Thursday, July 21, 2011

What's in a Title?

Knowing that perfection is but an elusive goal, the novel must be as close to perfection as it can be.  The query letter must persuade the agent to read the synopsis and the synopsis must capture the essence of the work in order to dazzle the agent into requesting it.
But how about the title??
I titled my novel "Silent Words" the day I started writing.  It captures the main characters mood perfectly as he sets on his journey.   But is it a good title?
I was never convinced.
Choosing a title is exciting in the most excruciating way - it is important because it is the first impression the agent, the editor, and the reader have of the work; it can, if well chosen, capture the essence of the work as it catches the imagination of the reader; and, as a marketing tool it can prompt a purchase.   
But how to choose a title?  What is a title, anyway?
I stood in front of my book case for about twenty minutes, looking for a pattern, a reason, a revelation.
Here it is.
Titles vary by:
A.  length:
(i)  long titles (some form a complete sentence):   Murder on the Orient Express, The Summer Before the Dark
(ii) short titles (some are comprised of one word):  Speak, Twilight
(iii) phrases (a few words, often enigmatic in meaning):  The Rule of Four
B.  conceptual meaning:
(i)   describe a person:  Jane Eyre, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
(ii)  describe an object:  White Oleander, 4:50 from Paddington
(iii) describe an action:  How to Breathe Underwater
(iv) describe a feeling (or two):   An Exclusive Love, Pride and Prejudice
(v)  describe a place:   Bertram's Hotel, Caribbean Mystery
(vi) describe a notion: Thirteen Reasons Why, East of Eden
Perhaps there are other, better ways of characterizing or grouping titles, but such methods escaped my notice in those twenty minutes.
These are books I like and, for various reasons and during various stage of my life, have enjoyed very much.  Setting aside the genre and ignoring the level of enjoyment garnered from reading each story, I stared at the titles, this time waiting for a connection, a pull to any one type of title.  What is it that attracts me most?  Do I want a no-nonsense title that tells me what happens?  Murder on the Orient Express.  Or do I want to figure out what the story is about and how the title relates to it as I live the story? An Exclusive Love.  Does the geography of a place awaken a sense of adventure?  Caribbean Mystery.  Does it even matter what I want?  What about what agents or editors or readers want?
Yes.  An excruciating process.  Yet so rewarding.
In The Shadow of Honey Locusts.

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Synopsis - It Is Done!

The synopsis is finally finished! 
I wrote the story I had to write - back then, I did not care about a synopsis or a query letter.  I am not even certain I knew what those were when I started writing. 
Then, for a long time, I feared even the idea of a synopsis and did not want to touch it.  It seemed like an unnecessary burden that would neither reflect my style nor capture the message of my novel. 
It took me two weeks to draft it, rewrite it, and finalize it.  It was not a labor of love...
Yet, in retrospect I realize how useful the exercise was and how valuable its product is.  It gives me clarity.  It allows me to better summarize my novel and its key points for whatever purpose and to be more articulate about its characters and their struggles.
It also helped me revise my query letter, which is also in its "final" form.
I have learned my lesson -  for my next novel, I will start with the synopsis.