Posted in General, writing

Creating Titles

This post is an update to one published March 8, 2018.

Titles and first lines are two of the hardest things to come up with in writing. Titles can be the easiest things to come up with, and other times a good title evades us for months on end.

There’s a good reason for that as well. Titles, like your first line, have to hook the reader. Unlike first lines, your title stands alone, without the potential for readers to try just one or two more lines. Your title has to catch your reader’s attention in a sea of other disconnected titles. Essentially, a title is your most basic (and important) piece of marketing. After all, you can’t tell your friends about a book with a title, so how can your readers?

A title has three main functions. Firstly, it catches attention. This is it’s first and foremost function—again, not unlike the first line. The idea is to give your reader enough of a hook that they’re at least interested enough to read the blurb.

Secondly, a title helps your readers predict the content. Don’t think this is a bad thing either—if you’re looking for a light historical fiction romance, you’re not going to be looking at titles that indicate a lot of heartache and blood, or even titles that indicate you’re dealing with the factual accounting of Henry VIII’s sordid affairs.  

Third and final, your title is an identifier for your story. This sounds complicated, but it’s really not. Going back a little earlier…you can’t recommend a book without a title, how can your readers? A title identifies your book, and gives you a basic place to start your marketing.  

The good news is that your title may end up changing up until publication. This might occur during edits, or as you’re working on marketing materials. Depending on the route you go to publication, it might happen because of something your editor or early readers suggest. While searching for a title, it might help to have a working title on hand—that is, something you plan on changing later.

Your main character’s name might very well step up for the title, a la Jane Eyre or Harry Potter. There are entire series which are known by the name of the main character. Think Anita Blake or Sherlock Holmes. This also applies to locations. Think something like Bridge to Terabithia.  

Alternately, theme might give you a good place to look. Think not only Sense and Sensibility or Eat Pray Love but also things like the Fast and Furious franchise. This gives you a chance to pinpoint what your story should feel like and what it’s going to focus on.

Playing off theme, you can also use key or symbolic items. This might give you something like Blood and Chocolate. It’s an easy option that can help you earmark other points of metaphor in the story. If your story features a MacGuffin, you’ve got a ready-made option here.

Finally, use your main concept as your title. Star Wars springs to mind easily. The basic idea behind the story has a lot of unexpected power. Concept titles tap into that.

Remember that you can mix and match titles as well. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix does just that: uses both the main character’s name, and the main concept. Try mixing and matching a couple of different options.  

As an exercise: To give yourself a little material to work with, try to come up with a list of at least ten different titles (hint, come up with two from each of the above categories, plus another two mix-and-match options). Following that, try to find ten lines or phrases in your manuscript that resonate with the story as a whole. You should end up with roughly twenty titles, all of which you can now tweak and play with.

Posted in General, writing

Adventures in Editing

Now that we’re out of Camp NaNo, I’m turning my attention back to the excessively long list of projects I want to work on. Ultimately, I decided on tackling one of my more unwieldy projects.

I say unwieldy largely because it rapidly outgrew the initial portal fantasy idea I had for it, bloomed well into a hundred thousand words around the halfway mark and keeps growing. At the moment the working title is Casters. It’s still in the fantasy genre, but at this point anything else is fair game.

As with everything else, I tend to write in rough chapter segments. To start getting Casters lined up, I opted to start with a one to two sentence summary of each segment, which highlighted a couple of interesting facets:

  • Several of the major characters had prominent and strong arcs, more than enough to warrant a story of their own.
  • Two ‘minor’ obstacles had a lot of potential to develop even further.
  • I’d completely forgotten that my initial main conflict had intended to be, somehow, larger.

Obviously getting everything down in one book would be an undertaking the size of Lord of the Rings. Knowing that my earliest drafts tend to be a little short, I’m already expecting the already oversized wordcount to expand once I get later into editing.  

With a series on my hands, the next step was to try and organize each character arc and figure out a rough order.  That turned out to be easier than I’d thought it would be, resulting in five smaller arcs that loop through each other and should carry through at least the first half of the main conflict.

For right now, I’m starting at the top, writing and rewriting each segment to bring everything more-or-less in line with itself. I’m also working my sway slowly through individual titles for each segment.

It’s a lot of work, but I’m enjoying the process.

What are some of the adventures you’re having in editing?

Posted in writing

Creating a Plot

Plot is often the one element that makes or breaks a story. Essentially, plot is conflict. Even in existentialist stories, the conflict is often hidden in the discussion of what life and existence means. For almost every other story out there, the conflict is easier to see.

