In our second installment of Parts of a Novel, I thought we'd continue from first lines into the issue of titles. Good titles can be really hard to come up with. When I was younger, I thought I was the title genie. Now, I realize how truly difficult it is to make up a title that properly reflects the novel, or chapter, that you're working on. 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!
Some of you probably know about the many classic books that had their titles changed before publication. For example, Dracula was originally The Dead Un-Dead.,which is not as striking. Gone with the Wind started out as Tomorrow is Another Day, which doesn't give off the sense of stilted romanticism that the book has. Pride and Prejudice used to have the less alliterative First Impressions for a title. To Kill a Mockingbird sounds a lot more interesting, and has a lot more symbolic meaning, than just plain Atticus. Finally, The Great Gatsby was retitled six or seven whole times. The one that almost made it through was The High Bouncing Lover, which just sounds ridiculous. I'm rather fond of 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.
Those examples should make it clear how 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 when it came to titles.
That's what publishers are for, my friends. Nevertheless, 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 understand your own story once you're working with an appropriate title.
Think of the titles of some of your favorite books. Consider if they're part of a series or are standalone books. Series titles can be different because of a need for cohesiveness. 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 what's right for your book. Longer titles can give you a more humorous feel, for example.
So how did I pick the current titles of my works? Keep in mind, these are still "working titles" until they go into publication, and they could very well change many more times (which is why I use simple hashtags for public reference until then). They're not magnificent. But in case you were curious...
#IceEnchantressStory: THE ICE ENCHANTRESS'S PLOT
Now that I'm thinking on it, this title might need a change. I'm very used to it, as it's been the same since I wrote this book eight years ago (yikes). The antagonist of the story is the Ice Enchantress, and the conflict of the story is her plot to take over the kingdom, which I will probably soon rename as well. The original inciting idea for the book was an evil ice enchantress, like in The Chronicles of Narnia. It just seemed like a really freaking cool idea. Thus, title!
#ApocalypseStory: 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.
#PsychicStory: THE PSYCHIC STORY
Okay, so this one is pretty unoriginal. It definitely started as a temporary working title, but then I actually liked the ring of it, so I let it stay. Yay psychics!
This book started off as THE HUNTED, but then I was like, "I'm tired of starting with the word 'the', and also, the title doesn't really fit after writing more of the story.." 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", so I went looking for "P" words, and it turned out I really liked this one. How this connects to the story is something I can't quite put words to, just... gah. Quotes from Wuthering Heights, a world hundreds of years after #PsychicStory, love, fear, prejudice, etc. It did take me a while to decide--PERISH, PERISHED, or PERISHING? I liked the ring of PERISHED a lot more.
#ChosenFourStory: ON THE DAWNING, ON THE BRINK, ON THE RUN, ON THE OUTSIDE
These titles underwent quite a shift over time. Originally, there was one book, THE CHOSEN FOUR, which is now the series title. This made sense because there are four central protagonists chosen for a grand purpose, relating to a scriptural quote that inspired the story. Halfway through writing it, 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 titled the second book BLACK SUN and then the third ON THE OUTSIDE. BLACK SUN I chose for a silly reason, actually. I named a villainous entity in the series SUN just so I could use this title. Why? Because BLACK SUN is one of the many contradictory meanings of my first name. I love that idea, the dichotomy between light and dark, so I decided to be all symbolic ridiculous author-ish, which is a weakness of my kind. In editing, though, I realized that was a bad idea. So I went back, renamed the entity, and changed the title to ENEMY INTERNAL, which related again to the enemy of the story, which is powerful and dangerous because it's... internal. Yeah, I can't say much more without spoiling.
Then, 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 made sense. I then had to come up with titles for the two separate parts that were now two separate books.
