The (Name’s) the Thing (Or, What Should I Call It?)

Has it ever happened to you?  An idea hits you, seemingly out of the blue, as the best ideas always do–unasked for, unplanned.

outofblue

 

You feel excited, energized, eager to get started.  You don’t have your story all figured out yet, but you don’t care.  Who needs an outline?  You have a situation.  You have a set of characters.  Most important of all, you have a need to get this boiling, rushing volcanic river of creativity down on paper (or on the computer screen, as the case may be).  You feel you’ll explode if you keep it locked away inside of you.

volcanicriver

 

You have a story to tell.  And you want to share it with the world.

There are few things more exhilarating than this in the life of a writer.  One moment, there is nothing, but then, in the next . . .

Maybe you’re between projects.  Maybe you’ve been in a slump.  Or maybe you’ve been on a roll, your creative powers at an all-time high.  It doesn’t matter either way, because when this new idea strikes, you feel as though you could spread your arms, catch an updraft, and soar for miles.

soaring

 

You begin the story, the keyboard humming along, the words pouring out of you so fast, your fingers are having trouble keeping up.  But at some point, perhaps a paragraph in, perhaps thousands of words in, it hits you.

You don’t have a title.  You are writing a story “Untitled.”

untitled

 

What to do?

********************

When I began writing The Eye-Dancers, it wasn’t called The Eye-Dancers.  It wasn’t called anything.  It seemed as if I had the necessary ingredients in place to come up with an attention-grabbing title.  I had ghost girls and nightmares and endless blue voids, and worlds upon worlds, without end.  Why was the title so difficult to get right?

worldsuponworlds

 

I tried a few.  Pathways through Infinity.  Ugh.  Journey without End.  Double ugh!  Not to mention misleading.  There is, in fact, an end.  Through Time and Space.  Putrid!  It sounded like a B movie from the 1950s.  So I did the only thing I could.  I forgot about what to call the novel, and continued to write it.

bmovie

 

It wasn’t really a surprise that a title didn’t stick initially.  They rarely do for me.  Even with short stories, I often do not think of a title until after the story is written.  But with The Eye-Dancers, it grated on me.  A short story, after all, can be completed in a day or two.  It doesn’t compare with the months-long marathon of writing a novel.  And as I reached 30,000 words in my ever-growing manuscript, and then 40,000, and then 50,000 . . . I started to become concerned.  What if I never thought of a title?  How could I publish a book with no name?

booknoname

 

I tried force-feeding a few more would-be titles, but these were even worse than the first batch.  (Hard to believe, but true.)  So I plugged away and kept writing, and then . . . when I came to the final segment of the novel, Mitchell Brant, that weaver of tales and stories himself, helped me to solve the puzzle.

Earlier in the novel, when the boys are first transported through the void, via the swirling, hypnotic blue eyes of the “ghost girl,” Mitchell has the sense that they are dancing, or, more specifically, “eye-dancing.”  At the time, I never really considered that the makings of a book title were contained in those words.  (When you are tone deaf with titles, as I sometimes am, these things can take time!)

bluevoid

 

Thankfully, Mitchell bailed me out.  In the epilogue, Mitchell again uses the term “eye-dancing” to describe the dimension-busting adventure he and his friends have experienced.  This time, the lightbulb went off!  I had it.

The Eye-Dancers.

It was perfect.  It fit the story.  It had a catchy, mysterious sound to it–it was evocative . . . I liked it.

eyedancers

 

It just took a long time coming.

**********************

The more I think about it, the more I believe a title should come late in the game.

Writing a novel is like wandering through a maze, with lush, leafy ivy growing from the walls, ten feet high.  Just when you think you know the direction the story will travel, it does a sudden U-turn, then fakes right and goes left, taking you, the author, along for the wild, unpredictable ride.  This is why I don’t use chapter-by-chapter outlines.  I know the flux and flow of the narrative will change as I dive in.  The original conception will become a relic, a barnacle-covered shipwreck lying 3,000 fathoms beneath the sea.

shipwreck

 

Why, then, worry about a title at the beginning?  If you have a title, and you’re sure it will work, great.  That’s one less thing to concern yourself with.  But if you’re not sure, or completely in the dark, rest assured that your characters, your story, will ultimately provide the answer.

