The title game
Back when I was starting thesis prep, I mentioned my hunt for a novel title and how I was planning to try on a new title every day until one stuck. At the time I started that experiment, I expected it to go for a few months – dozens and dozens of titles, some of them ridiculous nonsense, tried on and cast off in a pile like bras in a Lane Bryant dressing room. The ridiculous nonsense was definitely there, but the entire process took less than a month before I stumbled upon a title that worked.
Here are all the titles I’ve tried on this novel and the reasons they didn’t work:
- The Fantasy Series What Ate My Life: Book 1 (or TFSWAML: Book 1, for short) – Too long.
- Sixth – The previous title. Meaningless until you’ve read the book, which makes it ineffective.
- Unchosen – A long-time contender.
- Bob – Aren’t there already so many Bobs, though?
- (The entire lyrics to “Stairway to Heaven”) – Hell to fit on a book cover, let alone a query letter, and I’d have to pay out the nose for permissions.
- Psychic Powers And Poor Life Choices – Still one of my favorites and one of the most apt descriptions of the plot, but doesn’t quite fit the tone of the novel. If this story is ever adapted to a musical comedy, I’ll be pushing for Psychic Powers And Poor Life Choices as the title of that. (Or maybe “Put That Thing Back Where It Came From Or So Help Me.” Wait. Permissions again. Dammit.)
- Silverblood – The outside world’s name for a magic user in my world. It’s catchy, but it’s also a word that gets repeated a lot, which might annoy some readers.
- Breaking Tiern – My goal in life, but sadly, not a great title.
- Aren’t You Old Enough To Title Your Own Damn Self Yet? – SERIOUSLY, AREN’T YOU?
- Linking – Too vague.
- Names for Shadows – Catchy, but there are already too many variations on this name published.
- A Coming of Age Story With Cameos By My Dead Best Friend – With apologies to Emily Horner. Man, I need to reread that book again. (It’s fantastic. You should read it, too.)
- Disintegrate – I like this one, even if it is a little too Dalek.
- The Reject List – Too vague, and it sounds too contemporary YA to me. I’m writing YA fantasy here.
- Execute – Too Dalek, again.
- Some Details Withheld – Too vague, sounds more like a mystery title than YA fantasy.
- All Fall Down – Too nursery rhyme.
- Gay Bonerz 2: The Search for Curly’s Gold – I was too disgruntled to make up my own title on this day, so I borrowed one from a friend’s Sim’s romance novel. Obviously it wouldn’t work because I haven’t written a Gay Bonerz 1.
- Everything Breaks – Maybe it’s because it came right after Gay Bonerz 2: The Search for Curly’s Gold, but I thought this one was a pretty strong contender.
- Nowheres – A failed attempt to twist everyday language into something more interesting in the spirit of one of my favorite book titles, Neverwhere.
- Tiern’s Shadow – Based on a username I’ve had since I was sixteen. There are people on the internet who know me as tiernsshadow. I might as well name the book Theo Jr.
At the end of that month, I had a lot of mediocre titles, and a handful of titles that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to see paired with my name on a book cover. The short list was: Disintegrate, Unchosen, Everything Breaks, and Silverblood. I ran the names past some beta readers and started applying my favorite to manuscript documents to see how I liked it. After a week, when I hadn’t had the urge to rename those documents and nuke the title from orbit, I figured it might be good enough to keep.
And so, until an agent or editor tells me to change it, the title of this novel is…*over-dramatic drum roll*…Everything Breaks.
I’ve been sitting with this title for a few months now, and I like it more as time goes on. My narrator is a 16-year-old boy with secret telekinetic powers that destroy things, a dead best friend cheerfully haunting him, and a close relationship with his grandfather that he’s afraid will end the moment his secret’s out. “Everything breaks” is practically Tiern’s life motto, because it describes both the way his powers operate and the fatalistic mindset they’ve given him. The crux of Tiern’s character arc throughout the series – and especially this first book – is him learning that all that scary breakable shit is totally worth doing anyway, and the central plot arc of the series involves things falling apart and being pieced back together again. And the more I stare at this paragraph, the more I realize, wow, that title really does cut right to the heart of this story.
I like it. I hope readers will, too.
And I’m kind of looking forward to titling my next novel, because this naming game was weirdly fun.