Sunday, September 30, 2012

Choosing a Title: Make it, Serve it, Screw it

Work and exams have kept me away from blogging for a couple weeks, but I’m back, and today I would like to write about something very dear and personal: my work in progress.

That's me getting down on my
greeting card writing skills.
Over the last year and a half, I planned and wrote my first real novel. I’d written a couple novels before, but they consisted almost entirely of poorly connected scenes and heavy doses of my own whim. So completing a full manuscript and building up the guts to show it to others for feedback has been as difficult as getting a blood test done (I’m terrified of needles, whenever I see one coming for me I start laughing and slapping people away).

Aside from my aichmophobia (they have words for everything, huh!), I have a problem, one I am almost too embarrassed to confess: I’m terrible with titles. I need help choosing them. More than help--I need someone to take me by the hand and lead me to the right one.

It's all part of some Mayan curse, I know it.

My current novel didn't have a title for a long time. I was about halfway through the first draft when I forced myself to sit with pen and paper and brainstorm. The session was, well… let’s say the thought of it still makes me squirm. I barely managed to scribble five or six mediocre titles before I tossed my pen aside in frustration.

As I sat there stewing, an idea came to me--something that actually made sense!

Making Time.

Temporarily satisfied, I clung to what I had and kept on writing.

Several months later, I began submitting chapters of my WIP to Critique Circle, and some of my critiquers didn't feel the title went well with the story. I registered these comments, but didn't stop to analyze the problem since I had a lot of writing to do and was already aware that titles and I would never have an amicable relationship. I'm terrible with names in general—just check out my post on Cool Name Generators.

As of August 30, my first sci-fantasy novel is complete. It still needs editing, and I'll probably change some scenes, but it's done. Now the time has come to plan the next one. I already have many ideas for the sequel, as well as a general plot, but I want to define some key points in order to write my sequel as my NaNoWriMo project.

With NaNoWriMo in mind, I spent the entire morning of last Saturday jotting down ideas on paper and you’ll never guess what happened: I realized the title Making Time is perfect for the second book!

You can imagine the look of horror and dread on my face when I realized this. If I decided to name my second novel Making Time, that would leave the first book—the completed one—once again nameless!

Oh, what to do? What to do? After about a year, I’d grown attached to Making Time. But it wasn’t the right title; I could tell. Desperate, I sent out a plea for help. And help arrived much sooner than I expected. Great CCer Kelly Walker, whose debut novel Cornerstone is coming out soon, gave me the gift of a new title:

Serving Time.

My mouth dropped open when I read it.

So simple!

So fitting!

The phrase, both in its literal and figurative senses, suits the story well. I pondered it, consulted with regular readers and critiquers, and made my decision. The new title stays.

But now that I had a new title there was one more thing left to do: check if it had already been taken. Titles can't be copyrighted, so there's always the chance of having more than one book with the same name. 
eHow sums this phenomenon up very nicely:

Titles cannot be copyrighted. What this means is that even if you come up with the greatest title in the world, you can't lock it down until such time as you actually write the book that goes with it. The other interesting thing about titles is that they get used over and over on books that have absolutely no relationship to one another.

Even though unrelated books might share the same title, it could be a big problem if, say, you are a debut novelist and you want to name your speculative book Jurassic Park. That would be a very difficult stunt to pull off.

So, when choosing a title, it’s always a good idea to search for it on the net to check if there are pre-existing books with the same name. For example, my original title Making Time is used in a self-help book on how to manage time efficiently, as well as a book on how people perceive time at different speeds according to the circumstances which surround them. However, both titles are followed by a subtitle, and the works are not in the science fiction or fantasy genres, so I can still consider using Making Time for my sequel.

Since I had a new choice of title, Serving Time, I moved on to the internet and looked up books with the same or similar names. Serving Time has been used before. There is a book called Serving Time, Serving Others, on acts of kindness performed by inmates and prison staff. Fortunately, the title isn't exactly the same, as it is clearly longer and more specific. The genre is also far from sci-fantasy.