Usually the basic plot structure is something along the lines of Character wants something and someone or something is stopping them from getting it. There are several variations of the basic plot premise as well, such as:

  • Character must stop someone or something from happening.
  • Something has happened to change Character’s life and they must adapt.
  • Someone broke something and Character must do something to fix it.
  • Character must complete a task or face severe consequences.

Regardless of your variation, your plot is driven by your conflict. Knowing that makes it easier to create a plot. There’s three simple questions you can use to help find your plot, even if you don’t have a plot structure yet.

  • What is your conflict?
  • Who is trying to resolve the conflict and why?
  • What actions are they taking to resolve it?

For example: the three little pigs. The wolf wants to eat the pigs, which the pigs don’t want. Character (the Wolf) wants something (to eat the pigs) which someone or something (the pigs) is stopping them from getting. Just by looking at that, you already know who’s involved and can take a pretty good guess at why these characters are specifically involved. The wolf is hungry and the pigs want to stay alive. That leaves you just one question to answer.

What actions are they taking to resolve it?

In most forms of the story, the pigs try to protect themselves by building houses. First of straw, then of sticks, then of bricks. Their actions cause the wolf to react, mostly by huffing and puffing to blow the houses down. Depending on the version of your story, the wolf either wears himself into exhaustion and is killed by a hunter or woodsman while the pigs keep their hooves clean, or his efforts to blow the brick house down somehow injure and kill him without anyone else interfering.

However your wolf comes to an end, the actions he takes to reach that end still create your plot. If you’re a planning-type writer, those actions can be plugged directly into your preferred story structure. If you’re finding gaps between those actions, remember that your characters will react to each event.

Back to our example: the first pig reacts to the destruction of his house by running to his brother’s house. The wolf reacts to that by chasing (and potentially getting a two-for-one meal). Upon arriving at another house, he uses the same action that worked the first time, forcing both pigs to react, again by running away.

These actions and reactions create the try-fail cycles which push your plot forward. The pigs tried and failed to protect themselves with simple houses. The wolf tried and nearly succeeded at catching the pigs by blowing their houses down.

Although creating a plot can be work intensive, at it’s base, you’re dealing with conflict. Take a look at your own story and ask yourself the above questions. What is the conflict? Who is trying to resolve the conflict and why? What actions are they taking to resolve it?

Posted in General, writing

Camp NaNoWriMo

Three months a year, NaNoWriMo hosts a writing event. For the regularly scheduled NaNoWriMo in November, the goal is set at a solid fifty-thousand words within thirty-days. For the two Camp events in April and July, you have the option of setting your own goal.

Because I have such a bad habit of start ten million projects and simply never finishing them, I’ve opted to only work on new projects during the three NaNoWriMo events. Technically, this is something I started last year, by trying to finish at least a few of the continuously unfinished projects I have on the list.

So far it’s worked out decently. Although we’re only a few days into April, I’ve found a lot of the ideas I’ve had on hold are better fleshed out even though I haven’t been working on them. I’m aiming to get two novellas written this month.  

Are you doing Camp NaNo? What project are you working on for the month?   

Posted in Stories, writing

Short Story: A Sister’s Love

Crown was resting, though buried under half a dozen blankets. Blade sighed a little, happy she’d finally managed to get to sleep. For now at least, she was resting comfortably.

Getting enough rest would be at least half of a long battle. The diagnosis was grim.

Mana sickness.

Trapped in a well of magic for almost three hours, Crown had been hit with so much raw magic her body was rejecting it. For someone who didn’t have any magic of their own, that would have been fine. A temporary ailment, gone in a few weeks.

For someone with budding magic of their own, it was a chance to permanently cripple any magic they had.

A sniffle from his eldest daughter’s room made Blade pause and turn. He’d thought Snow would have been in bed and asleep hours ago. At least, she should have been.

He heard the shuddering breath as she tried to hide a hiccup. She was laying perfectly still, faced away from the door and curled tight into herself.

Blade inhaled slowly as he came to the bed. “I know you are not asleep, ehla meh,” he said as he settled on the edge.

This time Snow hiccupped. “I’m trying to,” she muttered.

“Mhmm, and not succeeding, are you?” His hand was gentle as it landed on her shoulder. “What bothers your dreams tonight? More ice snakes?”

She shook her head and curled tighter, pressing her face almost into her knees.

“I cannot fix what you don’t tell me about,” Blade said. “What is it?”

“Crown’s not going to have magic.”

It startled him the way she said it. “What?”

