What’s In a Title?
Titling a manuscript is important. It gives the reader an idea of what your book is about without giving it away. You wouldn’t name a book about love, devotion, and family How to Wash the Car. You’d name a car washing book that or even perhaps a children’s book about a child who’s told to wash the car and sets out on an adventure to learn how to wash a car.
Coming up with titles can be very hard for some authors, a challenge for others, and all too easy for some. Most authors from what I’ve seen (via friends, my twitter timeline, and twitter author chats) have a difficult time titling their manuscripts. A few utilize working titles that may change during the course of their writing but sometimes this doesn’t always work. Some don’t even bother titling their manuscript and trudge on with promises to themselves of titling it later.
For me personally, if I don’t have a title as a baseline I cannot write a story to save my life. Okay, that was a lie. I’ve don’t that twice now and each time titling the manuscript afterward was extremely difficult for me. Nothing seemed to fit and nothing was good enough. It drove me nuts but titled them I did.
A few friends have sent me their manuscripts in desperate need of a title. So far, I’ve named several, upwards of five, and all have kept the titles. I sort have earned the name of Title Queen.
Last week on Twitter’s #StoryDam chat the issue of titling manuscripts came up. I was asked if I had any advice for titling things. Well here are some of my bullet points for my personal process on titling.
1. Have a General Idea of the World of the Series or Book
I don’t mean have a complete and total concept of what you want your book, anthology submission, or short story to be about just a general idea of where you book takes place. A jungle? An urban metropolis? The bowls of sewer? Space? A ranch? Another planet? What about a totally different dimension? Another time?
The setting matters. A book about space travelling outlaws wouldn’t share the same title as a book about an urban housewife who wants to bang the gardener.
An example of this from me is my Sastrugi series. I got the idea after visiting Albuquerque, New Mexico’s zoo with my friend Patty while on vacation. It’s based on Polar Bear shifters. Polar Bear’s live in icy snowy regions. Hmmmmmm.
2. Can nature assist you?
I mean can the setting of your book assist you? Sastrugi literally means sharp irregular grooves or ridges formed on a snow surface by wind erosion, saltation of snow particles, and deposition, and found in polar and temperate snow regions. Even the title of my series has its roots in ice terminology. All 21 book titles for this series are ice terms.
The first Shear Walls’ basic concept is a Polar Bear’s choice between choosing his mate over his own people. The MC needs to climb his own internal shear walls in order to overcome the prejudice and misconceptions of outside mates.
See my point?
3. When Nature Can’t Help…
Can the title of your series help? If it is a series that is…
Take my Blizzard Lions series for example. Every single title is only two words and consists of a B first word and L second word. For example: Babylon Labyrinth, Backfire Lace, Backwood Lament, Badland Lummox, Bareback Ladle, Backplate Lagoon, Basic Loyalty. Get the point here?
4. Do You Watch TV?
I know, I know… Watching TV isn’t productive towards writing things. Sure the TV can play in the background but actually watching it? Negative.
Well, you’re wrong.
Have you ever looked at the names of the episodes of what you’re watching? The show Lie to Me is about this guy who is super good at detecting lies. It’s cancelled now and only has three seasons but it’s a good show nonetheless. One episode is titled “Life is Priceless.”
Life is Priceless is now a series title for one of my vampire worlds. The proceeding titles all have the prefix “Life is” followed by a single word. For example: Life is Unforgiving, Life is Unchanging, Life is Death, Life is Fragile, Life is Precious. You see?
5. Synonyms Are Your Friend
Yes, they are. A different vampire series I have is entitled Playthings and Toyless Trinkets. The names of these books go something a little like this: Playthings, Toys, Gimcrack, Trinket, Curio, Bauble, Knickknack, Novelty, Object D’art. All these things are synonyms but they all have different meanings.
Originally Life is Priceless was for Playthings and Toyless Trinkets but the tone didn’t fit so I used more playful titles instead.
6. Is There Something Significant in Your Book?
I don’t mean the MC saves whatever and gets whoever and they do the nasty all over the house. Though that does sound lovely…
I mean is there something small that could be used as a title? A friend sent me her anthology submission that needed a title. I read it (loved it) and titled it based off of two words in her manuscript.
Basically the MC needs a certain something to survive that is taken away. Another species MC gives the first MC this certain thing and that’s how I came up with the title. Giving Species+Thing Needed For Survival=AWESOME TITLE.
7. Do You Have A Series with No Titles?
Sucks to be you! Just kidding…
One of my series is entitled Dinosaur Island. The first letter of a title is a corresponding letter to Dinosaur Island. Take Island for example: (I)sle of Immorality, (S)laves of Life, (L)ittle Miracles, (A)nother After Life, (N)otorious Bastard, (D)inosaur Island. Do you see it?
8. The Internet is Your Friend
Whatever your book is about, try searching it and see what you get. My pirates’ series was named from a pirate ship generator I found while goofing off. I interchanged some words here and there to fit my purposes but that’s how I got them. A lame ass pirate ship name generator.
9. Cohesiveness Makes People Happy (and by people I mean me)
Maybe you don’t have a series but a set of stories set in the same world sort of like serial fiction. They go together but reading them in order isn’t necessary.
My serial Diamond Hitch is an actual knot used for equine packing to secure objects to a pack saddle. The following seasons are all knots as well. In season one all the titles are old western terminology even though the serial is set in the future.
The titles are cohesive but they are not completely intertwined. I picked knots for the “season” titles because of how the characters play a role in each others lives. The subsequent “episode” titles all work together nicely. Least they do to me.
10. When all else fails…
Ask me if I’m busy and if I’m not I can title it for you. Although I can’t guarantee you’ll like what I come up with.
There you have it. The first nine things in my little process or what have you for titling things. Mind you these things are what work for me and may not work for you but you’re welcome to give them a try. You may have to use several techniques, maul an idea, and play around with it but you’ll get there eventually.
But above all else anything you title must work and fit for you and the manuscript you’re working with. Now if you’d excuse me I have some writing to do and a cat to snuggle.