author C.C.Cole's blog

Thursday, February 23, 2012

On the Concept of Titles

Many writers write about how to title books and name characters.  I do find most of these articles helpful; as when I completed my first novella “Act of Redemption” I found myself struggling with character names and stumped with a title.  On a radio show I was asked how I came up with the name Shevata (shee-VAH-tah). I said what was I going to call her, “Barbara, Stacy, or Linda?”

A similar mindset for me went to the title.  “Act of Redemption” was I grasping at a title after I wrote the first draft, and after several content-edits, not a single editor had an issue with the title and commented favorably every time, therefore I went with it.  While I struggled with the title, I knew I didn’t want to name it simply “Gastar.”  Though it makes since to name the city, and many stories are named in this manner, I preferred it as a series title to a book title.

Some writer-experts recommend conceptual titles, like “Act of Redemption” or “Game of Thrones” (that’s me at 3am having the gall to mention my book with Martin’s in the same sentence, it’s rare).  It’s understandable that a title using a concept would be more appealing, but to me is more difficult and could sway one way or the other to a potential reader what the book is about.  For example, when my wayward first publicist sent my book to a fundamentalist religious group because of the word “Redemption” in the title.  Obviously, as I wrote in the past, that was an epic-disaster.  I like conceptual titles and use them, but I’ve learned the hard way to use them carefully.

What about writers using good old-fashioned nouns as titles?  There may be less mystery, but there’s also less confusion.  For example, M.R. Mathias’ “The Sword and the Dragon.”  Hey, this book must be about a sword and a dragon.  Not much mystery, huh?  But that can be advantageous, because the title identifies the genre and the general content of the book.  Another clever simple title to me is “Bushfire” by Paul Anthony.  He leaves a bit of mystery there; something’s on fire, it’s an international crime novel, and only a few seconds of thinking tie together ‘bush” and “fire” one quickly sees unhappy drug dealers low on product. 

As for titles, in the long run, I think of them like I do character names.  When I chose the name Shevata, I practiced something in my house.  (I really did this, in case anyone thinks I’m weird, it’s certified now).  I named my coffee table “Charlie.”  When I dusted it, removed my husband’s computer from it, I called it “Charlie.”  After about a week, it stopped being a coffee table and became “Charlie.”  That’s what happens to me with titles and character names.  Whatever you name them, that’s who your characters become and what your story becomes.  Regardless, a title chosen by the author is every bit as part of the story as the story itself, so a memorable story makes for a memorable title.


  1. I love the name Shevata by the way. =)

    Anyway, I hate choosing names for characters and titles. I obsess over it and hate it every moment I have to work on it. I know it's important, but in the end, I don't think it makes that much difference.

    For instance, I read a book recently where the main character was named "Ever." I rolled my eyes a whole bunch because I thought the name was silly, but after awhile, the name became pretty much invisible to me. Just a couple of symbols that represent who the character is.

    I've never had a title or name make or break a book for me if the story is good.

    I'm only saying this because I hate when people get overly critical of others and their choices in names for characters and books.

  2. Hey, thanks for the comment, and I agree, though title choices can be hard, the story makes the title in the long run.