Transcending Genre

I'm not a huge Neil Gaiman fan. I do not dislike him, but in the scale of fandom that belongs to him, most everyone I know falls into the "I would give him a kidney if he asked for it" category, and I'm not there. Not all his stories resonate with me. And while my wife owns all his books, and I am thus at my liberty to try them all, I tend not to finish most I start.

The exception to this is Neverwhere. I love me some Neverwhere. I love it so much because if I was going to write that story, I would write it pretty much just the same. (That's big praise from me because I write the stories I want to read, thus he's doing all the work for me and I can sit back and relax as a reader unconcerned with being the writer.) I used a rarely used word today to fit into Twitter's 140-character limit, elseways. It reminded me of Neverwas (a good movie, check it out) which sent me on to Neverwhere.

I would love to write a book named Elseways, but I think if I did, it would end up being a lot like Neverwhere. That got me thinking on what kind of story I would write for Elseways. I bounce around within fantasy a lot: traditional, pre-steampunk, post-apocalyptic pulp, sword and sorcery, epic, contemporary. The one I never write on is urban. Urban is not my cup of tea. And too often, people use urban when they really mean contemporary. Urban fantasy deals with worlds within worlds, most often fairies, vampires, and/or werewolves, but regardless, it includes a Venn diagram of a world laying on top of our own that of which the average citizen is unaware.

Neverwhere is Urban Fantasy. But because Urban Fantasy is not my cup of tea, I balked at it and thought to myself, really, isn't it more contemporary? That was an unfounded claim because clearly there is a Venn diagram of worlds going on, which is the requirement I just put forth. So what's the problem? Well, so much urban fantasy is about fairies, vampires, and/or werewolves that something like Neverwhere just seems like a high-quality contemporary fantasy. And I'm really loving contemporary fantasy right now. Thus, I want this book I like to fall into a genre I like. Logic be damned!

I think if I were to ever write an urban fantasy, it would be Elseways. That's a title that could get me over that hump. The real goal wouldn't be to write in a subgenre that isn't tea, but to write a book that isn't Neverwhere. I already associate them and I just came up with the damn title. That's not a very good sign.

That and I don't actually have a story. But I have a title now, so dibs. I call dibs. Go find your own title.

(And happy new year.)

Turning it down from 11

Sorry I haven't been posting much lately. You know how they always say publishing is slow during the summer? Yeah, not so much if you work in production. I am currently the busiest I'll be all year (most likely) and while I'm not as crushed as I was in my old department, I am merrily occupied from start to finish. It makes blogging at work a little challenging. But here I am! Taking time out just for you! I missed you so much.

So what's going on with me? Well, aside from having one of the best Independence Day celebrations I've had in my life (swimming, grilling, fireworks, oh my!) I'm still hard at work on a rewrite/revision. AND not only is this manuscript better than it's ever been, but it has a new title as well.

I mentioned WANTED: CHOSEN ONE, NOW HIRING a little while ago, saying that I was taking an agent's advice and changing the main character of the story. I cut some 30,000 words and have put back in 10,000. My "scraps" file I use to keep track of everything I cut (in case I want to use it elsewhere) is currently at 175 pages long (double spaced, courier new)! That's HUGE!

My previous rewriting attempt choked on itself. I slashed so deeply that I nicked an artery and killed the story. I realized my error and have rewritten one of the POVs. I can say, without a doubt, this is the best shape this story has ever been in. I'm really enthused at what the end product will be. I may have even started on a quality query. Who knows. (If that's the case, the world is coming to an end. Run!)

I felt that this new direction required a new title as well. WANTED: CHOSEN ONE, NOW HIRING was clunky and while the story started tongue-in-cheek, it quickly evolved away from that. Also, whenever that phrase appears in the text, it always begins "HELP WANTED..." So that seemed an appropriate addition. I'd name it HELP WANTED: CHOSEN ONE. That rolled off the tongue better. But then I remembered the very first self-published novel I downloaded (it was thankfully free) named HELP WANTED: HERO. It was atrocious. This not only spoiled the new title, it spoiled the old title as well. I need to remove any kind of similarity between the two. I didn't want any of that stink on me.

So...we need a new title! Brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm. Come up with a bunch of crappy options. I have four characters, an underlying theme that doesn't work well as a title, and plenty of secrets. In the end, I decided to take inspiration from the end of the story. The new title is WITH A CROOKED CROWN, which I like a whole lot. (Google tells me this is a song by Bonnie Raitt, which means the last three titles I've chosen have been named after a song or a music album--I think there may be a blog post there.)