I looked to my favorite title from the series, ON THE OUTSIDE. This was an obvious choice from the get-go because the central concept of the book is what it's like to try and return to your previous, normal life after terrible things have happened. Since it was a series, I wanted some consistency. I renamed the first book ON THE DAWNING (it's the first!), the second ON THE BRINK (it catapults everyone into the action!), and the third ON THE RUN (that's where they are!), leaving the final one ON THE OUTSIDE. Ta da.
#ProphecyStory: THE PROPHECY KEEPER
When I first came up with this book idea, I wanted it to write it in 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 chose this book title because the concept of the Prophecy Keeper was the inciting idea. When I started writing it, it became third person following the main character. When I finished the book, however, I realized the title had become even more fitting than I'd first thought.
#FibromyalgiaStory: WHAT IT TAKES TO DEAL
I went back and forth on this title a bit as I was planning the novel, but I ended up settling fairly firmly on it. WHAT IT TAKES TO DEAL works because the story is about girl who has gained a chronic illness and has to learn how to deal with it. It also has a certain snap to it that reflects the deeper secrets of the story and the girl's personality. If I ever actually write the sequel in my head, I have a perfect title to use: WHAT IT TAKES TO TELL.
This title came to me pretty quickly. As with PERISHED, I was done using "the." The central concept of this epic fantasy novel is reconciling the conflict between mercy and justice. Therefore, MERCIFUL makes a great title.
Choosing titles doesn't end there: chapters must be titled as well! There are many ways to do this. It matters less than the book title, thankfully, because readers rarely look at the chapter titles. Or, at least, that's the case with me. Maybe I'm assuming too much. Still, think about how many writers number their chapters instead of titling them!
That's one choice that has to be made here: numbers or 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. There are exceptions. 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 fit well together
Think about your favorite books and their chapter titling, and I'll leave you with some explanations of my own choices.
Titling to Organize Your Thoughts
This doesn't require as much thought as when you're trying to get some sort of voice out of it. Keep the titles 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 applies in #ApocalypseStory for me.
Titling to Strengthen Voice
This is the most important reason to title your chapters. In #ChosenFourStory, each book has a different gimmick for the chapter titling that matches the character the book focused on. Book one has two words per title to match its main character, who is definite but careful in choice. Book two has chapter titles of full sentences to match its character's confused, sarcastic, and very human voice. Book three's chapters only require one word because of the introspective and decisive character. Book four is full of chapters with titles of 3-5 words, all involving conjunctions and/or prepositions, that show the connective but lost place of the character, as well as his slight issue with grandeur.
Meanwhile, in #PsychicDystopiaStory, the chapter titles fit the "P" gimmick, something I decided on very early. The main character's voice is enhanced by these titles, which reveal her obsession with this letter "P" and everything it represents. #ApocalypseStory, on the other hand, uses titles to portray the character's slight removal from the situation. Every one begins with "In Which," and many of them reflect bewilderment and sarcasm.
When you've got multiple POVs, chapter titles become even more important. You need to specify the point of view and then indicate what part of the story you're in. This applies for me in both #IceEnchantressStory, which takes occasional detours from the main character to the title antagonist, and #PsychicStory, which goes back and forth between the male and the female lead. In #PsychicStory, which is first person, the wording of the chapter titles is also used to reflect the voices of the two separate characters and their development throughout the story.
This can be quick and effective when you don't need thought organization or added voice. In #FibromyalgiaStory, the character's voice is already very clear without the titles. Indeed, the brief, organized numbers reflect the character's focus on moving forward and not focusing too much on things that don't matter to her. In #ProphecyStory, the distant voice and nature of pure epic fantasy would only be weighed down by chapter titles.
Hope you got some ideas from that! Tell me about your favorite book and chapter titles.
Also, in a week, I'll be doing a survey roundup. I want to answer questions about me! Any question--fun, serious, crazy, whatever. Just ask me something. It'll be like the 25 Things About Me posts, but prompted by you! (And also by some random quizzes or surveys I find online.) It should be a fun time.
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