Coming up with a title can sometimes be one of the hardest parts of writing. My most recent short story is an example. It literally started out as “Some Title Here” in the place in the manuscript where the title ought to go. Then it was “The Wrong Lion”, which fit the beginning of the story, but didn’t really relate to the middle or end. On to “The Lioness and the Eagle”, which, well, it’s just bad, okay? Then “Lioness” and finally “Becoming Lioness”. The last one I think is a keeper.
It’s even worse for novels. With short stories, slush pile readers and editors may not even pay attention to the title. Once I’d purchased a magazine or anthology, I’m not sure that I’ve ever read or skipped over a story based solely on the title. But with a novel, that title on the spine may be all you have to interest a reader in the bookstore. I don’t know that I’ve hit on any absolutely right titles for my novels, yet. Well, maybe one.
THE SHAMAN’S CURSE fits the story. My protagonist’s life is, if not cursed, certainly seriously disrupted by the the shaman’s attempt to take revenge. The shaman’s own life is cursed, in a way, by his obsession with vengeance. And, at the end, the shaman attempts to put an actual curse on the protagonist. The title just fits in so many ways. But would you pick this book off the shelf based only on the title? And would you expect the story to be something different than what it is?
THE IGNORED PROPHECY fits and doesn’t quite fit both at the same time. One particular group of people has shaped their entire society around a prophecy, but the prophecy was not singular, it was part of a series of prophecies. When taken in context, it’s meaning is very different from the meaning when it’s read alone. So, they’ve ignored the whole picture. Plus, like any good prophecy, it can be read more than one way. Their prejudices have caused them to see only one version, ignoring the other. And, the larger prophecy predicts that another prophecy will be made. When it is, one character chooses to disregard it, bringing on the precise outcome they’ve been trying to avoid for hundreds of years. The problem is that’s all background and subplot, not what the main story line is about at all. So maybe it’s not such a great title.
BLOOD WILL TELL is a good title. It’s kind of catchy, but it doesn’t relate to actual events in the story nearly as well. If you backed me into a corner, I couldn’t explain just what blood will tell you in this story or how. I just haven’t been able to come up with another title that fits better.
DREAMER’S ROSE is one title I love. Rose is a dream guide, born with the ability to enter other people’s dreams. Properly used, the gift is supposed to help guide people out of troubling or recurring dreams. She’s essentially a compass for dreamers and the title intentionally reflects the many-pointed star on old compasses and maps that was called a compass rose. I can picture the cover art with a compass rose as the background. Well, I’m allowed to dream.
SEVEN STARS is probably best described as a working title. It comes from the home of the protagonist, which is a high mountain valley, surrounded by seven peaks. On a particular night of the year, from a certain spot, it appears that there is a star resting on each of those peaks. So, it’s called the Valley of the Seven Stars and a ring of seven stars is both the symbol of the valley and the emblem the protagonist uses during his exile from his home. Other than being his emblem and the symbol of what he’s trying to get back to, it doesn’t have much at all to do with the plot. And the title somehow subtly reminds me of “Seven Samurai”, which is way off base for this story.
There’s definitely room for improvement in almost all of those titles.
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