Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What's In A Title?

If you haven't picked up on it yet, I am a high school English teacher. This year, I find myself teaching Freshman after six years of teaching primarily upper classmen. It has been a big change. But the purpose of my blog isn't to whine and carry on about the day job, it's to talk mostly about writing. Being an English teacher, I have to be a writer as well and impart that on to my students. Well, I just began "Of Mice and Men" with my Advanced students and we had a discussion about titles. So, I thought it might be a good idea to blog about titles.

Titles are important to me when I'm writing. To me a project isn't "real" until I've given it a title. Many projects begin simply as a concept listed in my writer's notebook with maybe an incomplete puke sheet completed for it. If I can't come up with a title for something I am writing, it means I don't have any idea what I'm writing about and that never ends well.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking. I KNOW titles change and I am prepared for that but without them, I cannot focus on a project.

Titles are the hardest "synopsis" you can create. You need to essentially boil down what the book is about into 3 to 6 words. That's crazy, right? Yet we all do it. We have to. Untitled rarely sells. Think about the great titles of the books we love:

  • A Game of Thrones: Perfect title, tells you exactly what the entire story is about in a few words.
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • Harry Potter and the....well, you know.
  • The Hunger Games
  • The Empire Strikes Back
Winter's Discord began life as Winter's End. It was a bad title, based only on a festival mentioned in the first draft of the outline. It changed at someone's suggestion. I forgot who suggested it and changed it. I literally typed "conflict" into an online Thesaurus and it came up with Discord. It fit and stuck. The series title, Seasons of Destiny, is admittedly a little cheesy but it works for the title motif I'm going for.

Title motifs are important to me. They have to fit. I think of the Dragonlance series of my youth and those books were immediately identified by the title motif. So I decided each of the books would include a season in the title. Plus, it's an allusion to the books I loved in my youth. (Look at Mr. English Teacher throwing around all kinds of literary terms and elements around like I know what I'm doing.)

Sisters of Khoda was harder, by far. It began life as the "Young Jaiman Zaracheck novel." I took the MC from a trunked novel and decided to tell a story from his teen years. I struggled for a long time to nail down a title and it took almost a year and a half to finally nail down Jaiman Zarachek and the Sisters of Khoda. I cut out the first part for now and just kept it simple.

Point Guard and the Space Princess is a simple title. I'm not completely happy with it and I wonder if that is the reason it has been so easy for me to get stalled on the project.

So what about titles? What works for you? Are they as important to you as they are to me?

1 comment:

Troy W. said...

I actually have a problem with titles and titling my work. I try to think of something witty instead of thinking about what is going to go well with my work. For this current project though, I've used the Ludlum method: A three word title that relates to a larger theme in the work.