Friday, September 24, 2010

Entitled

"And I am a writer, writer of fictions, I am the heart that you call home; And I've written pages upon pages, trying to rid you from my bones." - The Decemberists, The Engine Driver

In a recent writing session, I asked former colleague/YA writer/all around awesome person, Tracy Marchini, when she gave her novels their titles. The answer: "right away." Under normal writing circumstances, I wouldn't have even asked because obviously the title comes first. But this wasn't a normal writing circumstance for me - I was writing fiction.

As most of you know from following the blog, I'm (painfully slowly) writing some YA fiction at the moment (again, a painfully long moment that will someday lead to a finished novel, I hope). I'm enjoying the process immensely, when I find the time for it, but in my mind, I still would not refer to myself as a writer of fiction. To me, I'm still a personal essayist who simply ran out of (true) things to say for the time being.

With my non-fiction, which includes these blog posts, I think of a title first. Sometimes that's all I have. I either think it sounds clever or captures the spirit of what I'm writing about. With essays, themes are layered, but they usually revolve around the same central issue. Novels rarely can be wrapped up so tightly. Their titles range from encapsulating an idea to a particularly good line of dialogue to a one-word, thought-provoking concept. The endless possibilities make my brain hurt, which is why the file currently frowning at me from my desktop reads "UntitledYA.doc."

How do you all think of titles? Do they come first or do you, as the quote above says, write pages upon pages before you can rid title-block from your bones?

17 comments:

  1. It's always interesting to me to see how other people title their work. Titles are my nemesis. I usually have a 'filler' title when I first start writing, and once it's done I pick the brains of some of my advanced readers to help me find a better one.

    Blog titles come easier, but fiction titles...they just plain escape me.

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  2. Before I start writing any project I compose a logline and couple it with a relevant title. I honestly can't get the story started without those things to keep me focused. And I usually find that once I have a clear idea of what the basic story is about, the title jumps out at me. Hate me if you must. ;)

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  3. Since I write humor almost exclusively, titles for my work have to be funny. That's my only requirement. Typically, however, the ones I pick aren't the ones that wind up going to print (on the pieces lucky enough to be published, of course). For my earlier humor essays, it was the editor at my newspaper that fiddled with them and made them work. For my two books that I've completed--a collection of those same humor essays and my current WIP novel--my agent worked with me to make the ones I picked much better (and much funnier). In fact, it was one of the first things I learned about the business side of writing: Don't get married to your title, because chances are, it's not the one you're going to wind up with in the end.

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  4. I HAVE to have a title and name for my character(s) before I'm able to crank out the words. If I don't, I sort of feel like I'm flailing around. In a roundabout way, it helps me focus on what it is I'm writing, while also holding me accountable. Sort of like -- it's not real unless it has a NAME.

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  5. I usually have a "dumb" filler title until the work is finished. Then usually I have a title, but sometimes not.

    When I started my current WIP, it was titled "Novel." Yep, that dumb. :) Thankfully, it's got a name now.

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  6. I'm awful at titles. Most of the time, my files start out as "Super Awesome YA Novel.doc" or something similar. I'm hoping to get better at names, but for now, I've got the help of an awesome beta reader who's amazing at coming up with cute, catchy titles.

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  7. I start out with a working title that captures one of the central themes of the book, usually an emotion or an image. I try to come up with something better once the book is finished and I can hunt through the manuscript for a catchy phrase, but I still think of every project by that first title.

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  8. I can't stand coming up with titles. I usually choose the first one that comes to mind. Write. Then change it based on what I've written. Even, when I do choose a new one I'm not married to it. I'm always open for suggestions. And, to be honest, I'm glad that at the end of the day the publisher chooses the title. :)

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  9. I usually come up with a title after writing the first few chapters, although sometimes I change it along the way. The way in which I usually conceptualize a new novel is that I have a pretty strong idea about the beginning and end, and ideas for what will happen along the way. Sometimes a title comes to me when I visualize the ending, sometimes after I actually start writing.

    Good luck with your novel! I think a person is a writer as soon as they start writing. :)

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  10. I have trouble with titles, so I usually pick a character's name and save my document as that.

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  11. Whether it's a blog post or a novel, the title always comes to me after I have established the main idea in my mind. I then think of titles that I think will match the concept.
    Happy Writing!

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  12. Titles always come last for me. I hate them. Every now and then I come up with something incredibly clever or awesome midway through the project, only to discover it doesn't really work that well at the end.

    Occasionally I have a fantastic title in my head, but can't write the story to match. So I tend to write, then cast around for title ideas. I have a wonderful critique group, and several of them are geniuses when it comes to titles. And for that, I'm thankful. Otherwise all my work would have dull, one word titles.

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  13. I title my .docs after character names until I think of a title. Titles always come last.

    Except with my current YA project. It came first. However, the more I write this thing, the more I find the title to be too frilly. Annoying. (It's "Granted," involving genies. I'm feeling it works better as a TV show title than a book title. I originally wrote it as a TV show pilot. Ha.)

    Whatever, titles get changed by publishers anyway.

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  14. Oh Lord, I was writing "Untitled Pirate Romance Novel" for a year and a half. It was damned hard to come up with a name after I finished, and even harder to feel like it fit.

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  15. I find my titles typically hide inside my writing. Weird, I know, but...that's where I've gotten all of titles from. Typically its from something a character said or a moment...scene. So none of my works have titles until I'm "done" and until that time I title the work by the MC's first name. It works for me.

    I love, love, love, love, love, love coming up with titles. Love.

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  16. I either have a title I love to start or I can never find one that truly feels right.

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  17. I usually just save them in regards to what the story I'm writing is about. For example demon.doc, love story.doc, or even something like fantasy.doc.

    I'll give them titles sometimes when I print a rough draft, but it's always up for negotiation because I'm almost always sure someone else can help me come up with a better one.

    -Dee

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