I’m not the best at a first-draft name. It’s tough, because I’m usually writing it with little to no knowledge of how the project will actually turn out. I may as well call it NOVEL 09 DRAFT1 and be done.
Inevitably, I’ll have to change the name when it goes to my agent. But what do I call it now? How do I alter the way I think and talk about the book?
I use a chart.
The CAM Method
As a user experience pro by day, I have to design a lot of products, and that means new names and new logos. The CAM Method is a mind-mapping system I created to brief clients and elicit their hidden motivations and thoughts about products and services.
You have three categories: conventions, adjectives and metaphors. Brainstorm everything you can to fill each of them and look for maximum overlap.
Conventions are the current industry standards. Think of them as comparable titles to your book, movies you consider similar, visual language you want to borrow and more.
This category is where you set your values. Put a plus sign (+) by anything you want to emulate. Put a minus (-) by anything you want to avoid. Conventions will give you a strong indicator of where you stand.
Adjectives are descriptors you’d use for your story. This category is usually the longest, because it’s easy to come up with single words to fit your story. These will help you create the mood of your title.
Start with genre-type words. Where do you see your book fitting on a bookshelf? What about a movie store? If you’re a genre-bender, list every adjective that influenced you.
Metaphors describe the primary plot action in another light. They help you uncover theme and narrative direction.
What’s happening within the context of the story? Are the characters hunting someone? I doubt they are literally in the woods with guns. Are they cursed by bad luck? Are they getting revenge or seeking atonement? Are the characters like ghosts from a better world?
How else can you describe your plot in metaphor?
Now put it all together!
Once you’ve filled out the three categories, a pattern should start to emerge. Work backward. Start with a metaphor, and apply an adjective to create a mood. Link that to one of your conventions, and you’ve got a sparkling new title!
I like to poll my trusted readers once I’m done. Get their thoughts. Find out how your titles make them feel, because that’s the most important thing.
Last, but not least:
Do not ever, ever, ever, ever, give your customer a title you dislike, because that’ll be the one they choose. I’m not kidding here. I haven’t made this mistake with books, but design-wise, I’ve got a lot of ugly babies out there.
Do not fuck around with a title you hate.