Sunday, November 6, 2011

Titles and Names in Stories

Nope, not good enough. Doesn't have quite the right ring. Sounds weird. Doesn't fit in with the cultural theme so it'll sound weird. That's basically the process I go through mentally when trying to come up with names for things in the stories I write.

I have to say it's my least favorite part of writing stories, especially ones that happen to be fantasy (I don't write urban fantasy either. Nope, I have to make up a totally different world out of scratch of course because that's just the way I am). It's quite an agonizing process. I mean, coming out of the stories is fun because it doesn't involve as much but coming up with names is so exacting. Sometimes I tell myself that I'm going to settle but no, oh no, I have to have the perfect name. So, baby names book in lap, I sit down and try to flip through it while hoping that something will click.

I spent last week trying to think of names for everyone in the story that I had come up with, as well as the countries that existed in that world. That is always torture to me, putting names on the people in my head. Sometimes I even get this urge to go up to them and coax their names out of them (I'm sure that they would refuse me even if they could hear me).

For names, at least, I have my baby names' book. Alright, I can hear the laughter and feel the weird looks now but that book is incredibly useful. It's definitely worn but worn from use. I found it in a Borders' [insert weepy reminiscing moment about Borders here] store at my mall on clearance a few years ago. The cover is virtually ripped off and the binding of the book is wearing out. It's more useful for realistic fiction and historical fiction stories, yes, but my baby names book is of use in fantasy stories too. I mean, do you know how many crazy names there in that book? A lot. Sometimes I can even use the names straight out of the book and people will think I made it up myself. The books are so helpful that they help me come up with the names of nations in the worlds I come up with.

My naming process is like this. I sit down with a paper, a pen and that dog-eared copy of my baby names book in front of me. And then for like a half an hour or an hour or so I try to come up with name (with tons of breaks in between because it's not always something that can be forced). I write things down, scratch it out and then try to come up with one that suits the character more. Sometimes I try to work with one sound and tweak it and then I realize it isn't working out. From there, I have to start from scratch. Around this point, I usually want to chuck the paper at the wall and throw my hands up in surrender. Of course, as I stated above, I often make a bunch of names have a similar sound to them because they're from a similar culture/ language (I mean, come on, you can't have two names that sound nothing alike and have people believe that the characters are from the same place. I mean can you imagine having two biological sisters in a book named Keoko and Carmen?).

The naming process is just so frustrating too because in the back of my head, part of me realizes that the story has a 50/50 chance of making it. This process is what makes it so awesome to have the perfect name just pop into your head and makes you even more grateful for it (it rarely happens but it does happen. It just happened to me recently with the name "Nikojav", pronounced Neek-OH-jaave. I decided to have the one culture sound Russian and I imagined all the people from that country to have Russian-sounding accents/ first language). Of course, there is that awesome moment of satisfaction when I've discovered the perfect name of a character but still... That naming process sucks.

The naming process for names and nations isn't the worst part though. Oh no. That spot is taken for titles, an area of terrain I am forced to venture into with no help at all.

This weekend was one of those send-all-the-revised-poems-and-short-stories-to-places-that-can-publish- them. My list of places to send were this Canadian magazine called the Claremont Review, Cicada magazine and this regional Scholastic Art and Writing Awards (at least those were the ones I had to send out. I e-mailed two other contests/magazines). This meant that I would have to come up with titles for all of the unnamed short stories on my computer. Yay! Take one for instance my story about a ghost who died in an asylum taking revenge on her husband. "Ghost Story", while a suitable file name, wasn't going to cut it for a title. So I had to spend all of the afternoon thinking of a title.

Titles go through a similar process but I have to use my ideas for the story to think of something. Of course, there's never any awesome quote to pull  from for the title for me so I have to seriously examine my planned story's content. And, of course, the things I think of are totally lame until the millionth try or so. Towards the end, I have to choose between two or three awesome-sounding titles, which makes the process even more agonizing for me.

So, of course, the process of naming things is never fun. Ever. If somebody ever finds the guide for how to have fun while naming things I would absolutely love to hear it.

Of course this does make me think- if naming things in my books is this hard, what will naming my kids be like?

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