How to Title Your Book/Story/Etc.

As the release date for LA BASTARDA has now passed, I thought I would do a bit of writing about some of the decisions I made in regards to the story.  I’ve already discussed the future plans for THE TRASTÁMARA SERIES here, I thought it would be nice if I continued on that theme, but with a twist – this post is actually an advice post.

You see, if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s titles.  I can’t say that I don’t have problems with them, but even as a child and teenager, my teachers had nothing but praise for my ability to name things.  One of my high school teachers actually confided in me (post-graduation) she looked forward to my papers just to see what I’d write at the top.

I actually went through three names before I landed upon LA BASTARDA :

  • “REMEMBER”
  • “THE KING’S DAUGHTER”
  • “THE KING’S BASTARD”

So, let’s start from the beginning of the list and work our way down, shall we?

REMEMBER

I spent ages trying to think of a suitable title.  I had a working title, something easy I could save all of my related documents under, but somehow I didn’t think “TrastamaraHistFicNaNoWriMo” would help me sell any copies.  😉  Originally, I had written a scene where Constanza and another person have a fight, and the scene’s antagonist tells her to watch herself and “remember” her conversation.  In another scene, she’s told by a different character to “remember”, after said character reveals exactly how close they were when she was a child.  Constanza also spends a lot of time trying to ‘remember’ or at least create a mental image of her mother, who died in childbirth, and that ends up corrupted before the end of the book.  I had decided on “REMEMBER” first because I thought the unconscious link between all of those things was actually pretty neat.  Unfortunately, I realized it would probably seem contrived, and would taint the ‘organicness’ of the “remember” scenes – would people wonder if I only added them in for the title?  It had to go.

THE KING’S DAUGHTER

loved this one.  I’m talking, lovedlovedLOVED this one.  Unfortunately, it follows an extremely trendy naming pattern: “The _____’s _____”.  While it probably wouldn’t have hurt me in the long run, I’ve found myself annoyed by the repetition in the past.  I decided to cut this title because of that.

THE KING’S BASTARD

This was just after THE KING’S DAUGHTER.  I thought that using a moderately “harsh” word such as “bastard” would make me feel better about it being a “_____’s _____”.  SPOILER: Nope.  I did like the feeling that the word “bastard” evoked, though: to me, there’s a sense of impropriety in it, as well as as a general emotion of not belonging to something.  Constanza, as a motherless bastard, doesn’t really belong in her world.  Her father’s legitimate family never really accepts her, her father’s other children all seem to have siblings or other family members to support them, and her mother’s family abandoned her and basically all died.

And that, as we say, is history.

Now, what does this have to do with naming your own things?  Well, I just gave examples; now, let me explain them.

  1. Quotes: Use a quote as your title.  It could be something from you work, such as “Remember”, or something you’ve heard somewhere else, such as “Write Drunk, Edit Sober” ( – Not Hemingway) or “Through Yonder Window” ( – Shakespeare).  My only issue with this is that, if it is a well known quote (or even not that well-known, but easily recognizable), you will have to give credit and may be required to give other things to the person who originally said/wrote it, which can get rather tedious.  I’d refrain from using a popular quote for anything except a school paper.
  2. Theme: Constanza is a King’s Daughter.  She is also a King’s Bastard.  I didn’t just grab fridge magnets – I actually thought about it.  If your book has a theme, think about using it as a basis for the title.  It doesn’t even have to be the exact thing – for example, Constanza has an underlying need to connect with the part of her she’s never known, even as she tries to pull herself closer to her father.  This is manifested partially in the “memories” she attempts to create, but also in a specific piece of jewelry (a necklace).  While a title named “Mommy Issues” may have been hilariously inappropriate for the genre, something like “The Gold Locket” wouldn’t have been, and would have made a significant amount of sense upon reading.
  3. The [Blank]’s [Blank]: While I hate how common it’s become, it does work.  Pick an important, crucial-to-the-plot item in your story and answer: “What is it?” and “Whose is it?”.  If you can’t pick an item, pick a person: “What are they, and to whom are they that thing?”.  THE VIRGIN’S LOVER, THE QUEEN’S FOOL, THE KINGMAKER’S DAUGHTERS (all Philippa Gregory, hmm…) come to mind.  If you’re writing in first person, you can go with a version where you’d use “MY” instead of “THE“.
  4. One Word: Quick: think up one word that describes your story/protagonist/antagonist/conflict, if you haven’t had one bouncing around in your head.  Is it catchy?  Is it actually appropriate for the story?  Can you find an appropriate synonym, if not?  Ta da, the end.

What shouldn’t you do in regards to a title?

  1. Steal someone else’s title:  I’m not saying you’ll have to change your title if it’s exactly the same, but don’t go look up books with a similar theme to yours and steal the name.  People will notice if you go out and name your book “Moby Dick” or “Parry Hotter and the Stilosopher’s Phone”.  That’s just wrong, plain and simple, and could be how you end up on the wrong side of the writing community.
  2. Just name your stuff after the subject: Do you know how many stories I’ve seen with the words “Anne Boleyn” or “Henry VIII” in the title?  I mean, really.
  3. Pick a title that has absolutely nothing to do with the subject: Hey, there is a middle ground between this and the above point, don’t look at me like that.  This is pretty straight-forward: don’t use a quote about the Plague if you’re talking about baking, don’t use a reference to Python or Java if you’re writing about the Middle Ages.  If it’s relatively universal (for example, a quote about beauty), go for it, but don’t try to force it.

Well, there you have it – my tips and tricks for picking the title of a story.  Enjoy!

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