I don’t know about the rest of you but I love a good name. Fanciful ones, really apt ones, names that sneak up with new meaning later on in the tale – I love a good name. Which means I’m also certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that I almost always fail at finding just the right name. Hell I have a whole blog dedicated to the fact that most of my characters start out with the same name: Sarah.
That doesn’t mean I don’t try like hell to find just the right nomenclature for each and every character, book and story. Over the years I’ve come up with a few methods for to help myself out, and on the off chance that others out there are struggling with this part of the process too, here’s my process for naming books and stories:
Honestly naming shorts is the easiest for me. So easy in fact I almost skipped this step entirely. Usually when writing a short the title is one of the first things that pops into my head. It’s fine and dandy if the story evolves a pace away from the original concept as it’s written, it’ll only make the original title look deeper than it originally was (I like looking deep). I do try and avoid spoilers and have been known on occasion to come up with an alternate title but usually the first one is best.
For example though Family Picnic was originally titled that it did spend a space of time being titled All That Matters. The first is more to the point and less preachy (I like looking deep not preachy) and preachy is probably the wrong direction to go with a horror story like that one. On the other hand, I’m positive that the thought of a ‘family picnic’ sends many a shiver down people’s spines.
Write The Book First
Sometimes I think the simple act of gathering a list together is magic in itself.
Before you reach 50k words or so, you really won’t be able to properly title your novel. Panster, plotter or soothsayer there’s just too much that’s hidden in the fog of unwritten story for you to have an idea of what to call it before it’s written. On the off chance that you’ve got an idea for a book and you’re absolutely certain you know what it should be called before putting pen to paper – it might turn out to be a short.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have a WIP (work in progress) title, in fact having one is kind of mandatory – you’ll need something to call the thing when you’re trying to get it critiqued, edited, drum up early support for your next release. Just don’t get too attached to it or stress yourself out over choosing your WIP title. When I first started working on my next book, Ash of Ambitions, it was titled Ashes to Ashes. Why? Mostly because I had a character named “Ash” and it was catchy. After 50k words went into the rough draft I knew I was ready to retitle it and started searching for the new name.
The Five W’s
Who, What, when, where, why and sometimes how, just about every title anywhere ever can come out of the Five W’s. A lot of books feature some combination of these five, The Art & Craft of Fiction (what), The Uncertainty of Death (who + what) etc. Knowing that doesn’t actually make titling your novel a cinch though. After all, how do you condense the all of your 175k masterpiece into a single word to signify “what?”
That’s why I recommend writing the novel first. I was well past 50k before I was able to identify that the cluelessness of the lead in The Uncertainty of Death was title worthy.
I swear I’m not as organized as all these lists seem to imply but really having all this info to hand when you need it – doesn’t hurt at all. Like the list of names I mentioned in my previous naming post, this doesn’t need to be a list of finished titles. Gather up all the important words you’re thinking might coalesce into something vibrant and vital.
Sometimes I think the simple act of gathering a list together is magic in itself.It never ceases to amaze me how quickly ideas coalesce and present themselves just by taking a few minutes out to write down all the little pieces.
You can find the first half of this series that deals with naming characters here.