Discovering A Title For Your Story

I’ve made brief mention of my probable next novel – the Shakespearey metafictiony film mess that will be my 2014 NaNo. I had no clue what to call this thing, as I only have a page of notes.

Last night, I discovered a title for it.

I say “discover” because that’s almost always what titles are. You almost never go into the brainstorm stage with a title in mind. If you’re lucky, you’ll be writing notes, or an outline, or maybe the book itself, and you’ll pause. You’ll look back at the line you just wrote and you’ll say, “That’s it. That’s the title.”

The working title for my next novel is Verisimilitude. Long, clunky, and will probably get changed, but I’m overjoyed to have a name. Plus, it really is fitting. My book will explore the blurred barrier between reality and the ‘fictional dream,’ told from the POV of a grip working on a film. As you may know, ‘verisimilitude’ refers to the illusion of reality that you “believe” while absorbing a fictional work. It’s the imaginative “truth.”

Sometimes titles don’t come so early or so easily. The title for Paradisa was originally Crusaders. It was Crusaders for almost four years. Only once I finished the book and was explaining it to Austin did he say “Calling it Crusaders doesn’t really make sense.” So I swapped it to Paradisa, which was the name of the second book, but I’ve found the adjustment quite easy.

Some people might say “who cares about the title? The editors will change it anyway!” First of all, this isn’t always true. Read some success stories on Query Tracker and see that a good number of authors get to keep their titles. Additionally, you’re  still selling the book to an agent! You want the agent to be intrigued, right? And the title is doubly important if you’re self-publishing. With all the self-promotion you have to do, let the title’s intrigue do some of the work for you.

In James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure, which is one of my favorite books on writing, he gives a few more examples for how to ‘discover’ your title. Here are some of his and a few of mine:

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Fanfiction – Or, How I Learned To Write

Fanfiction gets a bad reputation from many, including George R.R. Martin and my own dad. They dismiss it as “lazy. ” As in “go write your own stories you punk kid!”

Let me tell you, there is nothing lazy about writing three 100k+ word novels. And that is exactly what I did when I was in Heroes fandom in high school, along with ~25 short stories, and 5  novellas. I clocked in probably 600,000 words in the span of three years.  And you can bet I became a better writer for it.

No, I did not learn how to create believable original characters, but I did learn how to write realistic speech. I learned how to take some deep, meta looks at the psyches of fictional people, and how to write arcs of growth, and how to create chemistry between characters.

True,  I didn’t learn how to world build….but I learned how to plot.  Writing fanfic is how I designed methods for outlining my books. It taught me to research topics I was unfamiliar with.

Stylistically, I was in peak shape at age 17. I could write anything at the drop of a hat because I knew my voice that well. This is partly because I was exercising my author muscles, but also because I read so much fanfic.  I read for hours every day and I guarantee that had an effect.  I stopped reading and writing fiction in college, and my style has suffered for it.  I’m not sure I’ll ever be as good as I was at 17.

I should mention that I did not start writing with fanfic.  I had several original works-in-progress from ages 6-14, including two completed screenplays and one completed book (called The Flying Chameleon Club. It did not actually involve flying chameleons). But for the most part, I hardly got past Chapter Two on any WIP because I had no clue how to outline. Fanfic did not spark my interest in writing, but it taught me HOW to write, and how to actually finish books.

In writing Paradisa and The Shadow of Saturn, which were my first original projects since I was 14 and the first writing I’d done in 3 years, I did realize things fanfic didn’t teach. Creating my own sandbox is hard, for one.  Editing for querying is also much more involved than editing for the free fanfics I was posting online. But if I didn’t have those half million words of fanfic between my childhood and now, I would probably be on the same path of unfinished WIPs, nonsensical plots, and hair-pulling. And I would be so lost with the whole process that I’d probably give up over and over again.

So thank you, fanfiction :* You made me the opposite of lazy – a person who has finished novels instead of someone who wants to write them “someday.” ^_^