Tuesday, January 03, 2012

How to Write Your Stupid Book: Tip 5 – A Rose by Any Other Name Still Stinks



Since it’s been a while, let’s briefly recap how I’m writing my stupid books and notes from previous posts:

TIP 1: was all about BICHOKing.

TIP 2: Ideas

TIP 3: plotting and pantsing

TIP 4: internal editors

All caught up? Good.

Today’s post is about names.
The name of your book.
The names of your characters.

I know writers who obsess about these things. I know writers who truly can’t write a single word until they have THE PERFECT TITLE. They bounce the ideas off their friends and they make lists upon lists. If this is holding you up, let me tell you the secret to the perfect title: LET SOMEONE ELSE COME UP WITH IT.

I'm not kidding.

Confession Time. I am title-challenged. My first published book was called Dating Can Be Deadly. Did I come up with this? No. I called it Cat’s Pajamas. Yup.Regardless that there were no cats who wore pajamas in the entire story, that was my title. I don’t even know why I ever thought it was a good idea.

The good news is, they bought it anyway and wiser people than yours truly were charged with the job of coming up with a title. This is true for all of my books. I come up with something to place in the header just so I don’t have to refer to it as BOOK-I-HOPE-SELLS. But if/when it sells, I know the powers that be will work their asses off to find the perfect title. And, yes, they’ll consult me when they narrow it down so it’s not like I’m totally out of the loop.

A bad title will NOT stop an editor or agent from reading your work. Well, unless you called it "Shit". Then maybe. But if you’re wrapped up in the struggle to come up with that perfect title you need to let it go and realize your main job is to write the other 100,000 words. It’s okay to let someone else come up with the few on the cover.

Character names. Sigh. This is a bit more touchy and personal. I know you want to feel that connection to your characters and, yes, names are important. You sure as hell don’t want to name your protagonist Jane if Jane was the bitch who harassed and bullied you all through middle school, right? But. Again. Unless you name your character Pissypot Craphead, I’ve never heard of an editor or agent turning down a book because they didn’t like the character’s moniker. If they were truly bugged about it, hey, they would just ask you to change it.

I like to use Random Name Generator or an ancient baby book that helped me choose the names for my children. Sometimes I use the White Pages to choose a last name.

Then I write the damn book.

Often and, yes, I mean frequently, I change the names later. After the first draft, once I’ve gotten to know my characters, I might find myself thinking “Ugh. Why the hell did I name the antagonist Jarvis?” Then I simply hit global replace in Word and I replace all the Jarvis’s with another name. Simple. Easy peasy.

Do not get hung up with the deep, dark meanings and origins of a name. That’ll drag you through two weeks of hell. Just give it a title and if it’s not great, so what? And give that character a name, and if it’s not perfect, so what?

Just write the book. Agonizing over the name is just a form of procrastination.

Off to write my stupid book and pondering the name of Iesha Elefritz as an antagonist.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I can't write about a character until I know them like a friend so I need a good name.

Wendy Norris Roberts said...

Cat’s Pajamas eh? Well it is very good thing that you changed the name or the book might never have gotten published! And yes, names are very important. Especially when naming your children! People should pick a name and then sit back and think of all the ways that you can use that name to tease someone. If you find lots, then it is not the name for your child!!!
I am going to have to go back and re-read Dating Can Be Deadly, and imagine it with the original title now!!

B.E. Sanderson said...

Great post, Wendy. I love these HTWYSB posts. And I might add having what you think is the perfect title or character names doesn't necessarily help get it published. With everything it's the writing inside that counts. =o)

B.E. Sanderson said...

Oh, and for the record. I probably would've read a book called 'Cat's Pajamas' and not been bothered by the lack of cats. ;o)

Wendy Roberts said...

Anon, good names are good. Just don't spend as much time deciding on names as you do writing.

Wendy, you cracked me up about kids' names! So true!

B.E., true it's the writing that counts more than anything else!

sigit hermawan said...

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