My compadre Erica Dakin has commented a few times on how I tend to title everything — chapters, parts, etc — so I figured I’d talk a bit about that, in regards to Book 1.
I’ve always had titles floating around in my head. Even when I was a kid, I’d scribble down random neat-sounding words and phrases (often on the backs of my school notebooks) with the thought that I would one day use them as book/story titles. So while some people have a hard time coming up with titles, I’ve always suffered from an excess of them. I actually have a file full of words and phrases just waiting to be used.
The title for Book 1, The Light of Kerrindryr, went through several iterations itself. According to my oldest files (circa 2003), it was first called The War of Memory — which you might recognize as the series title (The War of Memory Cycle). For whatever reason, I decided I didn’t like that as the title, so around 2008 I changed it to Dreams of the Dead, because of a certain story-thread and set of scenes in the middle of the book.
Obviously I changed my mind about that; looks like in late 2009 I swapped over to the current ‘The Light of Kerrindryr’ title. For that, I was picking up a sort of sub-textual story-thread about the dissonance between Cob’s beliefs and the actual Imperial Light. At one point I had him actually say the phrase near the end of the book, but I chopped that as being too referential, too…pointed.
Regardless, I think last year I saw some mystery writer’s book ‘Dreams of the Dead’ on our library shelves and went ‘whew, dodged that bullet’. But just a couple weeks ago I also got a notification from one of my free/cheap book mailers about another fantasy book called ‘The Light of [something starting with an E]’ and kinda twitched for a while. Ugh. Nothing to be done now, though, and that’s the trouble with titles. You’ll never have an entirely unique one unless you do some messed-up alphabet soup thing, and who will take a chance on something like that?
Now, also in book 1 (and the series in general), I have divided things up into parts. Book 1 has Part 1 and Part 2, and both of those have their own titles: Abnegation and Thelema, respectively.
Anyone will tell you that I likes me some big words; a few friends have even told me I’ve Vance’d them, i.e. made them run for a dictionary like Jack Vance. Yay! The Parts separate out more themes within the overall story, which are identified in the title, and were also a way for me to indulge my wannabe-literary side without entirely succumbing to it and writing something dense and snobby.
So: Abnegation. The definition is, roughly, ‘an act of renouncing or rejection, self-denial’, and it covers Cob’s issues in the first half of the book — which I won’t talk about specifically because spoilers, but it felt pertinent.
Part 2, when we switch over to the secondary protagonist, is Thelema — ‘will, purpose, true path’. Since the second half of the book deals with the secondary protagonist struggling with/trying to figure out their own real goals and desires, and kind of back-seats Cob for a bit, I thought it was appropriate.
The later Parts also follow this pattern of Latin or other foreign archaic terms. I have them all planned out, and they all basically state the theme of the main character for that Part. Plus I get to use these awesome words that would have no place in the actual text because (nearly) no one would know them or have the vocabulary to use them.
Now down to the chapter titles!
For chapters, I tend to rummage through my grab-bag of titles-in-need-of-homes, or else go with something that strikes me — whether it be a line of text from the book itself, or a song, or a saying, or something from another book as sort of a really limited-scope in-joke. What can I say? I played out most of these characters with other people for ages, so they’re linked in to my old friends in a solid if vestigial way, and sometimes I like to acknowledge that.
So, a listing and explanation, where pertinent:
1: The Third Army, 2: Off the Leash, 3: The Way of the Hearth, 4: The Penitent — Direct references.
5: Hunter in the Farmland — A title I’ve always wanted to fit somewhere. Comes originally from my gang of gamer-friends back in my first high school, which I’ve tried to bend into several concepts, from a predator-blood skinchanger protecting farm folk to the current iteration. One of those in-joke callbacks.
6: Bahlaer, 7: Shadowland, and 8: Discord — Direct references.
9: Under Underground — Shout-out to the book Ecstasia by Francesca Lia Block, which my best friend and I read back in my second high school and which kind of inspired my future-Halci wasteland-city. Really pertinent to the Shadow Folk and the direction they’ll eventually go, but again basically an in-joke.
10: Reports, 11: Crimson and Shadow, 12: A History Lesson — Direct references.
13: The Pursuit — Same-named song by Evans Blue. A title I would have used even if the song didn’t exist, but the lyrics feel particularly significant to what’s going on.
14: The Climb, 15: Scorched Earth, 16: Divergence — Direct references.
