Naming the Nameless

As indicated in previous posts, one of the things that is yet to be determined about the Work In Progress is the final title. Yes, Nameless is nameless.

I think the working title is a good one. Unfortunately I am not the only one who thinks so. A cursory look on Goodreads will show that there are novels called Nameless and series called Nameless and a positive plethora of books with Nameless somewhere in the title. And while I share P. G. Wodehouse’s “modest hope” of making it into the top hundred, it is difficult for people to gauge the excellencies of a book they never discover among the myriad others of that title.

Nameless, therefore, would seem to be out. I briefly considered Summer Lightning, but I feel that would be asking for trouble. And in any case, this is more of an autumnal novel. Autumn Lightning I also discarded, on the grounds that readers might reasonably expect there to be some lightning somewhere in the book, and be tetchy on finding there wasn’t.

Unnamed is also a possibility. There are some books called The Unnamed, but none, so far as I could see, called Unnamed. Unfortunately there is a reason for this: Unnamed is what they put in the title section of the metadata when the title hasn’t been announced yet. It’s roughly equivalent to titling your novel TBA. (Which is also used, along with Untitled, and anything else people can think of when they can’t think of a title.)

The main character is called Ghost, though that isn’t his name. (And now let’s all join in a rousing chorus of “A-Sitting on a Gate“.) Ghost would make a short punchy title – albeit one which might make readers reasonably expect a ghost – and there are no shortage of books with that title. Moving on!

That’s right! It’s a dragon AND it’s a ghost!

Ghost and the Three Men has not been used – no doubt due to its length – and the same is true of Ghost and the Queen of Souls. However, as well as their length they also convey a suggestion of series – a whole collection of Ghost and… books, rather like The Cat Who… books.

The Three Men has – perhaps surprisingly – not been taken (as far as I can tell), but that does rather sideline poor old Ghost. The Queen of Souls is also not taken, although Queen of Souls is the title of a novel that is, cough cough, for adults only.

Odd Man Out has been used before, but not for books in this genre – an important consideration. Unbeknownst is used by a few books, but none of prominence in the fantasy genre, so far as I can see. But does either evoke the right sort of feeling? And more importantly, does either evoke a desire to read the book?

There are a myriad of other possible titles I haven’t looked into, some of which are probably better than others. The Strangest Man in the World. Before the Last Leaf Falls. Nameseeker. Brotherless. An Amiant Soul. Unfoundling.

Of course, there are no doubt an equal myriad (how does one calculate the volume of a myriad?) of other titles which would work well, which I have not thought of – and more to the point, which dozens of others have not thought of before either.

So, dear readers, I turn to you for advice. If you have read the book, what do you think would be a good title – or not? And if you haven’t, which titles do you find pique your interest, and which don’t?

Disclaimer: if you suggest a title in the comment section which I end up using, you accept a) thanks and acknowledgements, and b) a free ebook, as adequate recompense for your brilliance, waiving the rights to my firstborn child, straw spun into gold, etc etc.

In Search of a Handy Handle

Those of you who keep an eye on the WIP widget (on the top left of the footer) will have noticed that I am not, as previously advertized, typing up Dead Man Talking (extended edition). I was going to, honest I was (I even started!), but then I was distracted by this shiny new idea, and there was this post from Cait Reynolds and… mmm. New book.

I’ve been noodling about with it for about six weeks now (and am on to my second noodling notebook, turning it over in my mind, making notes, and watching it develop like what I seem to recall from Sixth Form Agriculture & Horticulture is called meristem culture, a form of micropropagation. (Don’t take my word for this; it was a long time ago, and micropropagation is not a skill I have had occasion to use since then.)

You take a little blob of what are essentially plant stem cells and you roll that little blob around and around so it can’t tell which way is up (and therefore can’t start doing stem up and root down). And then once it’s grown into a bigger blob you chop it into little blobs and start rolling them around, thus ending up, eventually, with Even More Plants. (All carbon copies of each other, which is problematic from a disease-resistance point of view, but let us not get into that now.)

Light callus PV 5-30 gameto callus forming 5 x19

An indeterminate bunch of planty stem cells is only so useful, however. Sooner or later you gotta let it start growing in particular ways – here’s the stem, here’s the tip, here’s the backstory…

I found, as the days wore by, that I got sick of referring to it (even mentally) by the filename I gave it back when it was just a tiny blob of meristem: Winter Fairytale. And since I can no longer use my old standby “the book,” there being more than one book in my life now, I must search elsewhere for a title. So of course, I went and looked at a title generator. (Hours of innocent entertainment…)

Its suggestions included The Evil Curse and Evil Cursing which are perhaps just a bit too obvious; Cursing for Words (a how-to guide?); Chill Coachman, which seems like the title of a dreadfully anachronistic “historical” novel; and The Deathly Bite which just has to be a vampire novel – or a creative non-fiction work on the mosquito (this isn’t either of those).

Anopheles stephensi
Of course, I could just call it WIP2 or something of that ilk, but I’d rather have a title which at least sounds possible. Otherwise it’s like wearing an item of clothing you know is going in the bin at the end of the day: why bother?

