It's 10 PM and I have not yet justified to the Creativity Gods why my existence this day should continue (yes, my religion requires daily logorrheaic sacrifice, or else tomorrow shall not come; you wondered why I blog so frequently?) so I shall do a rather difficult translation I've wanted to do for a while:
What Should You Call Your Book?
Advice to a Novice SF&F Writer
There are plenty of print sources in the world that tell novice writers how and what to write, and what your plot, characters, language, images and format should be. But there isn't a single book that tells the most important thing: how to come up with a title!* Although it's definitely the title, and not the content, that ensures a book's success! If you think otherwise, try a simple experiment --- ask anyone which book is more famous: the one about the devil in the city, or about the djinn in the village? No one will give you anything coherent in reply. But if you rephrase your question --- which book is more famous, The Master and Margarita
or The Bloody End of the Swamp Monster
? --- then you will get a predictable answer. Thus, only those books whose talented authors came up with a brilliant title become famous. Therefore, what you're holding in your hands is a unique set of instructions to teach any novice writer the most important skill of all --- making up the right titles. For that there are ten simple rules --- pick any one. Or all of them at once.
1. The first thing that comes to mind is borrowing the ready title of a book whose success is beyond doubt. But alas, you can't take it in its entirety. Thus you should try to remake it, changing a word or two. Perhaps the reader will think that the older author had written a sequel, and will happily dive into reading your masterpiece. "Monday Begins On Tuesday
." "Three Men In A Boat To Say Nothing Of The Vampire." "Hard To Be A Devil.
" "One Flew Over The Beastie's Nest." If no classic title comes handy, you can can slightly correct any famous proverb or saying**: "The Spacesuit Is Where The Heart Is." "It's An Ill Wind That Ends." "Early To Bed And Early To Riesling."
2. Add pathos and loudness, work on a galactic scale, and use words like "Eternity," "Infinity", "Evil," "Darkness." If possible, write them with a capital letter, so your pathos will be visible from afar. "The Emperor of Evil." "The Lord of Everything." "The Ruler of Eternity." Overall, try to make the title of your book sound like it should be said as a pronouncement with twenty exclamation points, and when the echoes die down, no one will have the courage to add or remove anything. This is tricky to do, but you should keep trying and seeking. "To Kill So As To Love." "The Tread Of A Man." "Nothing Will Come True Forever."
3. Try to use the standard, verified symbols. There aren't that many; here they are: Sword, Dragon, Dagger, Old Tavern, Galaxy, Star, Lord, Ruler, Blood, Love, Castle, Guardians, Warriors. You can come up with many titles by skillfully combining those. "The Dagger of the Dragon." "The Castle of the Sword." "The Lord of the Old Tavern." "The Sword of the Dragon." "The Warriors of the Galaxy." "The Sword of Love." "The Guardians of Daggers." "The Dagger of the Dragon..." By the way, fear not that there are already many books with such a title --- there are still more readers!
4. Beware of modest titles! No one will buy a book with a boring title like "Baby" or "The Old Ship." The brighter the title, the sooner the reader will pay attention. "Running Along Guts"; "Sperm On A Blaster" -- that's not bad, don't you think?
5. Let the reader know at once that he is about to meet the Incredible. To do that, use paradoxical phrases. Nothing is as valued as paradoxes in bestsellers' titles. Doing this is simple: take a word (such as "morning"), find its opposite ("night") and there you have a wonderful title ready: "Night Will Fall In The Morning." Also not bad are: "The End of Infinity"; "To Die So As To Live"; "The Prisoner of Freedom"; "Noon Midnight"; "Winged Winglessness"; "The Living Dead". The idea is simple: the reader tries to figure out how this can be, but cannot solve this brainteaser. So the intrigued reader concludes that the author is no fool, but a cool philosophical dude, and the reader should definitely buy the book and figure out what the deal is.
