Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What's in a title?

My recently completed manuscript sits on my desk: a neatly bound stack of paper. After years of research and writing it is finally done. However the white sheet of paper sitting on the very top serves to remind me of one critical element that remains: a title. I have made a list of thirty or so potentials, each interesting enough in their own right and vaguely suitable insofar as plot line and characters are concerned (some connections more tenuous than others). So while it seems a simple matter of systematically narrowing down the selections until I am left with one viable candidate, I am not sold on any of them in particular. I have been waiting for a certain phrase or a coupling of various words to jump off the page, and for that instinctive affirmation, that gut-derived understanding that this was the ONE. The one and only title possible for this novel. It feels much like expectant parents struggling to agree upon a name for their unborn child; however while this dilemma of naming seems perfectly natural for two people assigning a lifelong label to an individual they do not know and have yet to see, it seems the author who has labored long and mightily to bring this work into the world should have the intimate insight and understanding that renders the assignment of title a relatively simple and straightforward procedure. Not so. For me at least. I feel most acutely that the title is the primary hook by which the potential reader (and agent!) is initially enticed. The mundane need is that the title be appropriate to the storyline and characters, but it seems the critical element is that it compels the reader forward: a title that alludes to the general theme but also served to advertise the suspenseful character-driven plot of a political thriller as well as a novel of historical fiction. I am seeking to broaden my potential reading demographic and hope for a title that can help me achieve such inclusiveness. Suggestive, compelling, sexy, memorable and particular. A tall order - particularly when one must encapsulate all of such in just a few words. The fundamental issue I have with my list of 30 is that they are all fairly generic, whereas of course my book is anything but. To name a thing. I have come to the conclusion that the more complex and sprawling the narrative (and mine is indeed a tome) the more difficult it can be to assign just a word or two to encapsulate the work in its entirety. Generic seems almost an inevitability. I have since dismissed my list of 30 and another two or three rumble around in the dark labyrinths of my mind...hopefully to come to both tongue and conscious thought before too much longer! To all writers out there struggling to name their baby, of the human as well as literary variety, I raise my wineglass in commiseration (but colored by hope!)

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