Saturday, August 9, 2008

In search of the perfect title

I’ve never found it easy to come up with good titles for my work. The only one I love is Dracolytes, which is short, sharp and says very clearly that the story is a fantasy. Before the Storm, although it references the weather motif in the manuscript, sounds more like a romance. So it was with some apprehension that I sat down yesterday to find a title for the next book.

I didn’t need to, of course. It could have been the Untitled Opus until it was done, but I like giving my stories names at the start; it’s easier for me to think of them or mention them to my critiquer that way. So I tried to come up with a name for this one. It’s a fantasy, and I wanted the title to reflect a glass/crystal motif in the story.

What about just Glass? No, that could be anything, even a nonfiction book about the history of glass. It also reminded me too much of the title of Sheri S. Tepper’s Grass, but I like that title because the novel's planet is covered with grass. My world wasn’t like that.

I wrote down Children of the Crystal next. Alliteration… good. Similarity to Stephen King’s “Children of the Corn”… not so good. It also mentioned the Crystal, meaning the reader would be aware of that before the characters would. Finally, the group of people whom I had in mind with that title weren’t children at all, nor were they the children of anything. Pawns, maybe, but not children. OK, forget about that, get back to the glass.

I tried Glass Houses, but that didn’t sound like a fantasy. All right, Glass Castles. I could have the heroine say that glass castles break too; you just need very large stones (no pun intended). But if the title mentioned a glass castle, might the readers expect one in the story? Even if they didn’t, I wasn’t sure I wanted a castle in the story, whatever it was made of. I had castles in two other manuscripts; I wanted something different for this one.

I liked the contrast between “castle” and glass”, though, the balance between strength and fragility. I tried Castle of Glass, then crossed it out. Then I wrote Empire of Glass.

Now that one was do-able. It suggested vastness and power, but tempered with a weakness, an Achilles heel. Readers just might imagine an actual glass castle, but I don’t think anyone will think of a glass empire – the title doesn’t conjure up as concrete an image. At the same time, I like the alien-ness potential in an empire of glass, the questions it raises. Maybe I’m putting too much thought into this, especially considering that editors often change the titles of books to make them more marketable. Maybe the title won’t work for anyone else.

But it wasn’t all that painful to come up with one this time.


GunnerJ said...

I think I'm going to use one of your pun names just to spite you.

Semper Die is the one I remember best.

Marian said...

The only drawback I can see to using a pun name is that it might give the story a wisecracking, hip urban fantasy-esque feel.

Of course, if it's accepted, the editor or the marketing department will probably change it anyway.

Doug said...

Good lord
your post makes me intensely embarassed of the names of my old short stories

Anonymous said...

I've really enjoyed reading your blog. "Titles" seems to be a very common issue in blogs and forums, but even so, I am always on the look out for another good discusson.

This one was great, except that "Children of the Crystal" is not alliterative...

But this is one of the first times I've seen a writer decribe their process of coming up with a difficult title while giving examples as they go. It was wonderful to get into your head and understand how you arrived at your final decision.