First and most importantly:
Tada! Now. In our second installment of Parts of the Novel, I thought we'd continue from first lines into the issue of titles. Titles can be really hard to work with. This is a fact. When I was younger, I thought I was the title genie. Now, though, I realize how truly difficult it is to make up a title that really reflects the novel, or chapter, that you're working with. My writing buddies and I recently went on a jag trying to come up with a title for one of our books. It started somewhere along the lines of Angry Girl with a Gun and regressed into Potato.
Therefore, I will now be talking about a a subject I know quite little about, so the rest of you can also know quite little about it.
Beginning with titles of others, we can look at how all this nonsense occurs. Some of you probably know about varied classics that had their titles changed and rearranged. For example, Dracula was originally The Dead Un-Dead. Not as striking or effective. Gone with the Wind was originally Tomorrow is Another Day, which doesn't give off the sense of flow and stilted romanticism that the book has. Pride and Prejudice was originally First Impressions, which relates to the same concept but doesn't have the same alliterative punch. To Kill a Mockingbird sounds a lot more interesting, and relates to the symbolic point of the story a lot more than just plain Atticus. And then of course, The Great Gatsby was retitled six or seven times. The one that almost made it through was The High Bouncing Lover, which just sounds ridiculous. I'm rather fond of the alternate title Among Ash Heaps and Millionaires, but The Great Gatsby works because of its direct connection to the most interesting and tragic character in the book.
With that said, it should be clear to you how darn freaking hard this is. I mean, all these classics with different original titles. Just think about that. Even these famous authors with their famous books had no idea what they were doing with titles.
That's what publishers are for, my friends. But of course, you should try your best to come up with a fabulous title on your own, because that's part of the hook to the publishers themselves. Not to mention, it's easier to get an idea of your own story once you're working on a title.
So consider titles of some of your favorite books. Consider if they work in a series, or are standalone books. Series titles can be different because of a need for some cohesiveness in the titles. There's a reason the Harry Potter series begins every title with "Harry Potter and the." Shorter titles are often more striking, as are name titles, but you have to know where the hot point is in your book's meaning and focus. Longer titles can give you a more humorous feel, if you're writing contemporary YA stuff.
So how did I pick the current titles of my works? Well, keep in mind, these are still technically "working titles" until they go into publication and are approved. Also, they're not magnificent. But, in case you were curious...
THE ICE ENCHANTRESS'S PLOT
Now that I'm thinking on it, this title might need a change. I'm very used to it, though, as it's been the same since I wrote this book eight years ago (holy shoot). The antagonist of the story is known as the Ice Enchantress, and the conflict of the story come with her plot to take over the kingdom of a land which I will probably soon rename as well. The reason this title was the one I picked, back when I was twelve, was that the inciting idea for this book was that I wanted to write something with an ice enchantress as a villain. Like in The Chronicles of Narnia. It just seemed like a really freaking cool idea. Thus, title.
THE LAST HOPE
Well. This book is about a girl who is the last hope for Earth, now that there has been a beautiful apocalyptic event and she's one of something like ten people still alive. That seemed pretty obvious.
THE PSYCHIC STORY
This is another really freaking obvious title. It's a story about psychics. Duh. This started as totally a working title, but then I actually liked the ring of it, so I let the title stay.
This book started off titled THE HUNTED, but then I was like, "I'm tired of starting with the word 'the', and also, since I've worked more on this, the title doesn't really fit anymore." It wasn't just about a love interest being hunted down, it was about... oh, lots of things. One of the gimmicks of this book has to do with the letter "P", which will come up later in this post, so I went looking for "P" words, and it turned out I really liked this one. Honestly, I don't know why. How this connects as a title is something I can't quite put words to, just... gah. Quotes from Wuthering Heights, concept of a world hundreds of years after THE PSYCHIC STORY, love, fear, prejudice, etc. It's kind of a weird distant symbolic concept. But, it did take me a while to decide--PERISH, PERISHED, or PERISHING? I liked the ring of PERISHED a lot more. Ta da!
Titles in THE CHOSEN FOUR series
These titles underwent quite a shift over time. Originally, there was one book, and one book idea, THE CHOSEN FOUR, which is now the series title. This made sense because there are four central protagonists and they are chosen for a grand purpose, relating to another scriptural quote, which was the concept with which I started the book. Then, halfway through the book, I realized I needed more than one book to cover the story in my head. This was going to be my first series.
So I went on to write the second book, which I titled BLACK SUN, and then the third, ON THE OUTSIDE. BLACK SUN I chose for a really stupid reason, actually. I named an important entity in the series SUN, you see, just so I could use this title. And why? Because BLACK SUN is one of the many, many meanings of my first name, which is a very dichotomous name. And I love that idea,the dichotomy between light and dark. So I decided to be all symbolic deep silly author-ish, which is a weakness of my kind, and go with that. In editing, though, I realized the painful truth that I was just being stupid. So I went back, renamed the entity, and changed the title to ENEMY INTERNAL, which related again to the now-renamed SUN entity, the enemy of the story which is powerful and dangerous because it's... internal. Yeah, I can't say much more without spoiling.
Then, as you know, while editing THE CHOSEN FOUR to send out to agents and such, my critique partner suggested I split the book into two. There were two parts to the novel already, four parts to the series contained in three books, so it really made sense. Chosen Four, four books, four parts. So then I had to come up with titles for the two separate parts, that were now two separate books.
