Titles & The Making Of
Updated: Oct 10
Since most fiction writing involves a bit of ‘let’s pretend’, let’s pretend I know what I’m talking about. I have, written thousands of titles, with no two alike except those that are in a series with Roman numerals after them (I, II, II, IV, etc.)
Titles, like the actual text of the poem or story, come to me as gifts of the creative mind.
Whether I’m writing a poem, which could be autobiographical or fictional, the title is often the idea for the poem or the title may be suggested by the text of the poem.
I have penned over 4300 poems. Whether that is a lot, I can’t say for sure. I just know I’ve been doing it a long, long time and I deemed those creative ideas worthy of being writing down and of keeping track. The point is, each poem has a title, so perhaps I do know a little about titles.
I have said elsewhere, regardless of the genre/context I use a process called Writing Into The Dark (WITD). I’ve been doing it for literal decades. Writing a story, a novel, is primarily idea-development. You have a spark, an inkling, a concept that comes to your subconscious whether suggested by observed reality or fictionally constructed from potential/alternate reality. It is the filling-out or the filling-in of that spark, inkling, or concept that becomes the poem. Thus a poem can start, as I said, with a title or more often, for me, the title comes out of the context of the poem itself.
As an aside: I’ve never understood how or why some poets have written poems without names, either intentionally, out of habit, or as a writing meme in itself. I have heard some poets profess that a title can mislead the reader or listener, or give away, or obscure the content of the poem. Certainly that can be true. In my case my titles are suggested by the poem’s context particularly when the title was the ‘spark’ and poem became that idea’s development. Most often the title is either directly from the poem’s context or is suggestive of it. Somehow I’ve managed to write all those poems without repeating a title, again, except those that were supposed to be a series with Roman numerals following the title.
Bottom line, whether title-suggests-text, or text-suggests-title, it is all part of idea development. And that individual idea can come from anywhere and be about anything thing. Thus there is never a reason not to have ‘an idea’ to write on or about. Given that cause and effect, I reject the idea of ‘writer’s block’ as an excuse, not to write. Subsequently I coined the phrase, “There is no such thing as writer’s block, only writers not writing.” Oh, and it’s okay (in my book) for a writer to not to write. There can be a myriad of reasons why one is not writing. And I am not saying ‘writer’s write and if you’re not writing you are no longer a writer’. You may not be actively writing at the moment, which is okay… but the fact that you are not writing is not in and of itself, a meme’, ‘the excuse’ or ‘writer’s block’.
The same meme applies to fiction writing, in particular short stories and novels. My first novel was built on the back of a previously written long poem titled: “Love Letters from the Sky”, a title and a poem evocative enough to spawn a novel, whose characters spawned a series of novels that now number twenty-four. I could have used the poem’s title for the novel (and perhaps I should have). However part of the novel dealt with the characters struggle with or contending with life’s alternate choices. Somewhere in the writing of book one the phrase ‘the alternate contention’ sprang from the mouth of one of the characters who was explaining his or her difficulty making a choice between two options or two actions. Thus the working title became: “The Alternate Contention”.
I thought The Alternate Contention was a rather sophisticated title for a novel, vague and specific at the same time. And as I had read every Robert Ludlum book he had written, prior to his death… his titles had ‘that’ bestseller ring: The Osterman Weekend, The Holcroft Covenant, & The Bourne Identity, etc.
Ultimately, I felt The Alternate Contention was too Robert Ludlum-ish. I went with Jamaica Moon which to my mind encapsulated a place and time important to the main characters. In this case, the title suggested the novel’s cover.
But the moon on the cover was not the ‘slivery’ moon encountered by the two lovers from “Love Letters from the Sky”, no I used a darker, more sinister, more mysterious ‘blood moon’ for the cover.
My second novel Judas Oracle was suggested by the function of a break-through prototype computer virus program (called: J.U.D.A.S. - Just Under Detectably Applied Standards). The inventor “liked the double meaning of a Judas: one who betrays under the guise of friendship or the term for a one-way peephole in a door. At it’s most diabolical his JUDAS program could instantly betray its host and in its most benign form was simply a peephole into the host’s operations.” Then there was the hapless thief, Tommy Oracle, who happened to steal the inventor’s laptop, not knowing what he had. Again, the context and title informed the cover.
Throughout the next twenty-plus novels, often when writing on the current novel, a photograph I had taken would suggest a future book’s title and off I would go to design that cover using that image and write a few paragraphs of the action of characters, suggestive of the ‘new’ cover.
Case in point, Buttermilk Skies (Michael Grant novel #10). The photograph was taken on a lovely fall sunset evening with a buttermilk sky. Not only did the image appear on the cover, the place under buttermilk sky became the setting for major action in the story.
For me, titles are not generic stand-alone entities. Titles are an intentionally integral referent of the story’s context or the reverse, where, out of the story’s context, the title emerges.
Simple idea-development is a true chicken or egg collaboration. It matters not which drives which. As often happens to me… a cover I’ve already created becomes the hook from one novel to the next…a place for my characters to immediately go after they’ve finished their current story. Or, for example, during the writing of novel #14 Baladine’s…Alive?, a murder is about to take place at a café where the protagonists often have breakfast. So before finishing novel #14, I already had a cover for the character’s next novel: Murder at Betty Sue’s Café.
Like my concept of story telling--being a series of rote activities supplied by the creative subconscious and the characters who are ‘living their story’--we know how to tell a story, just like we know our alphabet…A to Z. We’ve all done it so many times… think of any letter, ‘J’, and your memory automatically adds context: ‘J’ becomes ‘J-K-L’ and off we subliminally run all the way to ‘Z’. If you trust your characters, like you trust yourself to know the twenty-six letters of our alphabet and know their sequencing, your characters will know how to get you to ‘The End’, the naturally stopping place of most stories.
In conclusion, trust your subconscious to provide ideas for your characters to develop and trust those ideas to suggest titles… and vice versa. How else do you write a series of 25 novels without trust?
NOTE: Novel # 24, Cat With One White Stocking is now available and #25, Red Sky is due out in the early fall.
Jamaica Moon ~ Judas Oracle ~ And... Never Again
Innocent And Guilty ~ Cry... Walk, Run! ~ The Murder Fever
BOXMAN ~ The Sun Never Sets ~ Buttermilk Skies
30 Seconds From Midnight ~ We Were Once Knights
The Bad Alibi ~ The Good Alibi ~ Baladine’s Alive?
Murder at Betty Sue’s Café ~ Just before...
No, It’s Raining ~ Ten Boxes ~ Almost Evening
Penguins & Black Swans ~ The Pritzker Problem
No Expectation of Privacy ~ Milk & Cookies
Cat with One White Stocking ~ Red Sky