Thursday, April 28, 2011

Titleless in Seattle

I have finished the second draft of my YA science fiction novel, which is under contract to Viking. That is, I've almost finished it. The thing has no title. 98,000 words of prose I can come up with but a title -- no.

I am terrible at titles. Really, really bad. Nearly all of mine have been supplied by other people. Bruce McAllister once gave me a title, swearing that "it will fit any story ever written." I was skeptical about that -- such a sweeping statement! So much hubris! But he was right. The title was "In A World Like This" and Ellen Datlow ran the story in OMNI.

But Bruce is not here now. Jack is busy with his own book. Viking is going to want to call this book something other than what is on the first page now ("Title," in twenty-point Times Roman -- if it's big enough, it doesn't have to be original?) I still have a clean-up draft to do. Maybe by the time that's finished, I will have thought of something.

Why are some other writers so good at titles? How do they do it?


TheOFloinn said...

Sometimes all I have is a title. I can't say where they come from, but most often I have them before I start writing. And then can't think of the story that goes with them. I'd rather have your problem.

I sometimes let my mind go blank - a trivial feat - and free associate. And there's a title: "A Trivial Feat." When I was trying to come up with a title for Book 2 of the Spiral Arm series, I knew it would be a journey and a journey of self-discovery. I thought of Conrad's characters going up the river. I was sitting in the shotgun seat and Margie was driving and we passed a truck and there on the side it read Jim River Trucking Company. And I had it, Up Jim River. When the mind is empty, things fall into it.

Sometimes I think of the main idea behind the story, take key words to Bartlett's, and scan the quotes to see if anything jumps out and bites me. That's how I got "Where the Winds Are All Asleep."

Another gimmick is to pull a phrase from the story itself. I'm writing a story currently that started with one title ("Buried Hopes") but it didn't feel right. Then one of the characters said in an argument, "...but there are places where the roads don't go," and it was perfect: "Places Where the Roads Don't Go."

Meditate on your past titles: Beggars in Spain, Brain Rose, "The Flowers of Aulit Prison," "The Price of Oranges," "Out Of All Them Bright Stars," "Inertia," and all the rest. Great titles, each in its own appropriate way.

Lou said...

I am GREAT at titles! Let me read it and I'll give you a title...

I promise!


Mary Robinette Kowal said...

Man, I feel your pain on the titling thing.

Rick Bowes taught me the Shakespeare trick. Pick a major theme of the novel, plug that word into a Shakespeare database and look at the quotes that pop up.

qiihoskeh said...

"The Shakespeare Trick" is itself a good title.