Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Unnamed Post

How do you come up with titles and character names? Do they change during the writing process?

.... I'm having a hell of a time thinking of a title for this post.

TITLES:  Like Susan, I have a hard time with titles. A title should be original, a self-contained hook, maybe slightly ironic, possibly a play on words, should have a drumbeat to it, and hint at the essence of the novel. Easy!! 

No, it's not. Before publication it was fun thinking up titles. Just string together some groovy words and that's that. But now there's metadata to consider, and marketability, trendiness and overtrendiness. Self-consciousness creeps in. Every title I think of seems pretentious or bombastic or lame. Whenever I do come up with a great title, there's no novel to go along with it, so it gets jotted down on some notepad and lost.

Years before I got published my first novel began as "Sweethearts". Then when I was trying out for the Arthur Ellis contest (which it won!) it became "The Cold Girl's Song". At the last minute a friend suggested shortening it to "Cold Girl", which I went with. Horribly, post-publication, I began seeing "Girl" titles everywhere, and then articles about the proliferation of Girl titles, and nowadays scorn heaped on any book with Girl in the title. I swear on a stack of crime novels that I was not jumping on any bandwagon when I picked that title. That was long before The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or the Girl on the Train or Gone Girl were even twinkles on the horizon. I swear! Still, I wouldn't change it.

My second novel I wanted to call "The Swim", but there were concerns from my publisher about its non-searchability. At least that was the reason given. Maybe it was just a polite way of saying "no". So I thought long and hard and came up with "Undertow", which is actually better. I Googled it, and was amazed to find only one other book with that title, and it was from an earlier decade, and I don't think it was even a crime novel, so that was great. Or maybe I'm just not very good at searching Google. Anyway, lo and behold, soon after its publication an Instagram popped up on my feed -- I don't even know where it came from -- advertising a novel called, guess what, Undertow. And a great cover it had, too. Anyway, grumble.

My third is called Creep, because that was the only title that worked for me. As it was being processed by my publisher, a movie called Creep appeared on Netflix which, similar to my story, involves a man in a wolf mask. Rats! It's a pretty good movie, actually, and thankfully nothing like my story. 

My fourth will be called Flights & Falls, I'm hoping. The more words in a title, the easier it is to be original and the less chance you'll discover you're a copycat, so I'm going to try to think up at least three words for my titles from now on.

Finally, if I had more time I would compile a list of book titles I like, but I'm writing this as usual at the 11th hour - which is a title of a movie I think.
Photo by Huilin Dai (Unsplash)

CHARACTERS: I could go on for pages about this, but I'll be brief, as midnight approaches. The only way to choose character names is try not to think on them too hard. I've just written a short story called "Rozotica", and one of the characters basically wrote his own name down on the page with no help from me: Jarvis Milestone. It could not be anything else!

Do names change during writing? Yes. As characters morph, so must their names. 

The tough ones are the main cast - they'll be written in stone so you have to think carefully. I'm glad that after working at my novels for several years, and just before getting published, I realized my protagonist's name was bleh, and decided to change it. The perfect name came to me on a road trip, and for better or for worse he'll be with me for the foreseeable future... Cal Dion.

(A brief explanation re the photo. My search on Unsplash for NAMES gave me a lot of pictures of MANES, and it's very late so I picked the best.) 


Paul D. Marks said...

It's always frustrating when we come up with a great title and then Google it to find there's 10 other books with that great title. It's really hard to come up with good names for things, whether characters or story titles. But you know what they say, it's a dirty job but someone's gotta do it ;-) .

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Well done, Rachel. I agree, characters have to grow into their names. The names I give usually change as the characters develop through early drafts.

Susan C Shea said...

Love this post from start to finish. All that twisting around to find an original, perfectly applicable title again and again, only to find that another earnest writer sitting alone in her study was doing the same thing. Such is life - and I like the titles you chose. And the photo!

Unknown said...

Thanks Susan, Dietrich, Paul :)

Unknown said...

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