Friday, January 28, 2011

28th of Snowfall, Year of the Vulture

The Fantasy World News Network is an automated generator that uses word replacements to transform our planet's news into headlines from a mirror-universe world, where things like the month of January are called Snowfall and personal computers become valesylvers. The host site also has another headline generator that does the same thing with a SF spin here.

Making up newspaper headlines is fun, and good practice for learning how to condense ideas and make them attractive (like a story premise you might mention in a query letter, or a tagline for your upcoming release.) The trick of writing a great headline is to offer just enough information and provocation to make the reader want to keep reading:

Improve Your Love Life and Lose Weight (Have That Secret Baby!)

The Scroll That Makes You Immortal -- Or Dead -- in 3 Days

Mayan Miscalculation Means New Date for Apocalypse: Tomorrow

If you want to use headlines as a way to create a non-traditional outline of your story, write up one for each scene or chapter that provides a quick overview or general idea of what happens in them, i.e.:

Faceless Vampire First Kidnaps Then Infects World's Fastest Surgeon

Socialite Slashed by Ghost While Sleeping, Spell Breaker to Investigate

First Day of School, Worst Day of Life

Headline-writing is also a great way to explore the unfamiliar territory of copy-writing, which sometimes authors are called upon to proof for their back covers. When you've got space for only a couple of paragraphs, being able to relate your story in a brief but alluring way is a handy skill, especially when the copy you get is less than stellar.

The other great thing about headlines is that they're kind of like writing haiku -- the more often you write them, the better you get. While I was putting together this post and making up headline examples, a tagline I've been trying to think up in more conventional ways finally popped in my head:

It's After Midnight -- Are You Ready to Ride?

Now it's your turn: what would be a fun headline for what you're working on right now? Let us know in comments.

Related links:

Copyblogger has a post here that defines the different types of headlines and why they hook a reader's attention.

Melissa Donovan's Writing Exercises for Titles and Headlines explains how to write them and gives you some exercises for practice.


  1. This is a great and VERY helpful post, PBW! I especially appreciate this because I'm a writer for one of our college magazines here so I constantly have to think of interesting and catchy headlines for my articles!

    One of my latest articles was named: Viva La Veggie.



  2. Holy...this exercise is so simple but genius! I suck at condensing things, but thinking about it through a newspaper standpoint might help a ton.

    Let's see... "Woman wins trip to Ireland, comes home with Faerie." That pretty much sums it up.

  3. Could madman hold key to end Apocalypse?
    Mental health, medical professionals divided

    *head thump* condensed that way, it sounds like such a tabloid-esque story...

  4. Woman Arranges Match for Sister...From The Grave

    You know, no matter how I try to word it, I can't get it to make sense. Unless it's just me because I'm too close to the story.

  5. Time Jump Leaves Woman Seeing Double

    LOL! So much fun.

  6. I loved that website, thanks for sharing it!

    My society page headline would be:
    Socialite Loses House to Fire, Burns Up the Dance Floor

  7. Story-building Confounds Writer; Confined To Ranch-Style Sanitarium