Moving on, I encountered a rather new novel with the exact title Serving Time. However, it is erotica. Again, not quite sci-fantasy…

There happens to be one science fiction novel with the title 
Serving in Time. This novel is from 1975 and, while the title is very similar, it's still not exactly the same as my option.

After doing this little bit of research, my conclusion is that it is quite safe to use Serving Time for my upcoming sci-fantasy novel. What do you think? Do you believe the title has already been used too much?


  1. I like doing titles =) Something about coming up with a few appropriate, catchy words appeals to me.

    I don't think it's been overused. Cornerstone has been used before too, unfortunately, but my book just could not be called anything else.

    I agonized over the choice, but ultimately, I decided to keep mine.

    Part of what helped make my choice was seeing all the things named so similar to 50 shades of grey. If a book becomes successful, someone will ride the coat tails. You won't be able to do anything about it after the fact, so the book might as well get the title that fits it best.

    1. I really like Cornerstone as a title, and it suits your series. I remember you already have the titles for the other books too, right? They all followed the same flow.

  2. I think Serving Time is more of a phrase than a title. When I hear that titie, I think of someone serving time in prison. It peaks my interest.

    I've always wondered what would happen if someone wrote a book and titled it Gone With the Wind. A lot of people would probably buy it thinking they were buying the classic one. My guess is, they couldn't do a thing to the person who titled their book that.

  3. I'm not sure why, but usually I don't have much of a problem coming up with titles. I did have some trouble with the title of a novel I've long since abandoned, but normally it's something that just comes to me.

    Now if only story ideas would do the same thing when I need them! I guess it's a writer-specific thing.

    It's difficult for me to help someone else pick a title for their story because the plot is pretty much unknown to me. The author knows every detail of the story that exists so far, and all I see is a paragraph they wrote in a forum. I'm not trying to say anything negative, but often the only person who can come up with a good, fitting title for a story is its author.

    I hadn't thought to Goggle my titles, though. I got lucky this time around: Jasper City just gives me links to some real-life city websites, and Jasper's Fall leads me to a waterfall or two. I did see a story earlier today called Twilight: New Moon, which was about an alien abduction. I warned the author in a critique that they may want to change that.

    1. Yes, I critiqued the same story and gave the same advice. :)

  4. I agree with Chuckster that Serving Time instantly makes one think of prison.

    'Choosing a Title: Make it, Serve, it, Screw it'

    - Is actually a really good title. Maybe for your next novel, start with the title first (something that sounds awesome!) and then write the story :)

    1. Thanks, Shane! I know, I really like the title of this post, and it reflects exactly how I feel.

      "Serving Time" has that double sense I like. There's the literal meaning, to serve Time (the goddess). This is Robert's task throughout the entire novel.

      Then there's the figurative sense of going to prison. In the novel, it is Tristan's goal to avoid becoming a member of the Loyal League and thus "serving time" for StarCorp.

      It's complicated! I'm planning on writing a post with an outline of the novel soon, just to make everything clear. Oh, and stand by for illustrations!

  5. I hate titles. I've always been bad at titles. They drive me nuts and I avoid them at all costs. Why do they have to be so tough? Well, probably because they're the first thing a reader reads. But still. ..

    Thanks for the post!

  6. Titles are really important. They're one of the first things a potential reader sees, along with the cover and then the blurb.

    But they're so tough! I'm going to start keeping a title journal with all the ideas I come up with, then maybe I'll have several titles to choose from next time I write a short story.

  7. Titles are the bane of my writerly existence. They either come to me right away (Echo 13), appear entirely too long for the cover of a book by an unknown author(The Dytek Enterprises Field Agent Handbook (Tagged DEFAH in my files)), or seemingly not at all. I have a 7 book series in bits and notes with nary a title to be had for any of them. Short story titles seem to come a little easier to me, usually because I'm writing something toward that title. ("Worlds Apart(?)")

  8. Well I love Jurassic World so I am going to Watch Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom 2018 Online Full movie. I already watch so many trailer of Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom 2018


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