One of the most common questions I encounter as a writer is how I come up with my titles. Mostly, I just shrug and say that at some point they just seem to arrive and I call a work titled.
But that’s not entirely true, even if I’m tempted to cite a common writer’s cop-out. The fact is, while I’m not obsessive over titles, I put a lot of thought into the first words a potential reader sees. A good title, I think, should do three things: first, it should help me complete the work and bring closure to the project; two, it should add something substantive to the work, such as a hint towards a key point, a nod to the figurative goodies that might be found, or a tribute of some kind; third, it should get potential readers excited about what they’re going to discover in the story I tell.
Numbered list aside (narrowing the outcome down to three things was the result of writing this blog post), I don’t have a formula. It’s a fairly organic process with a smattering of intentionality. The outcomes seem to “arrive” after I put some thought into the title: meaning and bigger things often come out of the love and effort and sweat that gets put in to the work’s creation, but that extra reflection can build on artistry as well.
That’s the philosophy. For practical purposes, I have two distinct phases: the working title phase and the final title phase. The working title phase happens when I’m researching or drafting and stays on the project until I’m ready to think about a more final solution, and can come from almost anywhere: first words, significant character, setting, inspirational text, etc. The final titling comes after the first draft and lands somewhere during or after my secondary revisions: at some point, I just get the feeling I need to find the right title and then I get thinking.
To illustrate, let me describe the evolution of the titles for my three novel projects that are in various stages of development.
The Mural: is the working title for my new project, a pilgrimage tale about a man who seeks to complete a mural his dead mother had begun many years before. I have a feeling that at some point a new title will emerge from what happens in the work, but I’ve been referring to it as The Mural in my notes and preparations, so the working title will remain until after drafting. Easy. (For now.)
Aeden’s Wake: in this case, my working title ended up being the final title. As I was completing my first round of revisions, I tried a number of other combinations but kept coming back to the reality that, although subtle, Aeden’s Wake (the fictional town where my protagonist lives and has to uncover what happened to her family) was important enough for the reader to be aware of as they moved through the novel. The story arc follows Rhoda’s journey, but her town provides a number of the colourful threads woven into the story’s tapestry. Try as I might for a title that might seem more profound or weighty, I kept returning to Aeden’s Wake as accomplishing everything I needed it to, and that overthinking it was diminishing its impact. So, it stayed, and I'm glad it did. (FYI, it’s pronounced “Eden.” Intrigued? I hope so.)
Old Habits: if you’ve been reading my previous postings, you’ll know that Old Habits was the working title of my recently drafted novel, which traces the lives of six characters and the supernatural connection that follows them through twenty-four years of story arc. You’ll also know how unhappy I was with the working title, which came to be as a result of the first time I saved the file in Word: the opening lines of the novel were, “Old habits die slowly. The old habits of soldiers take even longer to fade.” So much changed throughout (including that awful first line) that I knew it would need a new title when I was finished the draft: old habits, while a prominent motif, just didn’t seem enough somehow. So, after my first round of revisions, a new title emerged, What Steps We Carry, a mashup of the following lines: “What infinitesimal impact weak people have on history, the limping, lurching steps they take through life, the insignificant weight of the memories they carry, the hollow words they use when no one is listening.” I read the lines a few times and the title practically leapt out of them.
Nothing is sacred in writing and publishing, of course, so who knows if I’ll always be satisfied with the title. But at this point, it nails down what I try to do with titles: it reflects the journeys and regrets and successes of all six of my characters and seems to bear the weight of decisions they (and we, hence the shift to first person) make. I’m very happy with it.
Does it work? I hope so. I really, really hope so.
I’m about to embark upon another novel-writing odyssey. For this one, I’ve really been paying attention to the craft of creating memorable characters, and doing some extensive reading on the subject as I sketch out the protagonist and the other folks who populate the novel-to-be. Since starting my pre-drafting work, I have been spending less and less time on Facebook (mostly because my time is limited and I’m getting bored of it), but I have been thinking about those who post updates on my News Feed a lot.
In short, the Facebooking phenomenon has bred some interesting character-types. As a writer, I’m always looking for great characters, so I thought I’d try and nail down some of the ones I’ve noticed.
Disclaimer: this is a FUN list that applies to all of Facebook, not just my friends. Having said that, I guess there’s no way around it: you will probably recognize yourself here. I hope it doesn’t offend you, but if it does, please know that no one is purely one or the other, and that the bad will be balanced by the good. Really. Oh, and these are for adult Facebook users. (Young people speak in ways I can’t decipher. “tly. spk 2 U l8r. ppl suk. Lolz!”)
PS. If you have any I can add to my list, feel free to comment at the bottom.
The Worrier: this person posts continual streams of fear about the world ending, global warming, or the dangers of urine-soaked diapers. Everything is bad, and getting worse. “I can feel a tumor growing where my cell phone usually is!”
The Know-it-all: it doesn’t matter how insightful a comment is, they have a suggestion for how it or the person can do better. They’ve been there, and assume you haven’t. Ignore their (always good) advice at your peril. “Have you tried quinoa? It won’t kill you like all the things you seem to be eating will. Love!”
The Encourager: have the fear that if they post anything other than encouraging things, karma will bite them in painful places. Their comments are a litany of praise and warm fuzzies and half-full goodness. “You’re great, you look fabulous, and all your orifices smell like lavender, all the time!”
The TMI: these folks tell everyone about everything, no matter how intimate, dirty, or gross it might be. Common fodder includes discussion of bodily functions (healthy and non), sexual realities (healthy and non), or relationship details (healthy and non). “Does anyone else get a burning sensation when they _________?”