So I have come up with a number of possible titles, most of which aren’t very possible. Obviously, none of you have read the book yet (largely because I haven’t written it yet), but I’d be interested to hear what you think of these.

I haven’t written a proper blurb or anything yet, but here’s a little something to set the scene – without giving too much away (For those of you who have read Restoration Day, it’s of a similar tone. So far.)

Picture to yourself a far-off land under a Good King Wenceslas winter (“when the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even”). Peasants huddle round their crackling fires; fashionable aristocrats haunt their chilly palaces in town.

But rumours of a curse stalk the land, a suddenly-striking curse which takes words spoken in thoughtlessness or malice and makes them literally true, in the most unexpected ways.

A carefree young coachman encounters the curse’s fearful effects, and accompanied by a stroppy apprentice wise-woman, an enchanted fountain, and a petrified secretary with a yen for adventure, he strikes out across the wintry land, bent on hunting this malediction to its source.

But there’s more behind his bad luck than he realizes – and the stakes are higher than he knows…

So here are the not-enormously-possibles (none of them sings):

The Winter Curse
(I tried using this, but WC is not an inspiring acronym)

The Winter of ___ Words
(insert adjective here)

Ball at 20s by Kardovsky
The Coachman, the Curse & the Coronation Ball

(I’m not even sure there will be a ball, yet)

Wound of Words
(from the Arab proverb, “The wound of words is worse than the wound of swords.”)

The Winter Malison
(malison being an old word for a curse or malediction)

The Words of Winter
(doesn’t give a clear mental image)

Winter pops up a lot, I know, but it’s sort of thematic, rather like spring was thematic for Restoration Day.

What do you think? If you have any other suggestions – or general advice on titling – I am, like the fennec, all ears.

Fennec Fox @ Africa Alive, Lowestoft
Alas, not until I have actually written the book can you make a truly informed suggestion, but please, do not let that stop you. All contributions gratefully received.

Working Title

Titles are tricky things. A good title needs to catch the imagination, pique the interest, and yet still bear some relation to the contents – without giving too much away. It needs, in fact, to resonate. That’s a lot to ask of a mere word or phrase. That’s a lot to ask of the author who has to come up with it.

Leonid Pasternak - The Passion of creationSome authors are fortunate enough to come up with a title straight away. Wilbur Smith claimed that the title was the only good bit about the first novel he wrote (The Gods First Make Mad, if you’re wondering). Dame Agatha Christie had the title for Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? before she had the faintest idea what it would be about, having heard the phrase in chance conversation and deciding upon the spot it would be the title of her next book. (The U.S. publishers spoiled this bit of history by titling the U.S. release The Boomerang Clue, despite the total lack of boomerangs in the book – something which irked me greatly as a child.)

Other authors struggle. Children’s author Judy Blume says “I always have trouble with titles for my books. I usually have no title until the editor has to present the book and calls me frantically, ‘Judy, we need a title.'” Triple-Pulitzer-winner Carl Sandburg claimed “We don’t have to think up a title till we get the doggone book written,” but it always helps to have a handle to refer to it by. Something, perhaps, a little more specific than “that thing” and more evocative than “WIP.”

Janez Šubic - Pismo
Enter the working title. Working titles have many uses. They provide a convenient reference for computer files, they help you keep your head together if you’re working on more than one project at a time, and sometimes they even end up as the final title.

Personally, I’m all over the place. Consider the four titles of my Works in Progress.

Blood of Kings is about the fourth title that play has had (former titles include The Eye of God and simply David). It may be the last; I don’t know yet.

Dead Man Talking hasn’t had any other titles that I can remember; nor is it likely to, since the piece has appeared on stage under that name. (I thought of a much better title last year, but someone else had already used it.)

I can’t take credit for the title The Black Joke, since I pinched the name off the ship. I think it’s a good title – despite its links to a bawdy song – and shall likely keep it.

HMS Black Joke (1827)
The most current of my WIPs goes by the working title of Tsifira, a title which now has nothing to do with the contents of the book and will definitely be changed (and I’m almost sure to what). I originally titled it Crowner’s Quest – a black joke of my own, as while it sounds like it’s about a quest for a crown, it’s actually the old name for a coroner’s inquest. Eventually I grew tired of the joke (such as it was) and changed the title to the main character’s name. Which then changed. Next time I write a book I think I will try to do it faster so I don’t end up with so many changes…

Oh yes – the answers to the quiz. Tomorrow Is Another Day (winner of the state-the-obvious title) was published as Gone with the Wind; First Impressions became Pride & Prejudice; All’s Well That Ends Well (spoiler!) was retitled War & Peace; and Susan‘s main character was renamed Catherine after someone else published a novel named after their heroine, also called Susan. Then Jane Austen died, and her brother arranged for the novel to be published under the title Northanger Abbey. F. Scott Fitzgerald had several title ideas, the last of which was Under the Red, White and Blue – but the novel was nonetheless published as The Great Gatsby.