Titles are hard

Hello, Internet, it’s Friday, November 25th, and I have a writer problem.


Allow me to explain.

I am writing a novel. If you’ve been keeping up on this blog at all, you’ve caught on to that. I am 40,000+ words in (should be 41,666 by the end of today) and I should have 50,000 by the end of the month which is… oh… WEDNESDAY. Gah. Luckily, my friends are extremely supportive and don’t mind that all I can find to talk about is this novel. Or at least, they do a very good job of pretending that they don’t mind. And what is friendship but a series of white lies told in the interest of moral support?

(I’m kidding. I think. But I do appreciate your support, even if it is feigned.)

So, part of this National Novel Writing Month business is that you get an online profile where you provide some basic information about yourself. And THEN, you provide some basic information about your book. And the very first thing they ask you for is a title.

I pose you this question, Internet: How on EARTH am I supposed to know the title of the novel before I’ve even started writing it?

So, I stuck in a word. That word is “Masham.” The reason for that choice is that one of my main characters is the Baron of Masham. It was a random one-word title that has no bearing on anything really.

But now, 4/5 of the way in (or, at least, 4/5 of the way to the target word count… the actual end of the novel is probably still about 30,000 words away) I still have no idea what I could actually call this story. Part of the trouble is that when nothing sticks out at me, I tend towards joke titles. Would you read a book called Everyone’s Name is Henry! – a historical tragedy or The Prince and the PauperBaron? What? No? Yeah, me neither.

The Trouble with Titles (would be a good name for a nerd-rock band) is that it’s the first in a long line of challenges that a book must pass before a potential reader will dedicate their time to reading it. If your title is weak, or boring, or needlessly similar to several other titles, nobody is going to even pick up the book to read the back cover (which is usually challenge #2). The poor book is dead in the water.

(I do not mean to imply that I expect this book to be published. I don’t. Heck, it isn’t even finished yet. But I can’t even think of anything useful to call the book so that people might start to be interested in it. It’s like ultra-specific writer’s block.)

This is not limited to books. The play I’ve been writing forever is now on its 4th title… and that’s probably not the title it’ll have when it eventually gets produced. Fighting Fire with Snow was called Fighting Goliath and a number of even worse things in early drafts.

I have noticed that many writers credit their partners, friends, editors, etc. for titling their books, and I think it’s because when you’re working on something so much that it’s difficult to talk about anything else in polite conversation, you are way too close to the story to see what it should be called. So, often, it’s a dedicated reader – somebody who is involved enough to “get it”, but not so involved that they dream about it – who can put a name on it.

Basically, I can’t see anything but trees, and what I need is for someone to tell me to call it a forest.

So, now, here’s the thing that’s prompted this mini-rant on what I think might be the hardest part of writing anything: I have a storytelling performance coming up on December 11th (oh my goodness it’s so SOON!) and I have to write the publicity blurb this weekend and I have no idea what to call it. Help?

I’m doing a series of folk tales about “Christmas symbols”. The Holly King/the Green Knight from the Celtic Tradition, the ivy’s connection to Osiris’ murder and resurrection in Egyptian mythology, the dart made of mistletoe that killed Balder in Norse mythology, the origins of the evergreen tree (there are a zillion stories here that range from Swiss to Mi’kmaq to Japanese, and Hans Christian Anderson even has one, although I feel it would be a little too “Christmasy”… I will pick one, eventually), and a good old staple like Father Frost or The Snow Queen.

So, I am officially accepting suggestions. Help me name my show? If you do, I’ll thank you when I’m thanking people. Please?