The Addict: they live on Facebook. In fact, they are so prolific in their updates, you actually have to go into your preferences to filter or block them. “Hey, my alarm just went off!” “I’m going to get out of bed now!” “Wow, the floor’s cold!” “I have to pee!” “Does everyone else’s room always smell like blue cheese in the mornings?”
The Provocateur: these are the ones who think that Facebook is really designed to challenge others whether they want to be challenged or not. They say inflammatory things, link to provocative websites, and basically demand to know why everyone else doesn’t agree with everything they say. “You are killing my babies when you shop at The Gap!”
The Narcissist: these lovely people are all about themselves. They talk about how great they are, what awesome things they’re doing, how everyone loves them, and how ridiculously, ridiculously good-looking they are. They regularly update their pages with Instagram or web-cam self-portraits of themselves striking poses with pouty lips and sucked-in guts. “This one is called Blue Steel!”
The Lonely: unanswered, but repeated calls for get-togethers, questions about what everyone is doing, and inquiries about who is where at that moment. “Who’s in Hamilton and wants to hang out?” “Is anyone there?” “Am I loved?”
The Reproducer: their feed is a continual stream of reposted photos, links, and videos to the point whether you wonder if a person is even doing the posting. “I loved this! (insert fave meme here)”
The Mother Goose: it’s all about parenting, all the time, and in incredible detail. “My baby’s stool isn’t yellow today, it’s more of an olive green, with extra pimentos. Should I worry?”
The OCD (aka “The Corrector”): these ones are always making sure that details are correct, patterns are just so, and that everyone on Facebook knows it. “Did anyone else notice that there was an extra space before the colon in this article?” “I think you meant to say ‘you’re’ rather than your in that caption! Lol!”
The Perv: they friend people just so they can see how hot they are/aren’t, and make creepy and inappropriate comments to pretty much everyone. “No, 12 isn’t too young for lingerie! You lookz fab!” “Wow, you still look sexy! Wanna PM with me?”
The Cliché: incapable of an original thought, they comment and post a diarrheic glut of triteness, unaware that even after years of Facebooking, they haven’t actually said anything at all. “Life’s what you make it, so cherish every moment because time goes by so fast; remember to dance like nobody’s watching and keep it real so when life gives you lemons you can make lemonade!”
The Complainer: whatever challenges are faced at work, home, church, or with people are vented without any follow up or attempt to remedy whatever’s wrong. “Gas is too expensive.” “Everyone sucks.” “Recycling is such a pain!”
The Nostalgia: whatever is in the past is superior to whatever’s happening now, irony be damned. “We talked to each other in my day, as we walked uphill both ways!” “Kids knew how to spell and be respectful!” “Technology is ruining how people communicate!”
The Flamer: they put everyone down. Updates insult, and comments are rude and dismissive. “Obama’s a douchebag!”
The Irrelevant: hard to define, really, but they tend to blather, often based on whatever synapse is misfiring in their brain at that moment. No one really knows what they’re on about, ever. And they don’t spell-check. “Tweeeeeet! Whasssup with that thang? Rolz to the hesmickie!”
The Un-filtered: there is no editing or attempt to balance what they say. Out it comes, as is. “All Germans are Nazis!” “You are a bad parent!” “I peed a little when I laughed!”
The Undertained: to their credit, they’re never bored. Everything draws their attention, and they always find it awesome. “Isn’t this kitten the bestest? Look at that baby-spit – sooooooooooo cute!”
The Prosthelytizer: every comment quotes scripture or contains an ejaculatory deity-reference so that no one could accuse them of ever being not faithful. “Eating lunch now, Lord Willing!” “You are such a child of God!” “It’s so sad that Obama is a baby-killing heathen, Mark 3:14!”
The Guilt-Tripper: you really don’t want to make a mistake. They’ll tell you. “So cute feeding your kids BBQ chicken from Costco. Love! I’m sure the growth hormones won’t hurt them for a long, long time!”
The Devil’s Advocate: always, always makes sure the counter-argument is presented. “Well, some studies show that the world has too many rainforests as it is, so…”
The Brain Dead: we all just hope that these people don’t reproduce. “What good is it to your four year old if the gun’s unloaded, am I right?” “Meth is the new Crack, am I right?”
The Wishful Thinker: they’re not young, but they think they can be. They’re the ones who still shop at teen clothing stores in their thirties and never seem to get that younger styles look better on younger/fitter bodies. Oh, and they post photos. “Yo, lookz at my thredz, peeps! I’m so gangsta. Like Tone Loc or Vanilla Ice, yo!”
The Puller: the creepy single person who is just looking for his next date. “Hey, I’m recently divorced too! Sure, bring your teenager along!”
The Granola: woe the day you talk about doing/saying/eating/wearing anything that is synthetic and/or less than 100% sustainable and fairly traded. Often make others uncomfortable by how good they’re being to the earth-Mother. “It’s like, why wouldn’t you wear hemp, am I right?” “I bought grandpa his first pair of Birks!”
The Jockstrap: every post or update is about sports. Every one. “24-hour NFL marathon starting in ten!” “That trade was so bogus – Tiger Woods still has a home run or two in him!” “I hate, with the very soul of my being, everyone other than (insert team name). Hate. Like I hate evil.”
The Seller: you are their target demographic, and all their updates link to products they’re selling or for which they receive cash for clicks. “I’m not kidding! 4 more inches! Click here!”
The Dirty: they say sexual things all the time, either directly or indirectly. Often they don’t realize that everyone else can see the porn phishing videos they clicked on. Whoops. “Today, I’m mounting the rack on my SUV! Get it? ‘Mounting’? It’s code for humping! And I said ‘rack’! Lol!”