17: The Red and the Black — Reference to the book of the same name that I read in high school, where the ‘red’ are the military and the ‘black’ are the clergy. I don’t remember much about it now, but the division works for the Corvish.
18: The Flight — Another song, this time by Edge of Dawn (vocals by the Seabound front-man), with lyrics of obscured pertinence (spoilers!) but again a title I would have used anyway even if the song did not exist.
19: Homecoming — Direct reference.
20: Poisonous Friends — Seabound again, with Poisonous Friend. A song that has meant this particular character to me for a long, long time.
21: Crows, 22: Preparations, 23: Influences, 24: The Draining Darkness, 25: Best-Laid Plans — Boring direct references and bits ganked from generic sayings.
26: Gate of Earth — One of the tarot-type cards from an earlier chapter. This will be a recurring theme. The story has some conflicts between fate/prophecy and agency/probability, and this starts the examination of them, at least on a meta level.
Additionally, the indicated card was intended to be the Book 1 cover card, but we were having some issues with how it was turning out (which is to say I was having nitpicky spasms) so we switched to the Ravager/Guardian yin/yang card, which will eventually be the backplate of the tarot-type deck. Some day we’ll have all the cards…
Anyway, just a little insight. I have title listings for Book 2, wrangling Book 3 right now, and a whole slate of options for the rest…
Really like what you’re doing on this blog!! I’ve set up my own project (at haroldhuscin.wordpress.com if you’re keen!) doing similar things to you. So far so good! Really interested in the maps you’ve created – I’ll check out the other areas of your blog next.
To follow on from your post, the title of things is so important – if you can’t describe a section in a few words then surely it’s too vague lacks focus. My blog is full of headings and subheadings – I think this is nicer for the reader and will be taking this approach forward in my writing. Good luck with your writing
Thanks! Sometimes I do struggle to find a title that encompasses all the sections in the chapter reasonably well — since I often bundle sections from different PoVs into one chapter — but it’s a worthwhile struggle I think, and in the end it adds cohesion.
Good luck on your own project! Sounds ambitious. I’ll be keeping an eye on it. Myself, I could never attempt that. I can’t even manage NaNoWriMo.
Thanks for all your activity on my blog – really appreciate the input to the project. Lots of work to do and good to talk through the topics with likeminded people as they come up.
As for your titles above, I especially like the ones with an in-joke attached. That’s a really good idea and keeps it all interesting – especially for those in the know (a massive minority, I know, but worth it!)
Happy to help! 😀
Yes, you have Vanced me too, although pride forces me to state that in many cases I’ve gone ‘I know that word, and I think I know what it means, but let’s check to make sure’. Not all cases, but many.
The Flight is an awesome song! (You stole the air I breathe…) I must say that I’ve not had too much trouble thinking up names for the chapterlets of A Shire Romance, I just seem to be spectacularly crap at thinking up full book titles. Yet another thing to envy you for, curse you!
I struggle to come up with titles. I may have to wait until I’ve written a bit more before I can figure out a title for my WiP. It’s kind of frustrating. Hopefully something will come to me.
You’re ridiculously meticulous and organised. I love it.
My suggestion would be to write down whatever neat words or phrases pop into your head when you’re working on/thinking about the WIP. If one of them comes to stand out, then you can use it to strengthen its thematic thread within the work to make the title extra-resonant. Just my two cents. 😀
This is great advice. I’m going to try it. I’m trying to get over my fear that writing things down puts them directly into stone that will be immortalised for posterity. This is what kept me from writing years ago, so I’ve still got a lot of work to do to get over that hurdle. I’m getting better, but I need to get used to the idea of brainstorming. On paper. That other people might see. (And ridicule me for until the end of my days.)
Anyway, I’m growing a pair. Thanks for the advice!
It’s so nice you title chapters! We, T & K, love chapter titles even though many aspiring writers and published writers say they’re stupid, childish and pointless. Screw that, it’s fun to come up with them 🙂
Stupid, childish and pointless? Wtf? Why? I don’t think they’re essential, but why, as a reader, would I put a book down and go ‘meh, it has chapter titles, this book must be pointless’?
People spout the most ridiculous crap sometimes.
Yeah, there was a long thread about chapter titles on one writing forum and the consensus was that they are superfluous and childish, meant for children’s books like Harry Potter. We don’t care though. People are entitled to their opinion, of course, but it was rather surprising how anti-chapter titles many writers/aspiring writers were…
Maybe they’re just jealous of those of us who can come up with good ones.
Besides, they aren’t unheard-of even in adult fantasy…