Some of my favorite novel titles include:  To Kill a Mockingbird, The Sound and the Fury, Far from the Madding Crowd, and The Grapes of Wrath.

maddingcrowd

 

Each one creates an instant mood and paints a word-picture and metaphor all its own.  Concerning the first three, I am unaware of how or at what point during the writing process they came to be (though I would be surprised if they materialized early on).  As for John Steinbeck, he struggled mightily to come up with a suitable title for his book, and only arrived at The Grapes of Wrath after his wife suggested it.

grapes

 

***********************

I am currently working on a sequel to The Eye-Dancers.  What will I call it?  At the moment, I haven’t a clue.  I’ll leave that to the roller-coaster ride of the story itself, with its ebbs and flows and sudden, unexpected turnabouts.  And its characters.

They will provide a title for me at some point.

I’m counting on it.

rollercoaster

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

62 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Silvia Writes
    Apr 25, 2014 @ 18:31:14

    The ever elusive title … I know the feeling. But it always comes to us. At a time when least expected, it will come.
    SilviaWrites

    Reply

  2. AGentleandQuietSpirit
    Apr 25, 2014 @ 18:34:11

    Another one of those rules you learn as you write: write the story and wait for things like titles, names, and opening lines come as they will. Great post! Excited about a sequel!

    Reply

  3. literaryliason
    Apr 25, 2014 @ 20:03:28

    I always write first, title last. I have an entire series I have been referring to as prequel, book one, and book two. Luckily something usually pops out of the text, like with your book.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Apr 28, 2014 @ 17:21:05

      Yes, something usually does.:) Sometimes it’s hard to keep the faith that it will . . . but one thing I’ve learned . . . as a creative writer you definitely need to trust the process. Things will come in their own time. They can’t be rushed. Might cause a few gray hairs though.:)

      Reply

  4. Mary J. McCoy-Dressel
    Apr 25, 2014 @ 21:19:56

    Giving us a title is one more thing to love about our characters. They always come through for us. You can bet they’ll give you a new title, Mike. Good luck with the sequel.

    Reply

  5. evelyneholingue
    Apr 25, 2014 @ 21:37:43

    This is cool to know that you are working on a sequel! Best to you with that.
    On the title search topic, I found out that two things happen: either the title comes quickly and you stick to it or it is harder to find one and it is the last thing that will remain on the to-do list.
    Untitled feels a little sad, like someone who wouldn’t have a name, so I like to give a title to every piece I write (even blog posts), even though if I rarely keep the working title.
    And yes, friends and critique members can help to find the right one. For Trapped in Paris I had initially picked Ash Cloud, which I loved in terms of word choice, but in fact this was a misleading title and I had to agree with my critics.
    The Eye Dancers is a catchy, intriguing title, so that was good that you ultimately picked it.
    Thanks again for a great well-written post.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Apr 28, 2014 @ 17:23:49

      Thank you! You’re right–sometimes a title does come first. Rare for me, but it does sometimes happen.:) It’s always a bit of a nervous feeling working on a longer work with no name–but in the end a title always surfaces! Always great hearing from you!

      Reply

  6. Holistic Wayfarer
    Apr 26, 2014 @ 01:21:41

    Quite enjoyed this post, M – esp the commentaries on the classics’ titles. I’ve no doubt you will hit a home run with the one for the sequel.

    Reply

  7. renxkyoko
    Apr 26, 2014 @ 06:02:45

    Titles last for me too. Just for my blog posts, of course.

    Reply

  8. jenniferkmarsh
    Apr 26, 2014 @ 11:15:01

    It’s funny how your story can have a mind of its own, doing a sudden U-turn, as you say, when you least expect it. I’m not really one for concrete planning either, though I do always write with chapter-by-chapter ‘guidelines’. And guidelines is all they are. Titles can sometimes be the worst! Reading your post made me think about how I named my own story, and do you know what? I COULD NOT remember how it came about. But then I did, after longer than I care to admit, but that’s a whole other story in itself. I am quite rubbish with titles myself, though… I struggle to title pretty much every blog post of mine!

