Monday, January 18, 2010

Writing Genre Fiction: Titles - Part 1


As mentioned in the previous installment, I'd like to devote some time to responding to questions submitted by the MFA candidates who attended my most recent talks at Seton Hill University.

So here's the first question:

How have you come up with compelling titles?

Great question. Not only does it deal with an often overlooked element of writing, but it implies that the titles I have come up with are good ones. Indeed, I'd like to think that most of them are.

In 2008 Fantasist Enterprises launched my series of supernatural thrillers set in the coalfields of western Pennsylvania. The first book is titled Veins. The second, due out this summer, is Vipers. Considering that my recently released collection of fantasy and science fiction stories is titled Visions, one might assume that I favor one word titles, and sometime I do. But there's more to it than that.

Let's consider what I was going for.

First of all, the name that you give to a book has got to do more than simply get a reader interested. It needs to inform as well.

Veins is a visceral novel. Characters are maimed along the way. Blood is shed. The reader who expects such things will not be disappointed, but the veins of the title are not human veins, not blood veins. They are, instead, the veins of the earth -- the coal veins that line the strata of exposed hillsides in western Pennsylvania. Such veins are a major part of the novel's landscape and symbolism, and as a result, the novel's title resonates in a kind of three-part harmony with the book by conveying aspects of the narrative's setting, themes, and violent conflict.

Visions functions in much the same way, not only because many of the stories deal with hallucinations, but because the book itself is presented as a visionary experience. If you've read the book, you know what I mean. If you haven't, go read it.

The title Vipers also carries multiple meanings, though I will say even less about that one here. All will be revealed when the book debuts at GenCon this summer.

So the first thing you want your title to do is accurately represent important aspects of the book's contents. Ideally, the reader should go in expecting one thing, but along the way he or she should begin to realize a deeper significance -- a sense of irony or nuance that gradually becomes evident during the reading.

You will also notice that the titles are plural nouns presented without articles (Veins, Visions, and Vipers as opposed to The Veins, The Visions, and The Vipers). Nouns are generally a good choice, and articles, since the role they serve in sentences is usually not necessary in single words or phrases, can generally be omitted.
And what about all those Vs? What's up with them? We'll discuss that aspect tomorrow.
Until then, share the vision!

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