Just recently I’ve been having a bit of a nightmare with WIP Numero Deux. I don’t know what it is. Probably because it’s Christmas and work’s busy at the moment and it’s cold and it’s frosty and it’s difficult to write when wearing these:
But I don’t want to take them off because my room is actually a freezer.
Anyway, I’ve been struggling. I’m at that point where I open my word document and scowl at it for a few minutes before snarling and closing it down. I think all writers go through that stage, I’ve been through it so many times I’ve actually lost count.
So to get over the general snarly-ness, I change things. Like, big things. Whether it’s lobbing off an entire story arc, killing off a character or throwing something angsty in the faces of my characters . I like to go drastic.
For WIP Numero Deux, formerly known as Bluebells, I am changing the title. You might be thinking: “Well, that’s not really a big deal. I mean, you’re not published. And… you’ve not got an agent. And actually you haven’t even finished it…”
YES. I know that! But it is kind of drastic because the whole reason I started writing these character’s stories was because of the song Bluebells by Patrick Wolf. It is one of my favourite songs in the entire world and I wanted to write a YA story that made me feel the way I feel when I listen to it.
Does that sound weird? Possibly. But that’s true. The first thing I came up with was the title and the story came second. But now I’ve got a hold on the characters and the story is taking the shape it has… the title just doesn’t seem right any more.
I wanted to talk about YA titles in this post for two reasons. One, because I find them fascinating and I think they’re a very underrated subject. Bloggers and readers always seem to lose their mind when they see a book’s cover for the first time and yes while it is exciting… finding out the title of a book is so much more exciting!
Because you can come up with your own conclusions what it’s about. You get the first hint at what the author has been getting up to behind your back. You know if it’s going to be the same as the books they normally write or whether they’ve gone in a totally different direction.
And two… well, I’m going to let you all help me do my homework. Who knows? Maybe you’ll give me ideas for my new title.
Disclaimer: Although you probably don’t really care, thought I’d better mention that if I say I don’t like a title it does not necessarily mean I don’t like a book. I am being naughty and judging them and drawing conclusions from their titles alone.
I’ve been pondering my bookshelf for a while and I’ve been skimming through the titles on my Kindle and there are definitely trends.
Where She Went, If I Stay, Before I Fall, When You Were Mine.
There seem to be so many titles like this. In a way, I kind of like them because they allude to something happening or something that’s about to happen so already you know bam there’s an actual story. I know it’s hard to imagine because pretty much everyone reading this post will know what If I Stay is about but if you didn’t, what would you think of?
The first thing that comes to my mind is it’s a character that’s uncertain. Why are they even thinking about not staying? What’s happened to them to make them think that going was an option? And I think Where She Went is such a brilliant sequel (or companion book, depending on how you want to look at it) title. It’s different (because there’s nothing worse than sequels that have forced titles… yack) but it’s also linked. Also, intriguing. Who’s she? Who’s telling this story?
I asked the brilliant Nafiza from Bibliophilic Monologues for a list of her favourite titles.
The Summer of Permanent Wants – Jamieson Findley
The Feast of Roses – Indu Sundaresan (okay, this is not YA but dude, such a lovely title!)
The House of Discarded Dreams – Ekaterina Sedia
In the Shadow of Blackbirds – Cat Winters
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Silhouette of a Sparrow – Mary Beth Griffin
I’ve not actually read any of those books and I have absolutely no idea what they’re about. But from the titles alone I would be all about the Silhouette of a Sparrow because it makes me think of shadow puppets and there’s a sense of magical realism and something not quite right about it. Why are we focussing on the silhouette and not the sparrow? This is what I want to know.
And The Summer of Permanent Wants? Wow. What a title.
When I asked her what titles would put her off a book, Nafiza answered:
What I’m really tired of where titles are concerned is “The _____________’s Daughter.” There are way too many books out there with this title. They annoy me for two reasons:
1. It’s overused.
2. It says that the girl has no identity except for who her father is.
Urgh, finally, someone who is sick of this too. Some of the titles are so convoluted I lose track of who the books supposed to be about. The Fisherman’s Wife’s Dogwalker’s Next Door Neighbour’s Daughter.
And actually, this isn’t a million miles away from my pet hate in YA titles.
The [Something Something] of [Girl’s Name].
I can think of at least five books off the top of my head that have this title and, to me anyway, I find I get confused between the books. And, as a writer, I think the last thing I would want is for a reader to pick up someone’s book because they’ve confused the titles.
It seems I’m not alone in this matter because when I asked Reynje from wordchasing about this she said:
Agreed on the “The [something something] of [Girl’s Name]”. I feel like that’s a bit of a trend and it’s going to date. I think you need a really strong character and a really strong voice for a name in the title. Like, ‘Please Ignore Vera Dietz’ and – that’s such an unusual book and in that case, I think the name in the title works. But the Mara Dyer titles? Ugh. No.
However, Mandee from Vegan YA Nerds completely disagrees with the two of us. She says:
The Year Nick McGowan Came to Stay, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Smart Girls Get What They Want, Love Notes from Vinegar House. They give you a good idea of what the book is about compared to single word titles. A special mention goes to the Ruby Oliver titles, they’re long and often have…. well, all the stuff after the title like in brackets and stuff – ha.
