Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Book Titles: A Dive into Worldbuilding hangout summary

Book titles are important because they are your first opportunity for worldbuilding, and one that works in concert with cover art. I think it's worth talking about them so you can learn about some of the parameters that are important, even though in some cases authors don't have a ton of control over the titles that get used for their books.

Reggie told us that the title of her book, "Haunted," was potentially an issue because it's a very common title. However, she said, it was the only title that matched the content of the book.

Your title differentiates your book from others. Che remarked that one-word titles can tend to blend together.

A title sets expectations for the genre of the book as well as the content.

Deborah remarked that "Love's Red Passion" would not be expected to be a picture book. Romances and Westerns are very good at genre-specific titles.

A title says, "This is the reading experience you will have." Therefore it's important for the title not to mislead a potential reader. You don't want someone thrilled about the title to start reading and then fling the book across the room.

I mentioned Janice Hardy's first novel, which was entitled The Shifter in the US, but The Pain Merchants (her original title) in the UK. We speculated that the latter title might make US parents think of drugs, and that might be a reason why the US booksellers weren't fond of it. The series itself is called The Healing Wars.

Word meaning is really important when you're dealing with as few words as you find in a title. When you hear a word, your brain accesses all its possible meanings simultaneously, in order of most to least common. This is what gives some words more "resonance" than others.

Che mentioned reading a book called "Under the Skin" which she had guessed might be about a serial killer, but turned out to be about aliens. Her expectations were so strong that she doubted the storyline through most of the book.

Deborah called a title a "contract with the reader." She said you can be mysterious without being mystifying.

Ambiguity can be a problem, if the meaning of the title is not clear. However, if an ambiguous title is relevant to the story in multiple ways, that can be cool. In titling a work you can deliberately use a readers expectations within the genre to surprise them.

Titles can vary in length. They can be anything from "Hild" to "The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Sheip of her Own Making." We discussed some of the implications of the Cathrynne Valente title (Fairyland).

If you use non-English words for a title the meaning that emerges from it has a lot to do with onomatopoeia and association with similar-sounding words.

A title can relate to a character or characters, can use a quotation from the book, or can relate to a theme of the book.

A title like "The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms" suggests fantasy, but also scope and diversity. The use of a non-exact number is really important. "The Seventeen Kingdoms" would be very different.

A title like "Who Fears Death" sounds very active and confounds expectations.

We talked about parts of speech in titles. A great many of them are noun phrases, "The Noun" or "The Adjective Noun" etc. For interest, a noun phrase title needs specificity, like "The Winds of Khalakovo." Deborah said that "The Children of Kings" was a terrible title for a novel she wrote but that it had already been publicized and she couldn't change it. Using very different parts of speech can help a book stand out.

Don't distort the story to fit the title.   ...except sometimes publishers may insist that you do so.

We discussed the difference between "To Become the House" vs. "Becoming the House." The former implies intent on some level, while the latter implies a process that has already started. The former doesn't make it clear whether the process has started or not.

"Nightshifted" (Cassie Alexander) is a good title because it plays on "the night shift" and on the concept of shift as a verb.

Some interesting titles:
"Repent Harlequin, said the Ticktock Man"
"Watership Down"
"Blackhawk Down"
"Wild Ducks Flying Backwards"
"On Stranger Tides"
"To Kill a Mockingbird"
"The Dying of the Light"

Verb forms in titles have a very different feel, even if they are in their more adjective-like forms.

Series books tend to have titles that are somehow similar. "Soulless," "Blameless," etc. by Gail Carriger. "Divergent" and its sequels.

Sometimes things title themselves, but at other times it's best just to take a notebook and write out a lot of options. You might discover something fantastic that you hadn't previously thought of.

This week, Dive into Worldbuilding meets on Wednesday, November 11 at 10am Pacific on Google+. We will be joined by guest author Nancy Hightower who will tell us about her new poetry collection, The Acolyte. I hope you can join us!


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