    Hope everything’s going as smooth as possible with the sequel! Another brilliant title will come, I’m sure of it 🙂

    Reply

  9. araneus1
    Apr 26, 2014 @ 12:09:57

    Titles come to me at all stages but I find it interesting that when someone reads a story of mine from a while back I either know instantly which story it was or I’m completely stumped. Some stories suit their titles and others slowly lose touch with them over time.
    My first book had a title before it had a story the second and third have no title as yet but, as you say, it does not matter. And, if Steinbeck’s missus can come up with a title so can mine!
    Terry

    Reply

  10. insearchofitall
    Apr 26, 2014 @ 14:52:27

    Great subject as I have been struggling with titles lately as well. Thanks for the insight.

    Reply

  11. Bruce Thiesen
    Apr 26, 2014 @ 15:10:17

    Pesky details.

    Reply

  12. Andrea Stephenson
    Apr 26, 2014 @ 16:16:38

    I rarely have a title at the beginning of a piece of writing and often struggle to decide on one at the end. I worked on my novel for years with one title, but it was never one I was really happy with. It wasn’t until the very last re-write when I inserted a new aspect to the story that the title came to me just like that – and fitted so well.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Apr 28, 2014 @ 17:30:03

      That is so often the way it happens. It’s much like the creative writing process itself. Characters so often do and say the funniest things–things we never expected! It’s like that with titles, too. We don’t have one we like, and then, bam! It strikes. That is always a great feeling . . .

      Reply

  13. Minister Gertrude Ferguson - Founder & CEO- Enough Tribulations
    Apr 26, 2014 @ 16:51:17

    You know, I once learned that when one is writing, if you don’t have a title, but the words, you will eventually get a title. For some writers, they have to have a title or topic to start with, but for others, they just need to have the thoughts. It all boils down to your persistence to keep going at your manuscript, now it turned into a lovely book. Nice reading!

    Reply

  14. Sherri
    Apr 26, 2014 @ 17:51:05

    Well Mike, as always, you took me on a journey with twists and turns while reading this blog post! I know I must sound like a broken record (we obviously like the same things!) but Far From The Madding Crowd is one of my book obsessions and the others are also amongst my favourites. Just as an aside, I live in ‘Thomas Hardy’ country, what used to be known as ‘Wessex’ but is now made up of the West Country, made up of Devon, Cornwall, Dorset and Somerset 🙂
    So far as the way you describe what it’s like being a writer, I’m very interested to read that you don’t use chapter outlines but ‘go with the flow’, same with the title. It has to ‘speak’ to you doesn’t it? I really relate to this…
    Thanks again for a wonderful post. Have a great weekend Mike 🙂

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Apr 28, 2014 @ 17:33:55

      Thanks so much, Sherri! And I would love to visit Thomas Hardy country one day!:) As for outlines, I don’t use detailed outlines since things always change anyway during the writing process. I do, however, jot notes down and have a general idea where I think I’m going. Even with this, though, things often change on me.:)

      Reply

      • Sherri
        Apr 29, 2014 @ 14:57:57

        You would love it Mike, and I hope you do too one day 🙂
        I know what you mean about jotting down notes, but then, as you say, things can still change! What a wonder this thing called writing is… 🙂

  15. jjspina
    Apr 27, 2014 @ 03:25:28

    Whatever you choose for a title will be exceptional like your work! Great post, Mike!

    Reply

  16. Lesley at Lola Rugula
    Apr 27, 2014 @ 15:49:38

    I’m thrilled to read you’re working on an Eye Dancers sequel, Mike! Best of luck to you. I really appreciate these posts of yours, where you’re honest enough to admit that things don’t always come easy for you…writing, titles, etc. Though I don’t write novels, I still struggle sometimes with the title of a post or even finding my correct voice for a blog post. At times, I’ll delete an entire post, thinking “Ugh! Stop preaching and/or narrating and just start TALKING.” Eventually, I find my real voice, though I admit I still give up, at times, on the titles. 🙂 You inspire me to let it come to me, instead of forcing it. Thanks Mike!

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Apr 28, 2014 @ 17:37:44

      Thanks, Lesley! Those are very nice words to hear. It’s interesting that you mentioned the times you actually scrap entire posts, too. I have been there! There have been entire first drafts of chapters that I completely get rid of and have to start fresh. I am actually going to write a post on this at some point. A lot of times the things we delete and toss help us to arrive at our finished product! It’s often frustrating, but just as often very helpful. Always a pleasure hearing from you, Lesley!

