What I’ve learned by writing stories with the same titles as famous books

My latest Locus column, "A Prose By Any Other Name," is a state-of-the-project report on my longrunning habit of writing science fiction stories with the same titles as famous books, and the interesting things I've discovered about creativity and my subconscious along the way.

The more I thought about writing stories with ‘‘borrowed’’ titles, the more interesting it all got. Every time I thought about a famous title – one I hated, one I loved, one I had mixed feelings about – I found my subconscious simmering and then bubbling over with ideas. Stories – more so than novels – are often the product of odd subconscious associations. I’ll see something, I’ll see something else, the two will rub together, and wham, there’s a story idea crystallizing in my mind, and off I go to find a keyboard.

But for every story fragment that finds a complementary fragment to bond with and form into an idea, there are dozens of lonely haploids, grains of potential that never find another grain to join and synthesize with. Seven years into the project, the single most significant and reliable trait of ‘‘title’’ stories is that the titles exert a powerful gravity on story fragments, aggregating them into full-blown inspiration.

A Prose By Any Other Name

6 Responses to “What I’ve learned by writing stories with the same titles as famous books”

  1. Pineywoozle says:

    Andas Game was the first short story of yours I read. I loved it but the way I got a bud to read it was largely the fact that it was a play on the title Enders Game. He has now read everything you've written. Thanks

  2. Leonardo Ribeiro says:

    Your "I, Row Boat" story is one of the greatest things I've ever read. Thanks for that.

  3. Cory Doctorow says:


  4. Cory Doctorow says:

    Thanks! That's a definite advantage, too

  5. Pineappleski says:

    I thought I, Rowboat was an excellent development of the original's ideas on machine sentience. Imitation (at least for the title) is the sincerest form of flattery :)

    Now I'll treat my dishwasher with a bit more compassion...

  6. I am in a high-pun environment and we do this all the time, but rarely follow through beyond the title. So your practice is MUCH admired. I have a now-hibernating education blog called The Rift of the Magi, a rare case where one of us actually went public with it for a while.

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