6. The Punch Secured.
But long before you have exhausted these suggestions you will have developed your punch. Your punch has risen out of your material— if you possess the sense of the dramatic. If the punch has not developed—with a series of minor punches that all contribute to the main design of the “heart wallop”—there is something wrong with your material.
But even a realization of this ought not to discourage you, for there are instances every day of well-known playwrights who have chosen the wrong material. We all have seen these plays. You must do as they do—cast your playlet aside and begin anew with new material. The man who keeps at it is the only one who wins—but he must keep at it with the right stuff.
When you have trimmed your playlet by cutting off all the trimmings, your thoughts naturally turn to a title. More than likely you have selected your title long before you have written “curtain”—it is possible a title sprang into your mind out of the germ idea. But even then, you ought now to select the proper title.
1. What is a Proper Title?
A proper title is one that both names a playlet and concisely suggests more than it tells. For instance, “The System” suggests a problem vital to all big cities—because the word “system” was on everybody’s tongue at the time. “The Lollard” piques curiosity—what is a “lollard,” you are inclined to want to know; it also carries a suggestion of whimsicality. “The Villain Still Pursued Her,” tells as plainly as a whole paragraph could that the playlet is a travesty, making fun of the old blood-and-thunder melodrama. “In and Out” is a short, snappy, curiosity-piquing name; it is a title that hangs out a sign like a question mark. “Kick In” is of the same class, but with the added touch of slang. “War Brides” is another luring title, and one that attracts on frankly dramatic and “problem” grounds. “Youth” is a title that suggests much more than it tells—it connotes almost anything. “Blackmail” has the punch of drama and suggests “atmosphere” as well. But these are enough to establish the fact that a good title is one which suggests more than it tells. A good title frankly advertises the wares within, yet wakens eager curiosity to see what those wares are.
2. What is an Improper Title?
An improper title, first, is one that does not precisely fit a playlet as a name; or second, that tells too much. For instance, “Sweets to the Sweet” is the title of a playlet whose only reason for being so named is because the young man brings the girl a box of candy—it does not name the playlet at all precisely, its connotation is misleading. Do not choose a title just because it is pretty. Make your title really express the personality of your playlet. But more important still, do not let your title tell too much. If “The Bomb” were called “The Trap,” much of the effect of the surprise would be discounted, and the unmasking of the detective who confesses to throwing the bomb to trap the real criminal would come as something expected. In a word, be most careful not to select a title that “gives it all away.”