Monday, November 23, 2009

Aspire to the Stars, or, That Which We Call a WiP by Any Other Name, Part II

Friday's Editorial Anonymous post really got me thinking about the importance of a good title, especially agent Jill Corcoran's comment at the bottom. Corcoran shared her feelings about how a good title can help your query get noticed in her in-box in her own blog post.
"Your book title is your whistle, your magnet, your bullhorn."
More often than not, I have a working title in mind while I'm drafting, but a title for my current WiP has eluded me from the start. November has actually been pretty kind to me since it morphed from NaNoWriMo to NaNoRevisMo. I'm excited to finish up my EVANGELINE rewrites and send some fulls out to betas so I can jump back into Mara's story. Except that I'm sick of calling it "Mara's Story". The manuscript is simply titled, "Mara", as well as the folder in which I keep all my research, mind maps, etc. And for this YA paranormal murder mystery, simply "Mara" just won't do.

So I've been voraciously reading mystery titles for inspiration. I'm also doing some research on how other writers think up titles, and playing around a little with lists and even Wordle to work my way closer to a title.

One method involves sitting down for five minutes with a piece of paper separated into three columns: Nouns, Verbs, Adjectives, filling those columns with words that come to mind when you think of the theme or tone of your story. My list from this exercise looks pretty good, but it's easy to fill up the noun column before you even think of the adjective and verb columns, so pace yourself, lol.

Once I finished that, I opened the file (without looking at the text, mind) did a copy all, and pasted the body of my manuscript into Wordle. I compared the words and added any good ones to my columns. Using these columns, see if any word combinations stand out to you.

Now, this list's use as a writing tool isn't limited to titling. I've saved it for my rewrites. There may be words on that list that I've overused, and will need to be replaced. But there may also be words that suit the tone of the manuscript that don't appear at all, words that I'd like to use if I can without sounding forced.

Corcoran has some great advice from her blog post that I'd like to share here:
"Free associate a bunch of titles. Type them out, double spaced, and eliminate the ones you hate. Send the list to fellow writers, friends, kids. These writers, friends, kids do not have to read your book first. Heck, the agent/editor you are querying hasn't read your book yet and that is who you are trying to attract. Ask 'which title would make you want to pick this book off the shelf?' Let each person only pick three and order their winning choices.

Don't pour years into a book and short change your title. You are just short changing yourself.

And yes, not every title of famous and super seller books are bullhorns. But that argument does not hold water with me. Don't look towards the mediocre and say it worked for them, aspire to the stars and look towards the neighboring galaxy."

Her advice to ask others for help can be hard for some of us prideful writers to swallow. We want to think that genius will strike us eventually, and that we of all people should be able to name our own baby. But just as we ask others to help whip our manuscripts into shape, we shouldn't neglect the importance of the title.

Margaret Mitchell titled "Gone With the Wind" from a line of poetry, a tactic I've tried with minimal success since my WiP is set in Belle Epoch France, but it may work for you. Quotes from famous writers, artists, etc, are also great sources for titles.

Here are a few more sites with tips, inspiration and advice for naming your baby, er, I mean novel:

B. W. Clough's "The Theory and Practice of Titles"
Sarah Stodola's list of the "Top Ten Novel Titles of All Time"
Elizabeth Richards' 2008 article- "How to Write a Great Book Title"
Rebecca Lake's 2009 article- "How to Name a Novel"
Let luck guide your quest for the perfect title at "Random Book Title Generator" or "Serendipity: Fantasy Novel Title Generator"
Sandra Haven's "Fiction Titles"
Christina Hamlet's eHow article, "How to Title a Novel"
And of course, once you've got a relatively unique title that suits your novel, check it's possiblity of success at "Lulu Titlescorer" Put your title to the test!

I understand that the title may be changed on a publishing house's whim, or when an ill wind blows through marketing, but Corcoran-- in a position to be an authority on the subject-- couldn't be more right. A good title in an agent's inbox is like waving an Hermes scarf in front of Shopaholic. Or a Vietnamese po'boy in front of me. ;)

She's also spot on when she says not to look toward the mediocre. Doesn't our work deserve the best, brightest, and loudest bullhorn we can think of? I'm aspiring for the stars to title Mara's story.

Are you?


Tamika: said...

I really appreciate you sharing your planning methods! This is a great system for more than title even.

Looking forward to doing some word crunching of my own real soon.

Abby Annis said...

I totally get the idea that asking others for their input makes it feel like it's less than genius because you didn't come up with it on your own. I do that too, often resisting a great idea just because I didn't think of it.

Great tips for coming up with a title! I think I'll be needing this for my WIP. Thanks for sharing!

Good luck in your title search!

Tess said...

Wow - I am impressed with the work you have put into this. I agree it is important. Anything we can do to help get noticed is a good thing, right?

Have a fantastic holiday :)

Barb said...

I got the title for my wip first and the story came from there, but I have driven myself crazy trying to come up with short story tiles.

Thanks for sharing this.

jessjordan said...

I am sooooo bad with titles. They either come to me, like some miracle shot down from a very gracious star, or ... they don't. Typically, it's the latter.

I need to work on that. :/

Tere Kirkland said...

Tamika, glad I could help! Crunch those words!;)

Abby, thanks! I may have to email a list of crappy titles for you to shoot down this week, lol. Oh, and I finally found that book I promised to mail you. It's packed up and waiting for stupid me to not forget my wallet tomorrow. D'Oh!

Tess, thanks! I tried to be as thorough as possible. And as you said, anything to help your mss get noticed-- short of pink scented paper and glitter-- is a plus! Happy Thanksgiving!

Barb, I've done that before. I ought to start keeping a file of good titles for later stories, lol. And crazy? At this point I'm certifiable. ;)

Jess, I need more gracious star miracles. Tell ya what-- I'll pray for one for you, if you hope for one for me. :D

Shannon Messenger said...

Hi Tere; So, I know you already have a ton of awards, but I wanted to give you one more: The Honest Scrap Award. If you want it you can pick it up here

Tere Kirkland said...

Shannon! Thanks so much!!

I'll be right over! ;)