So I looked to my favorite title from the series, ON THE OUTSIDE. This title was an obvious choice from the get-go with the final CHOSEN FOUR novel, because the central concept of the book moves around what it's like to try and return to a previous normal life after terrible things have happened (leaving you stuck on the outside). Since it was a series, I wanted to play off of the same sound. So I named the first book ON THE DAWNING (it's the first book!), the second ON THE BRINK (this book catapults everyone into the big action), renamed the third ON THE RUN (because that's where the characters are), and stayed with ON THE OUTSIDE on the fourth. Ta to the da.
THE PROPHECY KEEPER
Cool story--when I first came up with this book idea, I wanted it to write it first person from the perspective of the wise old guy you always see in epic fantasy, watching the actual main character go through his epic journey. The old guy is known simply as the Prophecy Keeper, which hails back to one of my fave books, The Giver. I also went with the title because the concept of what the Prophecy Keeper does when the book begins is the inciting idea of the story. When I started writing it, though, suddenly it was third person following the MC. But when I finished the book, I realized the title had become even more fitting than I first thought.
WHAT IT TAKES TO DEAL
I feel like I went back and forth on this title a bit as I was planning it, but I don't remember that much now. I ended up settling fairly firmly on WHAT IT TAKES TO DEAL. This works because the main concept of the story is on the struggles of a girl who has gained a chronic illness. It also has a certain snap to it that reflects the deeper secrets of the story, and the girl's personality. Also, if I ever actually write the sequel in my head, I have a perfect title to spring off of from there-- WHAT IT TAKES TO TELL.
This title came pretty quickly. Same as with PERISHED, I was done with "the." The central concept of the epic fantasy novel here came with dichotomies again, but most specifically, with mercy and justice. Therefore, MERCIFUL became the title.
Another issue in titling comes with chapters. Obviously, there are many ways to title chapters. It matters a lot less, because readers so rarely actually look at the chapter titles. Or, at least, I don't. Maybe that's assuming too much. But really, chapter titles aren't as vital. Consider how many people just number their chapters instead of titling them.
But, there does come a choice between titling and numbering, and how exactly to do the titles. Chapter titles help give a little bit more voice to the piece. Because of this, they're best done, I think, when you're writing in first person. Of course, this isn't always true. The point is to add or expand on the voice of the novel through the titles. If your first person voice doesn't need flowery chapter titles, leave them out. If your third person needs some punch, put them in.
Chapter titles also work much the way of series titles. You want them to be fairly cohesive, similar in some way.
You can go check out some patterns with your favorite books and their chapter titling on your own, but for now, I'll leave you with some explanations of my own.
When you've got multiple POVs, chapter titles are pretty important. You need to specify the point of view, and then give an idea of what part of the story you're in. This applied for me in both THE ICE ENCHANTRESS'S PLOT, which takes detours from the main character in third to the title antagonist and in THE PSYCHIC STORY, which goes between the male and female leads' views. In THE PSYCHIC STORY, the wording and voice of the chapter titles also reflected the two separate characters, and their changes through the story, thus reaching the higher purpose of chapter titling as well.
Titling to Organize Your Thoughts
I've done this some too. It's not as necessary as when you're trying to get some sort of character out of it. Keep it short and sweet and to the subject. If it helps you organize thoughts, it'll help the readers who might need it as well. This applied in THE LAST HOPE, and is a bonus for all other books where I've titled as well.
Titling to Give Character/Voice
As I've said, this is the most important and definitive reason to title your chapters. This has applied for the majority of books where I've titled, and is completely vital. In THE CHOSEN FOUR series, each book had a different gimmick for the chapter titling to match the character the book focused on. ON THE DAWNING has two words per title, to match the MC, who, as leader, is definite but careful in choice. ON THE BRINK's character has chapter titles of full sentences, to match her confused, sarcastic, and very human voice. ON THE RUN chapters only require one word, because of the introspective and decisive character of the MC. ON THE OUTSIDE is full of chapters with titles of 3-5 words, all involving conjunctions or prepositions or both, to show the connective but lost place of the main character, and his slight issue with grandeur.
Then you've got books like PERISHED, which has chapter titles going along with the "P" gimmick, something I decided on very early. "P" is a vital letter in PERISHED due to its signalling of those with power, and therefore, those that society fears and hates most. The main character's voice is enhanced by these titles, which reveal her obsession with this letter "P" and everything it represents. MERCIFUL, on the other hand, focuses entirely on the character's slight removal from the situation. Every title begins with "In Which," and many of them reflect bewilderment and sarcasm, depending on the part of the story.
And of course, I have occasionally numbered chapters instead of titled them. This comes when you don't need a specific push to the voice, because of the nature of the character or the story. I did this in WHAT IT TAKES TO DEAL, where the voice is clear in the story. Indeed, the brief, organized numbers almost reflect the character's focus on moving forward and not working too much on things that don't matter to her. In THE PROPHECY KEEPER, I also numbered because of the distant voice and nature of a pure epic fantasy, which would only be weighted by chapter titles.
And that pretty much covers that. Hope you got some insight! Come back next time for the final part of this series, looking at the last lines of novels. Someday, I may also throw in something on book covers, or maybe even flaps. (You know, the blurb things. The ones that I think are more important than first lines.)
Also, in a week, I'll be doing a survey roundup post! Basically, I want to answer questions about myself. Any questio --fun, serious, crazy, whatever. Just ask me something, anything, from like a personality quiz, something you'd like to know about, or whatever. I love to answer that stuff, and I'd like to do it here with you all. It'll be like the 25 Things About Me posts, but prompted by you!
So ask away! I'll use all your questions, and I might incorporate random ones from the Internet as well. It should be a fun way to get to know me still better!
I'm an unpublished novelist, primarily of YA fantasy, and a freelance editor. I love psychology, cats, social justice, and love! I'm also a huge fangirl. More than anything, stories are my life.
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