Friday, October 28, 2011

Series Titles

I spent a couple of hours last night thinking about books titles. That wasn't what I set out to do. I was supposed to be working on manuscript revisions. But it suddenly occurred to me that if this was to be the first book in what I hope will be a new series, I needed to think ahead. And that brought me to the matter of the title of the second book.

Should titles in a series be linked by some common thread. For example, the alphabet (Sue Grafton), colors (John D. MacDonald and Walter Mosley), or questions (Patricia Sprinkle). Should titles in a series reflect the mood of the series? Or perhaps a theme? Or maybe series titles work best when they are associated with the occupation (forensic scientist) or hobby (knitting) of the protagonist.

The titles in my present series have no rhyme or reason. The one that has done best and that people tend to remember was inspired by blues music (You Should Have Died on Monday). Maybe we as writers are naturally inspired to come up with great titles for the books that seemed to flow more easily than the others and that take us to places we didn’t expect to go.

And, of course, with that title, I knew it needed to be about music. One of my characters had been a blues singer. So I looked for song titles and couldn't find one that would fit, and finally wrote my own song lyrics (not great lyrics, but lyrics that fit the story and gave me a title).

So what did my two hour detour last night tell me about the titles for books in the new series? That I like titles drawn from books, poetry, and songs. That I need a title before I can write, and a really good title helps me write better. That when I find the right title, I also find the heart and soul of my book.

I love the title of the book that I'm working on now. It was inspired by a character in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland (as was the plot, in part). When I began to think about that title in the context of my new series, I realized that the aspect of the series that will remain constant is that the characters are always dealing with change -- change coming at them more quickly than they can sometimes cope. Change that produces uncertainty and anxiety. And that gave me my second title for that next book that I haven't written yet. That title comes from one of my favorite Robert Browning poems and has always haunted me.

Does anyone else need a title before you can write? Wish you could set your title to music and have it playing in the background so that you wouldn't forget what you were trying to say?


Rick Blechta said...

I used to use titles of songs or pieces of music as titles to my novels "Knock on Wood", "The Lark Ascending", "Shooting Straight in the Dark", "A Case of You", but then I came up with a title that had nothing to do with music and I sort of abandoned that whole song naming thing. I guess where I am now, I will use a song title if it works, but I’m not going to be bound to it. That being said, my next novel to be published, The Fallen One is an artistic translation into English of La Traviata.

I can also say that I get pretty antsy as I’m writing a novel if I don’t have a title. Titles often bring their own focus to a story, I find, and I’m always hoping my title will give me that “edge” as I’m working.

Barbara Fradkin said...

Good topic, Frankie! I agree, finding the right title gives you the heart and soul of the story. For me, a title should encapsulate in some way that story. I too feel restless until I have the title, but often I don't get the right one until the first draft is almost done. Something will pop out of the draft - an image, something a character says - and I say, Yeah, that's what the book is about. My series titles have no theme but do have an edginess in common.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

I love your titles, Rick. Especially "A Case of You."

Know what you mean, Barbara, about feeling restless. If I have the wrong title I don't seem to get very far or end up rewriting a lot.

Rick Blechta said...

I love the song even more, Frankie. The lyrics are just so incredible and tell such a vivid story.

Expect an email with an attachment.

And thank you!