Naming Your Novel


“The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names.”
Chinese proverb

There were three great – and I mean truly great – things to come out of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. The first (not particularly literary) was Robert Pattinson. The second was another writer moving into the realm of never having to worry about money again. And the third was the inspired choice of names for each of the books – Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn.

Of course, writing a four-book series is more than half the writing battle – it’s most of the writing battle – but coming up with a theme for the names of all the books is at least half of the post-writing marketing battle. They need to be catchy, they need to be relevant and they need to make sense by themselves as well as in totality. Tick, tick, tick, tick. Well done, Stephenie (or your editor, whichever one of you it was to make this decision). Conversely, boo, hiss to the producers of the film versions who after the first film insisted on prefacing the following four with the words “The Twilight Saga”, as though people choosing whether or not to see the films wouldn’t realise they were part of a series without it. We knew. We would have to have been living under a rock (or the modern day equivalent, without an internet connection) not to know.

Another series to be similarly successfully named was Divergent, Insurgent and Allegiant – how those names roll off the tongue in sequence. Kudos to you (or your editor) as well, Veronica Roth.

In recent years I have been playing around with this concept in my own writing efforts by trying to come up with a great theme for a series of book names. The success of my efforts so far has been so-so (and that’s a generous assessment). In 2013, I was considering a three-book series with the titles Black Death, Red Heart and White Light. These titles related to the original plot involving Livia Black and anyone who has read my post entitled “The Evolution of a Character and a Plot” will know both Livia and her story have been through several stages of development and redevelopment. As they did, the original three titles began to make less and less sense, making title revision also necessary.

Although I’ve currently only finished writing the first in the series of three books, the three titles I settled on last year were Black Spot, White Wash and Blue Print. There are multiple problems with these when I check them against the list of requirements:
*Yes, they make sense individually (when you eventually read the books, I hope you’ll agree).
*Yes, they make sense in totality (obviously, the theme is colour).
*Yes, they are relevant (again this may require actually reading them to make a judgement so I hope you’ll happily defer to me on this one).
*But, crucially, no, they are not catchy at all. In fact, White Wash has the potential to confuse given it has a political meaning (my intended usage) and a decorating meaning (not my intent at all) and Blue Print is actually one word, not two (blueprint) but it didn’t flow with the other two proposed book names so I made a grammatically incorrect style decision, which I really hate myself for doing. (What self-respecting grammar nazi would do that?)

Assuming a publisher expresses any interest in publishing the series, I’m sure it’s something that will be rectified quick smart but I’m not sure I will be any help in that area unless they are looking for “yes” or “no” answers. My ability to come up with great book titles seems to be diminishing as my ability to write well increases. Ten years ago, the title Enemies Closer was one of the first things I conceived, well before I ever finished writing even the first draft. Obviously, it’s a play on the famous saying, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

The novel I am working on now had a working title of Dyad which means, “two individual units, things or people linked as a pair.” It made sense as the novel was an exploration of the relationship between two people who are hugely impacted by illegal actions but from completely different sides of the experience. Except then I added a third key character and decided the write it in three parts, each exploring the same two weeks in first person perspective from one character, then the next and then the last. Dyad no longer made any sense. The novel is now called Trine, which simply means, “consisting of three parts.” Inspired, huh? Another one for the publisher to fix in due course.

Here are some other great title series worth a mention:
*JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books – a timelessly classic format (…and the Philosopher’s Stone – or Sorcerer’s Stone, depending on where you read it – …and the Chamber of Secrets, …and the Prisoner of Azkaban, …and the Goblet of Fire, …and the Order of the Phoenix, …and the Half-Blood Prince, and …and the Deathly Hallows)
*Pittacus Lore’s number series (I Am Number Four, The Power of Six, The Rise of Nine, The Fall of Five and The Revenge of Seven)

And here are some partial special mentions (because while the whole series may not have met the criteria, some of the titles were just terrific):
*John Marsden’s Tomorrow, When the War Began and Darkness, Be My Friend from the Tomorrow series
*Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games (but I’m not a fan of the titles of the subsequent books)
*Stieg Larsson’s wonderful Millenium series (at least the English language versions – because the first book in the original Swedish was titled Men Who Hate Women, not as catchy as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) which has sparked an avalanche of books with the word “girl” in the title

Which book titles or series of book titles have struck a chord within you?


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