I'm only 81 pages into the revision. I've finished most of the rewriting. There's a collection of chapters coming up that will need some realignment to conform to this new approach.

The biggest work I've done so far? Changing the early plot path for my two prophets. Their introduction and the beginning of their quest leads in the same direction but is handled in a much more succinct manner. More importantly, one of the characters has seriously mellowed out. Now, he got shoehorned into this whole thing and didn't want to go. He has all kinds of secrets he doesn't want to come out and was frequently obstinate. Okay, he was a dick. But in an attempt to speed things up and change focus to the new main character, my original rewrite turned him into a HUGE dick.

And unless you're reading about porn, no one wants to read about a huge dick. I wrote the thing and he was pissing me off. He went up to 11 and he needed to be around a 6. So this new rewrite he got a serious overhaul. I don't think anyone would have read past page 50 in the previous iteration of this manuscript. He was that much of a jerk. Now I'm enthusiastic. I certainly hope others like it once I start querying. Current pace says that'll be at the end of July or so. Ugh. This thing is so big! (That's what she said.) It'll be worth it once it's done. (That's what he said.)

What's in a Name?

On Twitter today, Ricki Schultz expressed her frustration with choosing a title. I commented that I love titles and do not begin a new work without one (it's one of the rules!). she asked me how I make a title I'm satisfied. Required to offer a response in 140 characters or less, I found that the answer is not so simple or so brief.

Agents often say if you can write a novel, you can write a query letter. This seems like it should be so, but I am HORRIBLE at queries. I shudder to think what that means for my writing! :) In the same way, I think if you can write a novel, you can come up with a title (maybe those query letters are a little harder then you give them credit for, buddy!).

When you're writing a novel, every word choice matters. Sure the reader may not appreciate it or even notice, but we're not writing for the reader. We're writing to make the best story we can and whether they notice a bad word choice, we do. So we craft our stories down to the period. A period vs a question mark vs an ellipsis. These things matter. It's how we establish cadence, how we move our story from beginning to end.

Titles need to do that too. They need to reach up off the cover, grab a person walking by, and shout, "Read me!" So how do I do it? Well, I think of the story that I plan on writing and try to find a short phrase that best represents that story while sounding like something I would want to read. That's my test. If I wouldn't pick up a book because of its title, I'll never use that title.

Like yesterday's new story idea: Captain Majors and the Super Squad: Soldiers of Tomorrow. This sounds perfect for a campy '50s sci fi program but completely wrong for the serious topic the novel covers. The title I'm leaning to now is BEDEVILED DOGS. How did I go from CM&TSS:SOT to BD? Well aside from the tone not matching, that first was incredibly long for a book. It could work if it had to, but in this case it doesn't work at all, so let's not even try to save anything from that. Where does that leave us? Three Marines that survive an Ambush in Fallujah. They see an old program accurately predict their battles, causing all kinds of emotional distress, paranoia, and fear.

Marines are also called Devil Dogs. They are tormented by the fact that their pain was foretold. They are bedeviled. BEDEVILED DOGS.

Why isn't this a perfect title? Well, it's dependent on you knowing that a Marine is a Devil Dog. The cover illustration can go a long way selling this. But it still feels a little hokey, so this one doesn't immediately go in the can. If a title feels like you're trying to be catchy, then it's never catchy. It has to be organic.

I wish I could write a bullet list and say here are the things you need to take into account when naming your title, but I've been staring at my computer for awhile. How I approach it is "sell me on your novel in three words." I didn't say tell me about it. I said sell me. You need to convince me to read your novel in three words, how do you do it? (Granted, by this method, Firefly would have been named Cowboys in Space, but whatever.)

I will admit, I'm not better at instructing how to pick a good title because I have been known to pick a title at the same time I had the idea. THE TRIAD SOCIETY? Yup, the title was the second thing I thought of (the first being men in a steam-filled alley wearing top hats). THE LOST LEGION? Hell, it was the title that gave me the idea for the story.

Titles are your pitch to the reader. It describes tone and topic, style and substance. Find the kernel of awesome that is your story and you'll find it to be 1-5 words that you feel wouldn't describe anything else you write.

Or I could be full of it. Who knows. :)