Wednesday, August 08, 2018

In pursuit of the perfect title

Barbara here. It's the August long weekend, and it's hot, sunny, and gloriously lazy. I am sitting on my dock by the lake, far from the bustle and obligations of city life. I am working in a desultory fashion, reading research books for my next Amanda Doucette novel, which is still a mere twinkle in my imagination but as of yesterday possessed of a title. It's always a thrilling moment when I hit the combination of words that make the perfect title. Sometimes it happens before I even know there's book ahead. PRISONERS OF HOPE was a title in storage for years until  I finally had the idea to go with it, and now the finished book will be released in October of this year.


Sometimes the title comes during the writing of the book. At some point I write a phrase or a character says something, and I think "There's the title!" This happened in one of my Inspector Green novels, when halfway through the book, Green and his sergeant are discussing suspects, and Green says "But what about the fifth son?" FIFTH SON was perfect. Sometimes I wait in vain for the epiphany and at the end of the first draft I am still at sea. I fiddle and worry and turn phrases and words over in my mind as I go about my day. In desperation I may eventually throw a bunch of theme words and descriptors into a Google search, enter "Quotations" and see what pops up. THIS THING OF DARKNESS, a quote from Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST, was discovered that way.

A book is never finished until it has the perfect title. A title should capture its essence or hint at a major theme or conflict. It should match the mood and voice of the piece. It should give the reader some idea of what lies inside. Titles with puns are popular with cosies but would be inappropriate in the gritty mystery/ thrillers I write. Punchy, one-word titles like FEAR hint at bare-bones thrillers, also not the type of book I write. Mystery titles should hint at mystery, rather than romance, horror or science fiction.

Sometimes the quest for a title becomes an urgent matter when the publisher demands one for promotional purposes or when the media puts you on the spot by asking what the name of your next book is. You could always say I don't know, but that's a promotional opportunity lost. HONOUR AMONG MEN was conceived when a newspaper reporter asked about my next book. I had already started researching PTSD among our soldiers but as yet had no idea of the plot or conflicts, but that phrase popped into my head on the surge of adrenaline the question provoked. It was a classic military phrase, and ended up suiting the story very well.


So back to that languid day reading on the dock yesterday. I was reading a beautifully written and illustrated book called ALBERTA THE BADLANDS, which was peppered with snippets of poetry by an early fossil hunter in the area. I came upon this quote from "A Story of the Past", by Charles H. Sternberg. "The rains of ages have laid bare the ancient dead."

THE ANCIENT DEAD. Perfect.

I only hope my publisher agrees. Now my story has begun.

6 comments:

Anna said...

THE ANCIENT DEAD -- excellent title. Reminds me of a line from a Henry Vaughan poem: "the dead alive and busy" which of course is what all those dead people in our books are doing.
Anna

Thomas Kies said...

THE ANCIENT DEAD...ohhhhh, I love it!!

Barbara Fradkin said...

That phrase "The dead alive and busy" is also an excellent title, Anna.

Anonymous said...

Great title! Can't wait to hear all about the new book. I also enjoyed hearing about how you chose titles of other books I have read and enjoyed. I certainly agree that titles are always the first important attention-getter for readers.
Ever anonymous, Nancy R

Nancy Silverman said...

What a timely post. I just finished a manuscript for a new series and I must had three or four different working titles. It wasn’t until I finished the draft the upteenth time that I finally landed upon a name.

Donna S said...

Loved the photo of you and the dog on the dock. Really evokes summer. Glad you got your title.