One of my absolute favourite things about writing is choosing a title for a new novel. (My other love is naming characters and places.) In fact, I love coming up with titles so much that I’ve realised that the plots for all of my stories have been inspired by me thinking up a title I really like first. Once I have a title I’m excited about, I then think about the plot of a book with that title. Weird, I know, but that is how it works for me.
Something that I never realised about choosing a title for your character driven novel is that there are really two kinds of titles – those that work for theme driven stories and those that work for identity driven stories. My stories are all really about the character’s identity – Diary of a Penguin-napper,Ruby Marvellous, and Double Felix. All of these titles give hints to the identity of the protagonist.
I recently came across these examples on well-storied.com that illustrate the difference between the two beautifully:
CHARACTER-DRIVEN NOVEL TITLES (THEME):
Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion by Jane Austen
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Voices by Ursula Le Guin
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
CHARACTER-DRIVEN NOVEL TITLES (PROTAGONIST’S NAME OR IDENTITY):
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
The Martian by Andy Weir
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Carrie by Stephen King
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
Finniken of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
The Healer’s Apprentice by Melanie Dickerson
See the difference? Of course, not every character driven story will fit this mold and that is totally okay too. A well-written story wins every time – a great title just helps attract readers to it. And don’t panic if you don’t have a character driven story and instead have a story that is largely drive by plot. Kristen at well-storied.com has you covered too. Read her post here.
“These are the rules I’ve picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I’m writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what’s taking place in the story.” —Elmore Leonard
I was listening to The Bestseller Experiment this week and one of the two Marks mentioned Elmore Leonard and his ten rules of writing. I looked up these rules and they’re great, although I’m definitely guilty of breaking one or two of them from time to time. (Like just now, I had to go back and remove and overenthusiastic exclamation point from that last sentence. I do get points for having never opened a book with the weather or a prologue, but lose many for my ardour for using adverbs alongside the verb “said”.)
This article from Brainpickings expands on these rules far better than I ever could or you could always read Leonard’s book on the subject.
My love for all things Gretchen Rubin has only grown stronger over time.
Whilst I enjoyed her New York Times Bestselling book The Happiness Project, my favourites amongst her books would have to Better Than Before and The Four Tendencies (and to say this book has changed my life would not be an exaggeration.) The first of these titles is about habits – how we form them and how we change them – and the latter is about the different ways that different people response to both inner and outer expectations.
What her books (and listening to her podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin) have to offer writers is this: when we know ourselves better we are able to ask more from ourselves.
There are lots of practical strategies that can easily be applied to writing from Gretchen’s books.
Some of my favourites include:
Scheduling: Making an actual appointment in your diary is a great way of making sure you setting time aside to write.
Pairing: Put together two things that can only be done together. For example, you only get to have your morning cup of coffee if you’re sitting at your desk doing your words.
Monitoring: Have a way of tracking your progress. This might be a word count tally or a calendar where you are trying not to break the chain.
Convenience: Make it easy to do right and hard to go wrong. Don’t plan on writing at the coffee shop across town as having to get there can be inconvenient. Instead, choose the closest one to your house or go for the library that is slightly further away but that has the easiest parking.
Know yourself: I’m an Obliger so I need outer accountability to really get things done. Knowing this has meant, for example, that I will now ask my publisher, editor or mentor for a specific deadline for when they need a task complete. This makes it a priority on my list of tasks as I feel very accountable to others.
I checked the mailbox today and was surprised to find, tucked in amongst the flyers advertising takeaway and the slimy trails left by your average garden variety snail, a small parcel in there addressed to me. Better still, it wasn’t a parcel I was expecting. Those are the best kind of parcels.
This parcel had come all of the way from my publisher, Wacky Bee, in the UK as a special Christmas treat and included a lovely Christmas card and possibly the coolest pencils I have ever received. They’re Storyteller Pencils and include some of the best opening lines for stories ever.
And they are definitely the big hint I needed to get started on my next book!