When I’m working on a novel or a story, I’m always unsettled until I decide upon the title. Before that, the narrative seems unfocused and lacks direction. I’m not fully in control or sure what I’m writing about.
Not that finding the title solves those other writing issues–far from it. But the right title is essential. A strong title has a way of clarifying the story and serving as a signpost to where the story is headed.
When I’m deciding what to read or watch, the title is definitely an influencer in that decision. I almost didn’t watch a great movie because of its title: “Primal Fear.” That title could have meant almost anything–and so it meant almost nothing. I never would have guessed the story centered around a commanding debut performance by Ed Norton getting away with murder and Richard Gere as the attorney trying to protect him. Great movie, forgettable title.
I love the depth and drama that Hemingway put into titles. “A Farwell to Arms.” “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” “The Sun Also Rises.” Those titles are bold promises to the reader.
Could there be a more evocative or telling title than Carson McCuller’s “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter”? Honorable mention to “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.” But it’s not only literary titles that intrigue me. “Jaws.” “The Godfather.” “The Reincarnation of Peter Proud.” Any title that names its most compelling character (yes, the shark) is a powerful signal about the book. “Olive Kitteridge.”
With STASH, I came up with the title relatively early in the writing process. Because I was only a draft or two into the novel at that point, I considered it my “working title” subject to change. I came up with a list of about twenty other potential titles, but none of them had the snappy, poignant energy and thematic relevance of STASH. The title stuck through every draft.
At one point prior to the novel’s publication, my editor asked if I had any other titles I had seriously considered. I said, simply, “No.” Did she not like the title? Actually, she loved it, but was asking anyway, because you never know how the sales team will react.
With CLEAN BREAK, I wasn’t so fortunate with nailing down the title early. I labored through multiple drafts, I discarded many potential titles. And then I came up with CLEAN BREAK, and knew that title was right as soon as I’d discovered it. The four main characters in the novel were all trying to escape something in their past and gain a fresh start. Up until that point, I was struggling with the novel. Again, the title didn’t solve my writing issues, but it boosted my confidence and helped clear a path to finishing.
I’ve been working on a new novel for more than a year, almost two. A number of working titles have auditioned for the top spot, but only one of them stuck: THE SUITOR. I like the title because it names a character role in the novel, but it also can refer to another of the novel’s characters, in a more menacing way.
Now that I’ve got the title I want, everything else should go smoothly. The novel will probably write itself from here on out. I should be finished any moment.