Back in the late 80s and early 90s, young adult horror novels were all the rage. Authors such as Caroline B. Cooney, Diane Hoh, Christopher Pike, and R. L. Stine were suddenly catapulted to success with their contributions to the Point Horror imprint from Scholastic Publishing.
These novels, with titles such as Blind Date, Mirror, Mirror, and The Vampire’s Kiss, were not works of literary genius nor were they probably meant to be, but they were immensely popular and fun, quick reads.
While I never read most of the Point Horror books, my favorite YA author growing up, Richie Tankersley Cusick, had written four titles for the imprint, including The Lifeguard, Trick or Treat, Teacher’s Pet, and April Fools, which I must have read at least a dozen times over the years (as well as all her other books). Trick or Treat was my favorite because I love Halloween, and in fact, Ms. Cusick’s books are what inspired me to write my own YA horror/mystery/suspense novels.
I recently read a Q&A with Cusick regarding the Point Horror series, and she stated that the authors were all given specific titles to work with and had to write stories around them. While some might consider this “factory” writing, I thought the idea would make an interesting writing prompt, especially for those of us who are plot junkies or those who may need a little help coming up with a plot or title.
Again, this is a two-part exercise.
- First, you will have to come up with at least a dozen (or however many you feel like) titles for would-be novels. I suggest you don’t use titles for books you already know you want to write. That’s cheating! (And don’t worry if you find out there is already a book published with one of the titles you came up with. There is no copyright law for titles.)
- Secondly, each day, you will randomly select one of the titles and write a short plot summary that you might find on the back of a paperback or inside flap of a hardcover.
- Set your timer (if you wish) for 10 minutes and get writing. Stop when the timer dings or keep writing. It’s up to you!
This is the synopsis for Cusick’s novel The Mall, which I happen to have at my fingertips, and as you’ll see, it’s not particularly long or involved but is a general skeleton of the plot, the two main characters, and the overall tone of the story:
“Trish smiles into the dressing-room mirror, admiring herself in the gorgeous white dress. Unknown to her, someone else is watching. He knows she is smiling just for him. His soft, strange voice whispers her name from the crowd. His hooded eyes follow her every move … At first she thinks he’s just a creepy customer, hanging round Muffin Mania where she works at the mall. But suddenly he’s everywhere, the man with a thousand faces tormenting her day and night. He knows her secrets. There’s no safe place to hide. There’s no one she can tell, no one she can trust. How can she escape a madman wiling to kill to make her his–forevermore.”
And here are a few titles I came up (again, keeping with the horror theme) to get you started:
- Blood Sisters
- Murder Island
- Hall of Mirrors
- Cellar Stairs
If you have trouble coming up with titles, I found this infographic on Passwordincorrect.com that gives you 15 examples of how books are titled.
- Make a list of already-published book titles you have never read before nor know anything about. You might want to stick to a genre you wish to write in or may want to go outside your comfort zone and look for titles in an unfamiliar genre.
- Continue as above.
I found these examples by Googling mystery titles:
- City of Liars and Thieves
- Crime Rib
This exercise is not meant to hone your synopsis-writing skills, so don’t worry about making the summary perfect or enticing. Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation, paragraph breaks, or even coming up with catchy phrases. It’s more about just brainstorming a general story idea with a few important characters. You may even find one of these ideas is perfect for your NaNo novel next month.
Good luck and let me know how you like this exercise. Even better, I’d love to read some of your synopses!