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The Art of Naming a Novel

What is in a name? I almost never title my novels when I first begin writing them. I want them to take shape. I want to know what underlying message. That’s my thought process, then, about a third of the way through, all the glorious ideas about titling goes out the window and I settle with something basic. I laugh at the titles I pick because, for a while, they followed a “The Blah of Blah” format. An unpublished, and rightly so, murder mystery I wrote in middle school was titled “The Murder of Stone Creek.” Then, of course, there’s “The Curse of Atlantis” and “The Lord of Nightmares.” What’s funny, is when I discuss these books, I tend to shorten them: “The Curse” and “Nightmares.” I purposely decided to break from this trend. The sequel to The Curse is “Defending Zeus.” The one after that is “Innocence Lost,” so apparently I have fallen into a two word trend now.

There is too much pressure behind a title. It has to have intrigue. It also has to highlight the subject of the novel. I think that’s why I have such a hard time. I like to admire other authors. For instance, Marry Higgins Clark decided to use song titles for her novels. I had read five books before I figured this out. And I only did because the song is mentioned in the novel as a part of the murder mystery. I was so excited, I listened to it. I remember liking the book better, but thought the concept was a good idea. But, I imagine it would be harder to find a song to match the topic of the book…unless it’s a love story.

I have been reading Jim Butcher’s Dresden series. I enjoy his titles because they seem to have a double meaning. “Dead Beats,” is a common cliché and yet he manipulates it to mean something more literal. “Fool Moon” is another play on words along with “Grave Peril” to name a few. I like the double meanings, especially since they are not truly understood until the books are read.

Another book whose title I admire is “Heart of Darkness,” which is funny because I despise this book. I actually have had to read it twice, but can say I only made it through once. My mind wanders as the description rolls. Anyway, the title is good because of the multiple meanings. The Heart of Darkness in the literal sense is the center of the jungles of Africa where Europeans interacted in the ivory trade. I have also heard the title referred to in terms of skin color. But it can also represent the corruption and darkness of character. In fact, literary scholars love this contrast. The whitest people are the darkest characters in the novel.

How does one come up with a good title? I don’t know, but if someone develops a talent for it, they can make a decent living.