“Crown. She’s sick and it’s my fault and she’s not going to have magic because of it.”

Snow had been there. She’d tried to get her sister out of the well first. They weren’t supposed to have been playing in that area anyways, but neither could resist exploring just once.

No one had known about the well, just about the decaying ruins over it. Snow and Crown had been the ones to find the well when part of their game had dumped the younger sister into it.

“Sit up,” Blade said gently and Snow grumpily complied. “What is this about it being your fault?”

“It’s my fault. You told us not to be over there and she hates playing chase. I’m the one who chased her over there and I tried to get her out and I should have gotten help sooner. Now she’s sick and she’s not going to have magic and it’s my fault. I’m supposed to help look after her.”

Ehla meh,” Blade said gently. “This is in no way your fault. True, you were not supposed to be playing there in the first place, but I know the two of you and Crown has already admitted to being the one to suggest that as your game area. No one knew about the well of magic.”

“But—”

“Enough,” he cut her off. “You did what you could to help your sister. You recognized the well and you knew enough to know it could do some harm if she wasn’t retrieved quickly. We were lucky you weren’t hit with it as well.”

She sniffed and he reached over for one of the small cloths from her nightstand drawer. “Crown’s sick.”

“She will get better,” Blaze replied. “It will take time, but she will recover. Snow, there’s nothing crying will do to fix it and it isn’t your fault. No one knew there was a well of magic.”

“Then what will fix it?”

Her love for her sister made him smile as he smoothed her hair back behind one pointed ear.

“She’ll need lots of care,” Blaze said gently. “She’ll need rest and she’ll need to be kept warm. Lots of tea and for a while she won’t leave the house much. She’ll need someone to keep her company and tell her stories. Do you think you can do that?”

Snow nodded, eyes still bright with tears and Blaze smiled. “She likes animal stories best,” Snow murmured.

“That she does. I also happen to know she loves her sister a great deal and wouldn’t want you crying like this.”

“I just want her to feel better.”

“She will get there. Come here.”

Snow was almost too big for him to carry properly, but he managed to scoop her up anyways, letting her wrap around him while he carried her down the hall.

Crown was asleep, true, but Blaze settled Snow down next to her. “See?” he said gently as Snow automatically nestled in with her sister. “She’s sleeping now.”

Snow shook her head. “She’s not asleep,” she said.

“Oh?” Blaze couldn’t keep the amusement out of her voice.

“It just hurts too much to move,” Snow said and kissed Crown’s cheek. “I think she needs some water.”

“Is that so?”

Crown opened one eye, surprising Blaze. He could tell she tried to speak, but no words formed, only a gentle pursing of her lips.

“Let me get a glass for you then.” Blaze murmured. Perhaps he’d add something to help with the pain.

By the time he got a glass and a spoon of the pain reliever his wife kept on hand, Snow looked to have settled comfortably in with her sister. “You’ll have to sit up,” he said gently, and Crown squeezed her eyes shut for a moment.

And yet, Snow shifted and shimmied under her sister, using her own body to help lift Crown and her mountain of blankets upright. Crown smiled, leaning her head back on Snow’s shoulder while Blaze smiled.

“This first,” he said. “Open.”

Crown complied, and Blaze popped the spoon in, letting her take the potion first. He knew it tasted bitter, but Crown never reacted. Once she’d swallowed that, he helped her hold the glass to her lips, taking little sips until she’d had enough to satisfy her.

By then her eyes were drooping closed and Snow had taken to petting Crown’s hair gently as she finally fell asleep.

Blaze smiled and watched while Snow helped lower her sister again, tucking blankets and pillows back in around her. “You see?” he murmured. “You can do a lot to help her.”

“Can I stay with her tonight?” Snow asked. “In case she needs anything?”

He nodded. “As long as you get some sleep too,” he said and leaned forward to kiss her temple. She flinched back a little. “Are you alright?”

“My head hurts.”

He chuckled and pulled another blanket over, draping it over both his daughters. “That’s what happens when you miss out on dreams in favor of worrying yourself into tears. Sleep, ehla meh.”

She smiled a little and settled down, head tucked under a pillow the way she liked to sleep. Blaze slunk out again.

Strange how Snow had known what Crown wanted, even before she’d managed to ask. Then, he decided, Snow had been ecstatic when she’d learned she would have a little sister. Even more so when she’d learned it meant she would need to help look after and care for her sister. Growing up out here in the Frozen Wastes around ruins of what had once been the frost elf capital had sometimes been lonely for Snow.

It was no surprise she knew what her sister needed or wanted. She loved her sister.