Not completely unrelated, this whole name thing in the title leads me onto another thing that I don’t really like. Finding/Hunting/Losing/Searching/Saving/Looking for [YA Lady Name]
What is with these girls wandering off in YA fiction?! Can’t they just stay put for once? Although I guess there wouldn’t be much of a genre if they did.
I have to admit, and you’re all going to recoil in fear when I say this, but I really don’t like the title Saving Francesca. I know, I know, I’m horrible. I think the title is so misleading because to me, Francesca doesn’t need saving and she isn’t saved in the book.
Unless you count that how she saves herself.
I’m going to drag Anna from Anna Scott Jots name through the mud with me on this one because it seems she agrees:
I’m not too keen on Saving Francesca as a title. It just doesn’t do the book justice.
It really doesn’t. Obviously, I love the book like nobody’s business but based on the title alone? Eh.
And while we’re all being grumpy and complaining here are some other of our pet hates when it comes to YA titles.
I just hate those meaningless phrase type titles. I have a Kevin Brooks book on my shelf called KISSING THE RAIN. Ffs. Unless the book turns out to be about people who like kissing rain.
I have to agree. What does Kissing the Rain even mean? It makes me think of one of those songs you get embedded in your head after you hear it on the radio and the more you think about it, the less it makes sense.
I’m getting a tiny bit over single word titles, particularly when they’re trilogies. Sometimes it starts to feel cheesy, like the author is just trying to come up with another rhyming word.. even if it just barely relates. I don’t like titles where the connection to the story is really thin or almost unrelated. That feels gimmicky to me.
Right, that’s enough of us bellyaching. I feel a bit like the Witches of YA-ville. So let’s move on to the titles that we love!
One that sticks out a being particularly good is Kill All Enemies by Melvin Burgess. That title combined with the picture on the cover was just so RAAAAHHH! Actually Melvin Burgess comes up with some awesome titles – Doing It, Junk, My Life as a Bitch.
So true, I love Melvin Burgess’ titles. They’re so perfect when combined with the grittiness of his stories but also… if you said one of his titles to someone that’s familiar with YA, I bet they’d be able to take an educated guess and match it to Mr Burgess.
I do like song names or funny takes on song names eg. The Lonely Hearts Club and Hold Me Closer, Necromancer.
Hold Me Closer, Necromancer is such a genius title. That’s the first book I think of when I think of books I read solely because of the title.
I like titles that really resonate with the content of the book, or have kind of a dual application. Like they can be interpreted in a few different ways. I love Courtney Summer’s titles: Cracked Up To Be, Some Girls Are, All The Rage etc.. they’re catchy but they don’t sound cliched or try-hard. And they reflect what’s in the book.
Some other titles I love:
• The Chaos Walking titles (Patrick Ness) – I love that they’re all so specific to the books and directly reference Ness’ world building and themes.
• The Spectacular Now (Tim Tharp) – it’s an expression that the main character uses, and I like it way it makes you wonder what it means, because it’s an unusual combination of words.
• Drowning Instinct (Ilsa J Bick) – Another unusual expression, but one that really fits the story in a couple of ways. I the way your first impressions of the title could change once you finish the book
• Six Impossible Things, Notes From the Teenage Underground, This Is Shyness, You Against Me, Nothing Like You, All This Could End.
I love Rick Yancey’s titles. I love that they’re so strange but they’re absolutely perfect to the story, the theme and, actually, the setting of the book. When I think of The Curse of the Wendigo, I am instantly transported to a foggy street in the 19th century where the street lights are gas and the streets are cobbled and whatnot. It reminds me of all the detective fiction I’ve read and the mystery books I’ve loved and it firmly cements itself into the genre. I mean, with that title, you know you’re not going to get a contemporary romance, don’t you?
Also, I can’t not mention the titles of Sir Terry Pratchett’s books. Yes, I mean Discworld but for the purpose of this post, specifically the Tiffany Aching titles. Similarly to my point back up there ^^ about Melvin Burgess, if you said “Oh, Sir Terry P wrote a book called The Wee Free Men”…no one would say “WHAT?! That doesn’t sound like something he’d write!”
I love how they’re eccentric and a bit odd but also beautiful in their own way. I mean, I Shall Wear Midnight… isn’t that gorgeous?
Finally, and this is one of my all- time favourite YA titles and stories: A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd. I mean, that title gives me shivers and it’s so perfect for the story that it’s attached to. I love how it’s memorable, without being fussy, it’s different, without being too “look at meee!”.
Right, that’s enough from us.
Now it’s your say. What makes a good YA title? What makes a bad YA title? Is there any trend in titles that make you roll your eyes? What’s the book with the most misleading title you’ve read, whether it was a bad title for a brilliant book or a brilliant title for an eh book?
Help me narrow down my title options, won’t you?
ps. So next week’s On Writing post is going to be published on Friday which…. and I know this will make you sad and weep and cry… will be WtOC’s last post of 2012. But don’t worry… it’s possibly the best thing I’ve ever posted (Yep, even better than the Joetry). But no more clues now. Tell me about titles. Go. Shoo.