Novel Writing, Writers on Writing

Discovering the names of novels

English: Statistic of titles the English Short...
But where did all of those titles come from? | English: Statistic of titles the English Short Title Catalogue categorised as “fiction”, 1600-1799. black line: yearly production, red line: ten year moving average (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Names and titles used to be the bane of my existence.

I can’t begin to tell you how much time I have wasted agonizing over names for characters and titles for stories. I have recently realized that those names and titles will eventually reveal themselves to you once you learn to listen for them.

I’ve had a name for my current novel-in-progress for some time, but I haven’t been entirely happy with it. It’s okay, but it doesn’t really sum up the novel in the way I want it to. But, I hate thinking about titles, so I just went with it and kept writing. After all, there’s no sense agonizing over a title at the expense of writing the story.

Last night, as I lay in bed with my notebook, writing my latest chapter, the novel’s real name revealed itself to me. One of my secondary characters made a comment to my protagonist that seemed to sum up the essence of the story in just a few words.

Then it occurred to me. That’s it! That’s the true title of my novel! Just like that, my novel had its name.

I’m learning not worry so much about names and titles. The more I think about them, the harder it is for me to imagine what they should be. It’s better to use placeholders as you begin a new story and wait for the character names to reveal themselves eventually on their own.

Don’t be afraid to switch names around until you find the right fit, and don’t ever marry yourself to a title until you have to. One house servant in my story, a bland woman who only appears for a few brief lines, at first had a wonderful name that was far too interesting considering how unimportant she is to the story. I liked the name though, so I let her keep it for a bit.

Later on, I introduced a new secondary character who is far more important than that house servant will ever be. I then realized the interesting name I had hung around the neck of that poor, boring woman really belonged to this new character. So I gave the name to its rightful owner and thought up an easily-forgotten, one-syllable name for the servant. If this were her story, she’d get a better name. But for now, she needs a moniker that will not draw attention to her when none is warranted.

My point is, there is no need to agonize over the names of characters and the titles of novels. You already know what they are. You simply need to learn to have a little patience. They will come in due time. All you have to do is listen.

What process do you use to discover the names of your characters and stories? Please share in the comments below.

~Mandy Webster

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