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••• The International Writers Magazine - 22 Years on-line - Book Title Blues

The Art of Finding Titles
• Sam Hawksmoor
"What the hell is your novel about," she asked.
"Erm .... well it's a long story.."

La La Land

I am undergoing a moment of stress.  Having sort of reached an end for my new YA climate sci-fi novel I have discovered it’s not the kind of story that ‘ends’ unless I kill them all off suddenly – which at least would give it a conclusion. The reader might get a tad upset though. Didn't see that coming! Although 'They all die in the end' has a certain familiarity. I remember how angry I was getting to the end of the movie ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ and discovering they were dead before the movie even began. 

People always talk about satisfying endings. Maybe one of those ' Rich boy meets girl from the wrong side of the tracks where they finally get married and drive off into the sunset in an old MG' stories.  Is that a happy ending or just the beginning of a life-time of drudgery raising kids and getting divorced when she runs off with a lion-tamer?  I prefer detective fiction where they catch the guy and expose the truth. Chandler's ‘The Big Sleep’ comes to mind or Bob Town's ‘Chinatown’. Detective fiction gives you closure at least and possibly sets you up for the next case. Both novels reveal the lack of moral backbone of the upper echelon of society and delve into moral ambiguity. They are powerful stories because the protagonist, the detective, is driven by a need to know the truth, even if it will cause misery for all, not just himself. Moose Malone was never going to get back Velma, his chick on the make and the shocking truth of Chinatown is the blatant corruption in early forties Los Angeles – not to mention the casual racism of the cops who put everything down to ‘what do you expect, it's Chinatown.’

Should a title be direct or subtle? Can it be a quote? How much of it should tell us what kind of book it is.  ‘Saving Private Ryan’ is a case in point. We watch it because we instinctively know it’s going to be a story about the struggles to save someone in harsh wartime circumstances. ‘The Thin Red Line’ is a good title as anyone with knowledge of WW2 would know not all war strategies went well doing battle with the Japanese who were prepared to sacrifice their own lives vs Americans who were not so fanatical. 

One title I like ‘Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow’ by Peter Hoeg.  A strange tale about families and intrigue and of course snow. ‘Grief is a gift, something you have to earn.’ The title makes you want to know more about Miss Smilla. 

Equally Carrie Mac’s ‘The Droughtlanders’ tells a story within the title and is I remind you one of the first brilliant YA novels about Climate Change that was cruelly ignored by her UK publishers. Find it if you can.

My new story is also about climate change. It's also about sending our best and brightest to another planet to restart humanity as Earth is dying. But it’s also about an impossible suicidal mission to save one person in deep space.

The worst part for me is coming up with a title that covers everything.  Finding a title that encompasses all or hints at something within the book is a definite art. Can't really do a 'Bob, Ted, Carol & Alice' kind of title.

So how to find a title? Here are some tips:
1: Google your titles – you might be shocked that your unique title has been used 17 times already.
2: Avoid giving away too much. Don’t sabotage your plot. The Suicide Squad might be guilty of that.
3:  Does the title match your story? 'Space is empty most of the time' would do it but doesn't quite convey the story's tension.

Not everyone gets it right first time around:

Something that Happened = Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck)
First Impressions = Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
All’s Well that Ends Well = War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy)

Perhaps you need to ask what is your novel about?

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (Paul Torday)
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Hunter S Thompson)
The Company of the Dead (David J Kowalski)

PS: I finally settled on Mission Longshot - (if only because Mission Impossible is spoken for and so is Against All Odds).
Will be available on Amazon soon.

Good luck with what you’re writing.
© Sam Hawksmoor 4.10.21

Author of ‘We Feel Your Pain’ - So you don't have to
*you don't need a prescription to read it.


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