Thursday, May 07, 2009

Titles are hard.

I have not been blogging lately. You may have noticed. Instead, I have been deep inside deadline-land, trying to finish the new novel by August 1. Anyone following my picometer (to the right - just a bit of fun really) will see that although the word count is inching up, the percentage of novel completed is not. That is because for every 3000 words I write, I realise that the novel in fact needs to be 3000 longer than what I originally thought. It like one of those sci-fi or horror movies where the heroine is walking down a corridor and the corridor just keeps expanding.

One thing I have been thinking about, of necessity, is the title for the novel. I thought I had it all sorted, with two title options, both of which I liked, but one I liked slightly less due to its construction being The (something) of (something). One of my friends from my very scientific Facebook poll suggested that "Either's a good title [The Sound of Butterflies and the Something of Something]; together they look like an attempted branding exercise." Well, that was what I had been afraid of all along, despite this title's absolutely perfect capturing of theme and motif.

The other title, secretly my favourite, has had a mixed reaction. It seems it is too similar to a famous book written in the 1960s - do I really want people to think of that book? Well, actualy, it wouldn't hurt if they did, but it may set up expectations about the plot and deliver too neatly to those expectations. Need a bit more mystery in there. My version of the title has also been done before, and quite recently, albeit for a trashy thriller a million miles from the literary masterpiece I am constructing. But, like, it's been a bestseller, so a lot of people have at least heard of it. The final nail in the coffin is that some people think it's just plain boring - but it makes so much sense when the book is read, and brings the two threads of the story together in perfect harmony. Sigh.

So it's back to the drawing board. Everything I come up with just doesn't make me fall in love. It's a stock phrase, or it's been done before, or it looks good on paper but when you say it out loud it is clumsy. And the worst thing is that it's distracting me from the important task at hand - writing the book. I'm hoping that as I type the last word the perfect title will just slide into my head. Unfortunately I need it before then.


Mary McCallum said...

Oh Rachael - this is hard. I had a good title for The Blue but my MA class made me change it because while it looked good on the page it sounded WEIRD. So I had to do what you're doing now - running over so many other options that didn't seem to fit .... going in circles....discovering The Blue made me change the book a bit - which is madness really - but it had to happen. It's surprising how quickly once you've decided on a title it becomes The Title and nothing else fits. A bit like naming a child eh? Do you have that in hand?

Tania Roxborogh said...

I know it shouldn't really matter, the title at this stage. Afterall, it's the content of the novel rather than the title but, like you, for me, the title is the key which unlocks the door of understanding (that's what I tell my students when we are analysing poetry anyway).

I felt I couldn't go forward with 'Blood Lines' until I had the title and, even though I know the plot of the third in the trilogy, I don't have a title. My students tell me that all the titles have to be along the same theme (aka Twighlight, Breaking Dawn etc). The overarching theme of the Banquo's Son trilogy is inheritance/family/passing on things to the next generation.

As to your comment about someone else using your title, that happened to me with Third Degree. Little did I know James Patterson was doing this first, second, third, fourth, fifth thing. Another title, The Ring, was published before the horror movie but kids all think I wrote the movie.

On another note, the news I have been waiting for from New York has arrived and it's the big thumbs up for Banquo's Son.

Rachael King said...

Tania that's fantastic news! Well done. Good luck with the next step. It can be agonising but very exciting.

It's not for inspiration I need the title - my NZ publishers are getting the cover designed and will start selling it into stores soon. Needs a title for that!

Mary, as for my 'other project', yes I have a few options I'm happy with, but we'll wait until publication date before the final decision.

Anonymous said...

Good post Rachael, naming things i a hard business, like Adam in the Garden of Eden having to name all the animals, tough going I imagine.

Titles like names are so personal. My suggestion would be to go with your gut feeling, or if you are currently easily swayed, put your sounders out to three nearest and dearest and watch their faces when you say the titles.

I did hear David Bowie writes his lyrics by cutting out the words and throwing them up in the air, and gathers a few to make a lyric. Would that work I wonder...?

Good luck

Hope the other project going smoothly too

Bookman Beattie said...

Ah yes, titles ! In my publishing days this aspect of a book, especially fiction of course, caused more grief between publisher and author than any other aspect.
But for the moment just go with a working title rather than attempt to finalise it, after all you haven't finfished the book yet and the title may leap out of the final chapter or two.
And Rachael, in the end follow your own instinct not the opinions of others!!

The Paradoxical Cat said...

Isn't it like having a baby? You can have several names reeady but can never be sure until they are born... so wait, if you can, and have as long a list ready as you can think up.

I'd advise you to listen hard to the publisher's advice... the writing of a good title isn't necessarily a novelist's gift...


Anonymous said...

Ah, titles. Not quite as bad as covers, counting by amount of blood shed, but close. I, too, was anxious that after The Mathematics of Love my second novel shouldn't have a title which was the same "The X of Y" shape. Don't know why, really, but it was a strong feeling. But still, it's that reflex that we should do something Different, isn't it.

I do remember, when we were tussling over the title of what became A Secret Alchemy, my agent said, 'Quite often we all go round and round in circles, and end up with the number we first thought of...'

Rachael King said...

Emma it's funny you should say that abut coming back to your first idea. I have dug up my very first idea and am going to run it past my editor. It still says SO much about the book but I was put off because another book has the same title (published a long time ago).

Damon Young said...

Luckily, my title for Distraction was fairly straightforward.

The great, frustrating umm-and-aaah was the subtitle. (Perhaps not a common problem for fiction.)

At one point, I had about thirty variations...

Rod Duncan said...

I had a huge battle to fix the title for my Crime Express novella. I knew the title I wanted, but everyone I asked hated it. I wavered right up to the day of the deadline, trying different titles (which people always liked more). On the last day I went back to my original "The Mentalist". Somehow, going through the process of everyone else telling me they didn't like it seemed to help me work out that I really did.

The first thing my editor said was when he saw it was: "I love the title." And now, ironically, the title has been used by a US TV drama. I'm still not sure what I think about that!

Really interesting blog, by the way. I've added it to my favourites list.

Maggie May said...

Your first paragraph made me smile. Unfortunately for me, I relate. This is what my novel keeps doing to me as well, and I'm someone who revises as I go, so it seems like every time I write 2000 words, I pinch out 2,000 ones that weren't right.

Ruth (Book Focus) said...

Hmm - was "Magpie Hall" the secret-favourite title that you mentioned here? Or was it a new title? Just curious. :)