When it comes to titles, I am all or none. Some days, the blessed title deities generously bequeath the perfect name for my current work in progress, simply out of the kindness of their hearts. Other days, the well runs dry, the ground cracks below my feet, and I beg for the simplest drop of inspiration, but none is to be found.
That’s what family is for.
Recently, in the RWA publication, The Romance Writer’s Report, I read a fascinating tidbit about how certain writers work by speaking through their ideas aloud. They don’t actually need much response or reaction from the people they’re talking to, but once they give literal voice to the ideas of the character development or the sticky plot point, the problems they’re experiencing become more clear and much easier to solve.
I am absolutely this type of writer. My dutiful boyfriend stares at me, glassy-eyed, waiting for the final diatribe about my heroine’s tragic past, responding when appropriate, asking enough questions to make it seem like he’s listening. It’s a necessary evil, and I am forever grateful to have the support and love of the people I live with. It especially helps that they’re all creatives, designers, actors, writers, themselves, and therefore find the task of helping me develop my books a little less arduous than most.
That goes for titles too. You should see them get down to it when I have to, God forbid, actually name a character. Much like title names, the character either come up to me and introduce themselves with a smile and a huge, or they linger in the corner, brooding and pissed until I come up with their name myself. Character names are tough but arguably easier than book names. Character names exist, it’s just a matter of figuring out the right one.
Book names, on the other hand, do not. (And if they do, whoops, back to the drawing board.)
So we sit around the dining room table, laughing over the world’s worst puns. (Last week, my boyfriend and I combined our myriad talents to waste a significant amount of time coming up with cat-themed literary classic book puns: Purrsuasion, The Whisker of Our DisCattent, Purrlock Holmes, Northanger Tabby and Hairy Potter and the Order of the Felines were the best of the bunch…)
They give me great input, but more than that, it affords me the chance to hear how the words sound out loud, how they might work in a series, whether they sound too good, (and in that case someone already has it), onward and upward. Thinking aloud is good, but doing it with an audience is a surefire way to find what you’re looking for. Most of the time.
It’s still a struggle. I was working with a series – book three needed a title – and my brother was being less than no help. I wanted to have the same cadence of title for each book, but the third one, about a biologist and special forces operative, was bringing up nothing good. Jack’s favorite – Infect My Heart. (‘Cause everyone likes a little venereal disease to go with their hot military man. No thanks…)
The point is, sometimes books are easy. Sometimes the characters come forward without hesitation, the plot is seamless, the black moment convincing. Those are the days when being a writer is fun, simple, like the movies make it seem. But that’s not the norm. These plots and characters and themes and challenges are a real, honest struggle. Even if your whiteboard outline is sound and your hero and heroine’s backgrounds are strong, you will still have trouble. You will still have a book that you can’t possibly find the title for.
So you talk through it. You find the people willing to fire names or bad puns at you over dinner. You welcome the input from different walks of life, different mindsets, those people who don’t know your characters yet. For me, it’s my family and my boyfriend and a handful of really remarkable friends and editors who not only keep me on track but sometimes drive the car for me. The more I write, utilizing the skills and knowledges of those around me, the more I realize I can’t do it alone. Not all of it.
Some days, you get a title, a book, and characters worth loving. Other days, you have to ask for help. It’s a part of writing, and it’s a part of life. Plus, who doesn’t like having dinner conversation entirely comprised of puns? ♦
I had that problem with my current trilogy. For about nine months prior to writing the first book, I was struggling to come up with a title for the 3rd volume (very long story that will leave you seriously confused should I attempt to explain it) when a pet phrase that a co-worker uses to describe the utter contempt that we had for a good chunk of the people who worked at our agency suddenly came to the forefront of my memory.
In rapid succession, the next two titles came aboard and just like that, I had all three titles for my trilogy.