Animation by Kayelle Allen at The Author's Secret

Monday, November 7, 2011

What's In a Name?

You would think that a writer would have a good enough imagination not to be phased when it comes to finding a title for her magnum opus. Sadly, not in my case.  When it comes to ideas for stories, it’s standing room only inside my brain, but finding titles for those stories is an entirely different…well, story.

A title needs to stand out, to grab the attention of potential agents, publishers and readers.  It needs to inform, intrigue and entice and most of all, it needs to be relevant.  It shouldn’t be boring, mustn’t sound pretentious and can't afford to be instantly forgettable. So, we’re not asking much of it, are we?  

And is it any wonder that I develop something akin to stage fright when I have to come with a title?

I indulged in a little moan about this recently on Twitter.  No one seemed to be able to offer me the magic solution, sadly.  One Twit (sorry, Tweep) said he had the reverse problem, plenty of titles, no story ideas.  After reflection that did make me feel slightly better, though it didn’t solve my problem.

I mean, take my first novel: ‘The Apple Tree’.   I still cringe at just how unimaginative that sounds.  One sensitive soul asked me what the relevance of the title was and was clearly unimpressed to hear that the heroine had an old apple tree in her garden which seemed to represent her childhood triumphs and achievements.  It’s a minor character in the story, however, and tells nothing of the dramatic traumas the heroine undergoes as an adult.

My most significant novel (the one of which I’m still so possessive that I can’t yet send it out into the big wide world to try its fortune) still has its working title “Unworkers”.  In fact it’s lived with that for so long that I doubt I could bear to change it now.  A good friend kindly pointed out to me that I'd invented the word, which was meaningless.  Not to me, it’s not!  The work is women’s fiction (with a supernatural twist) and one of the characters explains its meaning in Chapter Two.  “Unworkers”, she claims are those “Unpaid, unvalued, unnoticed [women] ... we’re like those little elfin tailors, beavering away invisibly, putting the world to rights with our neat little patches while we put our own lives on hold for everyone else.”  Speaking as one of them, I think I invented a pretty good word…it remains to be seen whether it will work as a title, however.

And now my latest dilemma is to find a title for my current work – a romantic suspense.  This has lived – untitled – in my mind for so long that naming it now seems almost wrong!  But name it I must.  So I put on my oversized thinking cap and went to work.  The moment I stopped toying with ideas, one popped into my head.  ‘In Loving Hate’.  Now, why I had been thinking of Romeo and Juliet at that moment, I have no idea.  So I asked my chief critic and mentor (my son) what he thought of it – and he told me in his delightfully honest way.  ‘Don’t like it.  Too commercial and common.  It lacks sophistication.’  Well, I wonder how William would feel about that?  I asked my good friend and fellow writer, Deb what she thought and this was her response: 'I LOVE the title!!! It's short and powerful, intriguing, and catches the reader's attention.  And it has a Shakespeare connection'. Hmm...

So here is my question to any readers kind enough to respond.  To be or not to be: ‘In Loving Hate’?  

Oh, and if you have a secret for coming up with great titles, please share it!


Carlos J Cortes said...

I like “In loving hate.” It’s short and powerful.

My mind works in mysterious ways, though after so many years I’ve given up worrying about it. As I read your post, I recalled the time-honored vows: have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.... I suppose the words should be familiar by now, yet I often misspell the last bit; it comes out as “till debt us do part,” but I digress.

Then it popped into my head that “To hate and to cherish,” wouldn’t be a bad title either.

Renee Miller said...

I like that title too, but I wouldn't necessarily rely on my opinion. I usually title WIPs with the protagonist's name. I feel your pain. I hate titling because I'm so suckish at it. With a little brainstorming (thanks to more creative brains than my own) my finished work has titles like Dirty Truths, In the Bones and False Prophet. My attempts at self-titling produced The Legend of Jackson Murphy and Bayou Baby.

If we get lucky enough to find a publisher, these have a chance to be retitled with something catchy and possibly awesome. However if you're publishing your own work, the title is everything.

And by the way, I liked the title for that story. The Apple Tree seemed entirely suitable to me.

ManicScribbler said...

Thank you, Carlos - I LOVE 'till debt us do part' - so witty (and poignant). Someone I know said: 'You share so much of your life with someone when you're married, but the moment you get divorced all you share is wrangling over money.' (It was one of my heroines, incidentally - well, the experts say you should write about what you know!)
'To hate and to cherish' is another great oxymoron-title - I suppose Shakespeare might possibly have rephrased it as: 'in cherished hatred'. I might just put in a bid for that!
May I say, by the way, (now I know who you are) what a great job you’ve done in producing Writer's Companion. I love the way it’s written and the advice contained in it is so accessible and invaluable. It's my most prized possession of the year (yes, even behind my brand new computer!!) Unless I find a handsome millionaire before December 31st, it definitely wins my ManicScribbler award for 2011.
I’m honoured that you’ve visited my blog.

ManicScribbler said...

Thank you, Renee (I truly feel like a star today!)
I’m so relieved I’m not alone in hating having to think up titles. ‘In the Bones’ intrigues me so much that I’m now going off to look it up. I hope it’s what I think. As for ‘Bayou Baby’ – I’m all for a bit of alliteration in titles – it works well for newspaper headlines and in advertising.
Thanks for the thumbs up about ‘The Apple Tree’ – that makes me feel a lot better about it.
Thanks so much for visiting and commenting – I’m really thrilled to see you here.

Ken Weene said...

Wish I could help, but I can't. I don't know enough about the book. My titles usually are integral to the story, Widow's Walk - a woman restarting her life but also a play on the architectural detail; Memoirs From the Asylum - takes place in a state hospital, Tales From the Dew Drop Inne, Because there's one in every town - I suspect that's obvious, the name of the bar in which the action centers.

ManicScribbler said...

Thanks, Ken
I've no idea how I missed responding to this comment - sincere apologies!
I think a title that's integral to the story (but not too obvious) is the best way to go, especially if it makes the reader think a little more deeply about its choice or meaning. I must say, I like your titles and will certainly be looking these up.
Thanks for your comment.

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