February 2, 2013

Choosing Titles

A lot of writers begin a story without a title in mind. They flesh out the characters, envelop themselves deep within the story, and never think about the title until a) one comes to them naturally while writing the book, or b) they are forced to think of one because they can’t submit without the title.

Not so with me. You see, I can’t lose myself in a story if it’s untitled. I can connect with the characters and flesh out their lives, but I can’t spend hours, weeks, and months bleeding on the page without giving that page a name. Talking with friends about my work in progress only works for me if that WIP has a title.

Imagine it: I’m raving about my newborn son or daughter, showing pictures to friends. They ooh and ahh over how handsome he is, and then someone asks, “What’s his name?”

I can’t reply, “I don’t know, it’ll eventually come to me.” Could you?

So the first thing I do is think about the tone of my book. Is it funny? Sexy? Serious? Does a consistent theme run throughout? Something that either the hero or the heroine needs to learn or acknowledge by the end of the book?

Once I’ve decided, then it’s time to brainstorm. I sit at my desk and make a list of words related to my book. Nothing is off limits. I write down everything I can think of that is related to my story, whether it’s an emotion, a setting, or a question. At this point, one word usually jumps out at me – a word I KNOW has to be in the title. From there I play with word combinations and another list takes shape—a list of possible titles.

Here I should probably tell you that sometimes this method works for me, and sometimes…well, not so much. Take, for instance, the title of my first book, Not Without Risk. My original title for this book was Strength to Love. No really, that’s what I called it, which was better than my original title for After Midnight (and no, I’m not telling what that was called). Anyway, back to Risk…The farther I got into the story, the more I hated the title. It just wasn’t right. Then one day I’m typing along and the hero’s mother tells him, “To love someone, to have someone return that love is…It’s a risk, certainly, but what is life if not a risk?”

*insert light bulb*

There it was, the moment when the word clicked into place. Risk. Everything in that book revolved around risk, from the hero’s job, to taking a leap of faith and risking his heart in order to find love.

Here’s another confession. I have a compulsion to see the name of the book somewhere in the book. It doesn’t matter to me whether a character voices it, or thinks it; my titles have to be in the book. This need made naming, or should I say coming up with the correct name for, After Midnight even easier.

The original title broke my rule about following the tone of the book. It was too sappy, and gave the impression the book was light-hearted. I don’t write light-hearted. Yes, everything I write has its happily-ever-after. Yes, the hero and heroine always ride off into the proverbial sunset. But getting there is never an easy journey. I torture my characters, some more than others, and Isabeau Montgomery…she’s a tortured heroine.

Then it hit me. Isabeau owns a bar, the opening scene takes place in that bar after closing. In fact, most of the key moments in the book occur late at night. Night… Darkness… Midnight…aha! There it was.

Sometimes the moment that changes everything comes After Midnight.

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