Monday, January 07, 2008

Getting on with it...

I have not yet got back into blogging in 2008. Partly this is the natural indolence which always afflicts the New Year, but--on a more positive slant--it also reflects the time I'm putting in to my new writing project. I've been working on plot, on character sketches and the location of my new story. And I woke up this morning with a great idea for a twist which overturns part of the standard "boy meets girl" plot element. I don't know whether it works yet, but potentially it gives me a narrative reversal of the sort which underpins much good fiction (and much bad fiction too..).

There's an interesting post over at the MNW Group Blog this morning in which David Isaak talks about selecting a title. I find it hard to work on a story without a title, or shortlist of titles, but David's one of those who can work in the void of a project called "Untitled". My new story doesn't have a firm title yet, but there are several in my mind. Getting the right title is important: it's the first part of creating an expectation in the reader's mind about the kind of story I am going to tell.

The title at the top of my list at the moment is A Prize So Dear. It works on nearly every level -- "dear" has more than one meaning, each appropriate to the story I am telling; there is more than one "prize" the title could refer to; and as well as being lifted from a Shakespeare sonnet, it's also relevant to a poem in the story. So far, the perfect title for this story. The only downside: it sounds more like a trashy romance than a fantasy. Is it creating the right kind of expectation in the reader's mind? While there is a romantic strand which is central to the plot, the book will be in no sense a romance.

So what are the other title possibilities? In second place is The Last Free City. This one has the merit of being easy to remember, and of capturing exactly what the story is about. On the downside, it's not very interesting. The language is too simple, the impression too static.

My third and final option is one I greatly like: The Dimonetto Road. In its own way, it's perfect. Readers of The Dog of the North will know what a dimonetto is, although not how it relates to roads--a combination of familiarity and mystery which is ideal. It sits trippingly on the tongue too. So what's wrong with it? The problem is that its connection to the story is too tenuous. There is a "Dimonetto Road", but it exists almost outside of the story, and its impact, although profound, is indirect. If the story develops as I've outlined it (by no means a certainty) then the Dimonetto Road is becalmed in the margins.

No doubt the problem will resolve itself, and will certainly become more clear once I start writing. For now, I simply offer it as an illustration of the kind of artistic choices a writer has to face.

And while ::Acquired Taste is not in any way a democracy, if you love or loathe any of the titles, why not let me know? If you were browsing the bookshop for a fantasy novel, which of those titles on the spine would you take down from the shelf?


Alis said...

Hi Tim! For me, it's got to be The Last Free City. I do sympathise with feeling that another title is perfect for various reasons - Testament would have been Toby for all sorts of reasons and was for the whole of its n-draft life but, as Will said, nobody would pull it off the shelf with a title like that.
Good luck with finding your way into the story, anyway and hope it continues to develop positively.

Tim Stretton said...

Thanks for your vote, Alis!

Will is a great judge of a title, and I think Testament is super: evocative in its own right, but also allusive of the Labyrinth/Sepulchre timeslip genre (and wouldn't you like sales like those!).

Titles are interesting: in some ways the least important word/sentence in the book, and in others the most. On one level it's just a label and a marketing tool, but a good one can be so much more...

David Isaak said...

When Will suggested I change my title from Smite the Waters, he said that he liked it but the booksellers thought it "too oblique."

Who wants to argue with the folks who have to order it and put it on the shelves? Not I, that's fer sure.

"Dog of the North" and "Testament" are both great titles. And, I have to say that Alis' former possiblity of "Steadfast Like the Crane" is also a great title--though perhaps, as they say in the trade, a bit 'oblique'.

Tim Stretton said...

Will is always worth listening to on titles. Firstly, he knows what will sell; and secondly, he has a great ear. "Shock and Awe" has to be the perfect title for your book, David. "Smite the Waters" was interesting, but "Shock and Awe" grabs by the throat.