      Reply

  17. Carrie Rubin
    Apr 28, 2014 @ 16:05:26

    It’s funny how sometimes titles almost declare themselves before we’ve even started writing the project, and at other times, it takes being finished or close to finishing before one solidifies in our minds. I agree it’s best not to force it. Just as with most things, if we give it time to simmer, it will eventually surface.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Apr 28, 2014 @ 17:40:04

      Very well said, Carrie! And very true. Sometimes remaining patient and confident that a title (or some other aspect of a novel) will turn up right at some point is very challenging, but 99 out of 100 times the creative process wins out in the end and things turn out as they should. It’s one dizzying roller-coaster ride getting there though! Which of course is what makes it fun.:)

      Reply

  18. Karen's Nature Art
    Apr 28, 2014 @ 16:57:56

    I have trouble with titles too…glad I’m not the only one! 🙂

    Reply

  19. teagan geneviene
    Apr 28, 2014 @ 17:15:00

    More often than not, I have trouble thinking of a title that feels right to me. Glad to see that I’m in good company!

    Reply

  20. stockdalewolfe
    Apr 28, 2014 @ 17:50:18

    Very interesting– the whole process — and interesting to hear your process. Good luck with the new book.

    Reply

  21. reocochran
    Apr 28, 2014 @ 23:37:10

    Creativity in titles for posts, for me, comes and goes, ebbs and flows. I think it is interesting how you chose Eye-Dancers. I feel it has all kinds of power in it, it can be futuristic, it could be about Native Americans in their way they name things for their characteristics (can you visualize a pretty young girl with dark braids, who has that same name? I can!) but how you made it into “dimension-busting adventures” is wonderful! Take care, Robin

    Reply

  22. fashionassist
    Apr 29, 2014 @ 01:59:38

    Love the imagery you use to describe the feelings one gets when writing a novel…
    like wandering through a maze with ten feet high walls and an unpredictable ride!
    And then when you said the “original conception” becomes like a barnacle-covered shipwreck lying 3,000 fathoms beneath the sea, I chuckled and thought…
    yup I can relate to all three and wow, Mike has such a wonderful way with words!
    Thanks for another great post!!~
    So awesome to read that you’re working on a sequel to The Eye-Dancers…
    and can’t wait to see what the title will be, especially after reading this post 😉

    Reply

  23. Shelley
    Apr 29, 2014 @ 05:53:40

    Yayyy! I knew a sequel would be written. Can’t wait no matter what the title.

    Reply

  24. Carol Wuenschell
    Apr 29, 2014 @ 21:59:00

    Don’t worry, something will come to you…

    Reply

  25. The Global Palate
    Apr 30, 2014 @ 19:20:18

    It’s very true! I am taking a creative writing course right now and pieces of ideas keep coming to me but it’s often hard to make everything fit together…especially a title! But I’m sure you will come up with something great!

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Apr 30, 2014 @ 19:34:50

      Thank you! And yes, that happens so often . . . pieces of ideas! Making everything fit together is the challenge. Great hearing from you! And thanks for the encouragement.:)

      Reply

  26. Gallivanta
    May 01, 2014 @ 09:50:32

    Your post and the subsequent comments make me realise that I don’t know when I come up with titles for my posts. I must pay more attention!

    Reply

  27. authormbeyer
    May 05, 2014 @ 23:47:03

    I myself often write the title first and then start piecing together the illogical crazy quilt of a story that it inspires. My novel called “Catch a Falling Star” took the title from John Donne’s poem, “Go and Catch a Falling Star”. Only then did I come up with the idea of an alien invasion that accidentally leaves one of its children behind to be adopted by a childless Iowa farm couple. Back in the eighties I tried to change the title to “Starchild”, but it was too trite and borrowed from “2001; A Space Odyssey”.So in 1990 I changed it back. Then I spent twenty-two years writing the dang thing. I published it in 2012.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      May 06, 2014 @ 17:08:35

      That’s quite a journey for the title! A lot of times the story behind the title of a novel is just as complex as, well, the story behind the story . . . Great hearing from you!

      Reply

  28. michaelwatsonvt
    May 13, 2014 @ 13:17:16

    An evocative post! I have no idea when a title will come, although they tend to arrive at the end……

    Reply

  29. Mary Strong-Spaid
    May 16, 2014 @ 22:09:49

    I agree. I never try to think of a title before I write. After I finish writing, the title usually makes its appearance and reaches out to me…..from somewhere in the text. 😉

    Reply

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