6. The opposite approach: in your title, try to explain what the book is about as clearly as possible and to summarize the plot; the reader should know what he's buying. "The Descent of the Lord of Darkness." "To the Edge of the Galaxy for a Magical Talisman." "The Vampire Invasion of Kitege City, or how the Warrior of the Dragon's Dagger saved the daughter of the Lord of the Tavern, and later on saved all of Kitege City as well, by the end of Part 3."
7. If you don't have enough words, don't be shy about making up new ones or using incomprehensible pretty ones. Remember that the cleverer the words used, the greater the reader's respect. "The Suspensitory of Macroleums." "The Clearance of the Lady of Ichtym." "Stylemount, Reignant of Liviruses."
8. A good idea is to title a book with one word but a very clever one. It shouldn't have any relation to the plot, nor should it even be mentioned --- let the reader be convinced of his own lack of mental acuity and flip through the book again and again searching for secret philosophical meaning. Where should you find such a word? Leaf through some PhD theses in physics or medicine --- the word should be so pithy that the reader should have a hard time pronouncing, much less remembering it: "Premorbid." "Lactation." "Adsorbent." "Promiscuity." "Meteorism." "Commutation." "Charisma."***
9. "Chronicles of" or "World of" --- the first half of the title is ready. These magical words paralyze the will of a certain type of reader and force them to buy any book without even glancing inside it. You don't even need examples here, just write any other word or combination of letters after "Chronicles of" or "World of" and admire the result. One can also use "Guardians of" or "Daggers of" here, but that is somewhat less effective.
10. And finally, for those for whom the above tips were too complicated, I offer a list of utterly simple templates for constructing pretty decent titles:
"The Doing of the Something" ("The Conquering of Abracadabra"; "The Bridling of the Sorcerer"; "The Writing of a Megabyte"; "The Siege of the Publishing House")
"To Do A Something" ("To Love A Dragon"; "To Forget A Name"; "To Kill A Shadow"; "To Submit A Little Novel"; "To Receive A Nice Royalty Check")
"The Dudes of Something" ("The Demons of the Underground"; "The Vugluskrs of Black Valley"; "The Geniuses of the Bookshelf")
"Those Done Up By Some Method" ("The Condemned To Life"; "Those Bound By The Sorcerer"; "The Doomed To See Themselves In Templates"; "Those Covered By This List"; "The Insulted With The Best of Intentions")
"Last Name, Profession" ("Ityr, the Innkeeper's Apprentice"; "Gardnerella, the Sorceress of Middle-Earth"; "Joe Blow, the WorldCon Laureate")
"In The Sign Of The Something" ("Under The Banner of the Sheepricorn"; "In The Name of the Wolf"; "In The Preface of the Master")
"The Something and the Other Something" ("The Demiurge and the Gray Pony"; "Kadum and the Sword of Emptiness"; "Akakiy and the Guanoid"; "The Prose Genius and the Bastard Copy Editor")
"Date of the Something" ("Hour of the Colossus"; "Year of Unsand"; "Day of Pohel the Scientist"***; "Month of Sales"; "Day of Paychecks")
"Doer of the Thingy" ("The Victor of Badmin-Ton"; "Spellcaster of Skeletons"; "Scribbler of Drivel")
"Thingy of the Doer" ("The Talisman of the Ammonia Lord"; "Tread of the Beastosaur"; "The Fecaloid of Dr. McManiac"; "The Debut of the Drinking Buddy"; "The Member of the Writers' Guild")
"The Adjective Noun" ("The Emerald Gates"; "The Most Secret Gift"; "The Hardcover Binding"; "The Hyped Serial")
"The Noun That Is Adjective" ("The Gift That Is Most Secret"; "The Ideas That Are Standard"; "The Fantasy Writers That Are Crappy")
November 6, 2002
I have long thought that "Three Men In A Boat To Say Nothing of the Vampire" is the perfect alternate title to Peter Watts'