The more I think about books, the more the process of writing one seems like raising a child. You keep it in the comfort of your own home, nurture and guide it to the best of your ability, and send it out into the world. You also have to give your book a name, which will be today's focus.
Naming a book is always hard work. The title has to establish what the book is about without being too obvious. It has to be clear, concise and attention-grabbing, and it has to look good on the jacket. Trying to squeeze all of this into one title is no easy task.
I came up with two different titles for the book before The Bone Season, none of which I particularly liked. The working title was Third Eye Blind, which I abandoned after realising [a] it sounds a bit like a spy film and [b] it's the name of an American alternative rock band. Then it was Flux for a while, named after a substance used in the book – but when I took a peek at Google, I found out there was a sci-fi film called Æon Flux. So Flux was off the cards (and, in retrospect, really didn't suit the book). It was also briefly titled Luna Moth, when I was first trying to develop a story after Aurora, but that didn't quite suit the final, fully recognised manuscript. The title page on the WIP remained empty for a long time. And then, one day, I suddenly just got it.
I woke up one morning determined to tackle the issue of The Title. I was starting to get myself into a sweat over the darn thing, so I sat there for hours, twiddling my pen, getting more and more annoyed with myself. I went through the manuscript and started to pick out important words that could be used. I also noted down the word season, with reference to a period of change. I'd already found the word bone as part of my research into Victorian slang, and it also featured in the MS as part of the clairvoyant underworld. After toying with my list of possibles for a while, I put bone and season next to each other – and, eureka, I'd done it. THAT was my book's title. It also gave me the perfect name for a very important something that happens in the story: the Bone Season itself. I also see it as Paige's 'season'. Seasons are inevitable; you can't stop them changing. Paige has little choice over her fate in the book, and must do her best to adapt to harsh conditions, just as we have to adapt between summer and winter. Fortunately, Bloomsbury didn't ask me to change the title.
It's difficult to advise you guys on how to give your book a name, as it ought to suit the book's content. What I'd suggest is playing Title Scrabble with yourself. Go through your WIP and think of the major symbols, themes, characters and occurrences. Write down words that suit the tone. Think of what kind of title you want. Check the titles of books in similar genres and decide whether you want to mimic them or deliberately subvert them. To help you out, I've picked out a selection of successful books and explored how they came to have their titles, and the ways in which those titles link to the stories.
- I, Robot (1950) – This is probably my favourite book title. I've been taken with this title since I first saw the film, even more so since I read the original collection of short stories by Isaac Asimov. I like its confessional tone and the assignment of a personal pronoun to a machine, which is appropriate to the various interactions between mechanical men and their human creators. Interestingly, Asimov wanted to name the collection Mind and Iron, but the publishers insisted on naming it after Eando Binder's short story, which had been a great influence on Asimov. My book is now the more famous,' Asimov said, 'but Otto's was there first.' Don't think publishers would get away with doing that nowadays!
- Snow Falling on Cedars (1994) – Did this one at school years ago. The cedar tree is an important symbol throughout the book. One hollowed cedar provides a meeting place for two young people of different cultures to come together; cedars are also mentioned sporadically throughout the narrative. The snow refers to a snowstorm that grips the fictional island where it's set during the trial that forms the centrepiece of the book. I've never particularly liked the title, or the book, but it won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. Most likely I just hate it because I had to sit there studying it for week after week after week.
- A Game of Thrones (1996) – This links the novel clearly to its genre, indicating medieval fantasy or historical fiction. The playful connotations of game and the serious weight of throne work well with the political and sexual intrigue of the narrative. GRRM keeps this up throughout the series; we see dragons, swords and kings as well as thrones. It's also linked to quote from one of the characters: 'When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.'
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997) – Quest title. To me, this title establishes the book as primarily aimed at children, particularly boys, and gives a subtle sense of genre. It gives the name of the main character and the obstacle or issue with which he or she will be dealing, i.e. their quest. This means it falls into a similar category to Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (2005), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964), and James and the Giant Peach (1961). HP's title was changed in the USA to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, as it was thought by the publisher that American children wouldn't pick up a book containing the word 'philosopher' in the title. JK Rowling later said she regretted allowing this to happen, but felt she wasn't in a position to change it.
- Twilight (2005) – Single-word titles are common in YA, possibly based on the popularity of this book. They may give some sense of the main character, usually a quality, or establish a particular atmosphere. All the Twilight books draw on sky phenomena: a new moon, an eclipse, dawn. The book ends with Bella and Edward observing the twilight over Forks: 'Twilight, again. Another ending. No matter how perfect the day is, it always has to end.' The original title of the book was Forks, named after the town in Washington where Bella meets Edward. Meyer's agent advised her to change it, and they brainstormed ideas. Twilight was on a list of 'words with atmosphere' that Meyer liked. Read more here.
- The Hunger Games (2008) – What-does-it-mean. Does what it says on the tin: makes you grab the book to find out what the title means. The Hunger Games is a mysterious, attention-grabbing title that doesn't make sense until you read the blurb, although you can make some reasonable assumptions. Hunger with games indicates sadism; it blurs the lines between pleasure and death, which suits the storyline. As far as I can tell, Suzanne Collins has never explained how she came up with this particular title for her reality TV show, but it was probably to do with the Roman metaphor of panem et circenses, or 'bread and circuses', referring to superficial appeasement.
- Wolf Hall (2009) – This one is really interesting. I initially thought it was a setting title, indicating an important place in the story (e.g. The Castle of Otranto and Mansfield Park), but although it's named after the seat of the Seymour family at Wulfhall, none of the action actually takes place there. The title apparently alludes to the phrase Homo homini lupis, meaning 'man is wolf to man', while acknowledging Wulfhall as a place of historical significance.
- The Song of Achilles (2012) – This is what I call an inheritance title, i.e. a title that borrows or adapts a phrase from another work. It's taken from the beginning of Homer's Iliad, which translates roughly to 'Sing, goddess, of the wrath of Achilles'. The title suggests classical influence, strengthened by the breastplate on the cover (The Song of Achilles is a retelling of this story). Achilles is a well-known literary figure, so the title is likely to grab the attention of anyone interested in Greek mythology. I also feel it expresses love and admiration, rather like a serenade. This is appropriate to the perspective of the narrator, Patroclus, who falls deeply in love with Achilles and spends much of the novel singing his praises.
Really hope that's helped a bit, but remember, it's your book – only you can give it the right name. What are your favourite book titles, and why?