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Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Problem of Titles



I have an obsession with coming up with a buttload of working titles to any project I'm working on. Seriously. I have an entire list simply to make alternative titles for works in progress, and I indecisively switch back and forth (in my head at least) between a dozen titles. Yeah, I know even for novels that have an editor, it's likely the pub house will change it anyway. It doesn't hurt to have something cool and catchy. Or a dozen that are cool and catchy.

There can be dumb titles. Probably why editors change titles all the time, and not just for marketability. For instance, Outbreak sounds catchy and a little scary, while Raging Monkey Virus sounds a little like those B-Horror films where women faint and stampeding hordes shriek at well, monkeys.

But I'm not alone in this whole "what the heck do I call this mass of storytelling?" Published and famous authors have called their works many different things, and many of them pretty bad. Originally, The Great Gatsby had a variety of alternate titles including The High-Bouncing Lover. Though honestly, I probably would have been more eager to read Mr. Fitz's I'm-super-rich-and-miserable work in high school if it was called The High-Bouncing Lover (it's about trampolines and sex, right?). Likewise, Of Mice and Men was originally called Something That Happened, which honestly sounds like a placeholder title name like [Insert Title Here]. As far as new authors go, Jim Butcher apparently had called the first book in his Dresden Files series Semiautomagic instead of the title Storm Front, though honestly the original title says what the Dresden Files really areā€”magic in modern times with kick-ass fighting and shooting.

Writers like to steal titles from other works, because hell, we love other writers and want to be just like them. That's why there are a whole bunch of Billy Shakespeare rip-offs for titles, in fact so many that I couldn't name them all. Likewise, poetry seems to be the next best thing.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that I was a lit major and have dug my brain into a myriad of old school novels, poems, sonnets, and what have you, I've never found a line that seemed to fit. Oh, I've tried burglarizing Emily Dickinson, thieving from Milton, pilfering from Billy "the Bard" Shakes, shoplifting from Whitman, and embezzling from Poe. But I always assume that everyone else on the planet has also read these works.

Music is usually what I wind up stealing from, because it has the greatest impact on my writing.

My last ill-fated work-in-progress was originally titled Seven Silent Masks, stolen from a line in an Interpol song "I had seven faces/thought I knew which one to wear." But there weren't seven masks in the book, so that then became Silent Masks, then The Perfect Drug obviously swiped from the Nine Inch Nails song of the same name, then after that it was The Otherworld Drug, Necroscanner, and finally Necromancer Syndrome.  

I have to admit that the working title for Of Automatons, Monsters, and Men came from the Icelandic band Of Monsters and Men. And that the alternate title, and a chunk of one of the plot lines about spiraling into madness is The Fragile Spiral, taken yet again from the NIN albums The Fragile and The Downward Spiral.

So, what are your favorite titles? What kind of titles grab you?

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