Saturday, November 10, 2018
I Have Trouble Naming: My Novel's Title
I’m terrible at naming anything. My dog’s name is Willow, and she’s called that because that’s what the shelter I got her from was calling her. She was a puppy, and she hadn’t been there long enough she was responding to that name or any of that junk people say to justify keeping a name. It relieved me that Willow was pretty and ubiquitous enough I didn’t have to come up with something else. Poor thing would have been stuck with Spot, Shadow, or Puppy if I’d had to name her.
To no one’s surprise, my novel had no title during its first draft. I called the draft saves “Portraits of Roxi Starr”....which couldn’t be the novel’s title because it’s boring and untrue, but it described the iterations I was working on, so go me?
Then I worked with my first beta reader on this project. This person had a problem with my main character, Roxi. She found Roxi’s personality abrasive (which yeah, that’s intended), but it went deeper than that. The person didn’t like Roxi’s worldview, didn’t like her religion, and didn’t like the way Roxi expressed herself.
I think this person made the classic mistake of thinking Roxi was a version of me. While I find Roxi is relatable and interesting, she is not me. I put Roxi in a situation similar to ones I’ve been in, but Roxi handled them in a way I never would. Where I always approach interactions seeking to avoid confrontation, Roxi escalates. She likes to fight. And sometimes that’s the right call, but most of the time, her outcomes are unsuccessful.
Finally, I got fed up and was like “Look, you don’t like her, great. People read books with unlikable characters all the time. I need to know if you can follow her. As a writer I’m saying ‘Here’s Roxi, here’s her life and now we’re going with this. Follow her. ‘ Can you suspend your judgement on her as a human being and just follow her to see where the story leads?”
Follow me, ended up sticking. Outside my argument with the beta reader, the book is about a fae stalking my main character. He’s literally following her. In the first draft, the reader was on a forced march to follow Roxi through her life. In the second pass, I’m softening that element (and I think that might have been what my beta reader wanted) and better easing the reader into who Roxi is. To do that, the reader is creeping along with our antagonist. Following.
Roxi’s journey is physical through our normal world and into the Faery Realm. Readers are passengers riding with Roxi.
Last, Roxi is sarcastic and sassy. I could just hear her mocking some of her peers cheery social media chant of “like and follow me for more content!” I always hear the title in meta mocking tones and sometimes I slip up and say my title with that element of self aware loathing. “This is who we are, desperate attention seekers. It is always a popularity contest, and it’s not even about liking, just F--ing follow me through the content.” The ironic thing, I can’t tell you if these are Roxi’s words or mine. We share a fear that to get other people to be interested in our story, we become that which we see is wrong in the world. Both of us would bubbly announce “Hashtag fail fast!” the difference is that I would immediately turn away and leave the listener to decide if I were really cheery or if I was speaking in a sarcastic and self depreciating manner. Roxi would stand her ground and stare at her audience until her disgust pierced through their skull. She’s not funny and ambiguous, she makes a stand and is always ready to fight over it.
Talk to me. How did you come up with your title? Do you come up with titles easily? Have you ever had a reader assume you were your main character? Have you written a story where you were the main character? And last but not least, what do you do to champion your book? Do you market and how? Do you ever worry you’re “selling out” or “shilling” for your book?