How do you pick the titles of your novels?
I pick the titles of my novels with a great deal of saintly, zen-like calm. And absolute sureness. Because, you know. It’s only this one tiny little phrase that’s meant to make people pick up your book from a crowded shelf in their favourite bookshop and tell them what sort of novel it is, whether it’s a dark one or a funny one or a dreamy one or one that hasn’t brushed its hair this morning, and also hint vaguely but intriguingly about what it might be about. And also maybe sound ever so slightly sexy at the same time. It’s not hard to come up with a couple of words that do all that, is it? Oh no. There’s never any stress about this at all. Never any combing the internet, desperately hoping that no one else has named their darling the same combination of words as yours. Especially if they’re published, and maybe a little bit successful. And there’s never any gnashing of teeth, or pulling out of hair, or filling pages and pages with crossed out scribbleful maybe titles, which could be absolutely perfect if it wasn’t for the fact that they didn’t work at all. There’s never any envy for those painters who get to name their masterpieces ‘Untitled IV’ and then smile enigmatically when you ask them why.
No, no. Never. Why on earth would anyone stress about any of that?
So. My current works in progress:
There’s Beneath, which I’m going to call urban fantasy for now, because it makes life more straightforward if you give things categories. Beneath might be the final title, or it might not. It was meant to be the final title, because it was the title I came up with when I first thought of the story. Sometimes stories just turn up in my head with titles. But you see, there’s another book coming out next year with a similar-ish title, and even a vaguely similar theme. One that I didn’t find out about until I was at least halfway through Beneath.
I did not gnash my teeth at all when I found this out. Honestly.
But for now, anyway, Beneath is still Beneath. I have this long running love affair with one word titles. There’s something strangely poetic about all the space they leave around them. Beneath is a world which exists alongside this one. It’s also sometimes called Hell, or Hades, or Wonderland, or Oz, or Faerie. And many other things too. It’s also the weird unconscious territory you walk in nightmares, where things that aren’t even meant to exist can turn solid and hurt you at any moment. But my main character knows it as Beneath. So, for now, that’s the name of my story. Maybe forever, or maybe just until one of my scribbleful maybe titles turns out to be better.
My other work in progress is a contemporary novel called King Lia*. And god knows why, but it was actually blissfully easy to name. I don’t know what came first – the title, or the idea of the main character and her life having parallels to Shakespeare’s play King Lear. Or maybe both at the same time. It’s not meant to be one of those stories that retells a Shakespeare play in a straightforward way. There are plenty of those out there, and quite a few of them are very and extremely good. Basically with King Lia I let the two stories get tangled, the one I thought up about a girl called Lia living with her famous writer father in a house full of dust and books, and the one Shakespeare copied from somewhere* about a king who loses his kingdom and goes insane. And the title reflects the tangledness. And also the idea that Lia has claimed a fragile kingdom for herself.
I think the best way to come up with titles is to let them happen by accident. And I’m not always very good at letting things happen by accident, but I’m getting better. If you come up with an idea and let it tell you all about itself gradually – I’m coming dangerously close to one of those annoying unfolding flower analogies, but I’m not going there, I promise – if you don’t push it too hard, and just keep following it, sometimes it will tell you its name. These days that seems to happen more often for me. Or maybe my brain has finally picked up on the fact that teeth gnashing and hair pulling aren’t particularly healthy, and is trying to make me do less of that kind of thing by being obliging and giving me titles right from the start. Well. Slightly less.
How do you come up with your titles? Come join in at YA Highway!
*Contemporary fiction. Yes, really. How I ended up writing contemporary fiction is actually a whole other blog post. Most of the time my brain is strictly fantasy.
**Whenever you start worrying about whether your writing is original enough, remember: Shakespeare copied almost all of his plays from various places. If you can tell a story well, it doesn’t have to matter.