To date I've written five fiction, and three non-fiction books, and the one thing in common will all of them is coming up with the few words for the title! I always struggle and can take weeks (or even months) to find something appropriate.
I've made a promise to myself - next time I'll start with the title and then write the book.
But that didn't help with the three books of my dystopian trilogy. I did what most people do and googled 'how to choose a title for my book' and after trawling through a few websites found this very useful article on indiebooklauncher.com It had some great ideas on how to use the story, or pull out a specific element or essence of your story to find a title - I can thoroughly recommend it if you're in the same position.
For the first book, this was 'Mother's' promise of The New Dawn. This is when all the hard work that my hero and his colleagues have completed day-in, day-out for all their lives pays off. But as our hero discovers, they've been told a big lie and nothing is at it seems and so this promise New Dawn will never come.
So the title, The Never Dawn, came about. I know it doesn't actually make grammatical sense but I ran it passed a few of my readers and book reviewers, along with New Dawn, Dark Dawn and just Never Dawn, and lo and behold, everyone chose The Never Dawn saying it sounded intriguing.
Quite pleased with that one :0)
I finished the second book and was well into the third book but still hadn't got a title for the middle book of the trilogy. I even had the title for the last book before I finally settled on the second.
I went back to the article I mentioned above for the second in the series. In the story, things get very sticky for my hero, in fact, it gets very grim in parts, so much so that I had to re-write parts just in case it was too dark for a YA/NA reader.
The working title of 'Losing The Light' represented the hope drifting away from the main characters - but it didn't really grip my audience when tested. Then came the idea to bring the word 'cloud' into the title. This carries on with the dawn/ sky theme of the first, and it refers to the levels of Noah's world, that is, Cloud Levels. So I came up with 'Cloud Level Nine' - obviously playing on Cloud Nine and could relate to the location of one of the ominous elements of my story.
But while a few of my readers liked it, I wasn't 100% happy with it. For me, it sounded a little Star Trek. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of the original and some of the films, but I didn't want my books to sounds like a trekkie book. Then driving home is my car I heard some one being interviewed on the news about a hot current topic, and without going into the details, I commented out loud, 'you're living in cloud cuckoo land if you think that will happen.'
And... there you have it. Ha! I didn't want the land bit, but 'Cloud Cuckoo' said exactly what I wanted it to say. Yes, it refers to an absurd or fantasy element, Cuckoo itself can mean mad, but it also relates to my hero and the situation he finds himself. I loved it, and the majority of my test audience did as well - well you can't please everyone.
As I said, I already had the third title that refers to the big change in the story and taking it outside the setup of the first two - I don't want to say more just in case you've not read them and wish to do so.
The first I went for 'At The Gates of Dawn' and realised this came from a Pink Floyd album from the 60s with the best title ever, 'Piper at The Gates of Dawn'. It's just so evocative and conjures up all sorts of images for me. Obviously I couldn't go for that so decided on 'The Gates of Dawn' to keep it simple.
So finally I'd stumbled on my three titles. And what a relief. Somehow, when the title finally comes along, suddenly the book seems very real 0:)
So to recap, the trilogy consists of
1. The Never Dawn
2. Cloud Cuckoo
3. The Gates of Dawn
And I have also kept a promise to myself. For my next project (a fantasy series) I have already come up with the title, 'Song of Echoes', so at least that's one less thing to be concerned about.
Got any good tips for titles? Please feel free to share them.
The success of Divergent, The Maze Runner and my favourite of the recent trilogies, Hunger Games, will have inspired hundreds of writers to have a go for themselves - including me. And why not? The temptation to build a world with its own rules, populated by a diverse bunch of characters straight out of our heads is very tempting. Add the hope that it may become a best-seller with a massive movie franchise (however remote) and it's too good an opportunity to miss.
But... while I find ideas for settings, characters and plots spilling out of my head, coming up with enough material to justify three books would be a big challenge for me. My previous books have numbered between 80,000 to 85,000 words so a trilogy would mean close to a quarter of million! Phew that sounds a lot to a writer who takes on average 14 months to write just one book.
My first book was a young adult cross-over sci-fi slash horror slash paranormal slash alien invasion, plus a little bit of adventure and humour thrown in for good measure. Sky told the story of a teenage boy who discovers the girl he sees in his daydreams turns out to be real and is also in a fight for her life and sanity (in that order). It was originally intended as a one-off book with an ending that left the reader to decide the fate of our young hero.
However, after a massive on-line campaign by readers asking for me (okay, I'll confess - I received three emails in six weeks!) I decided to write a sequel, and around a year later I published Stargazers. And I was happy to hear that my readers (now totalling around a dozen) found it even better than the first.
Encouraged by this success (well it's all relative isn't it) I decided to commit to the long-term challenge of writing a trilogy. Never mind the thought of creating a best-seller that has the movie studios climbing over each over to offer me a six figure sum to even get my attention, I was curious to see if I was up to the task. I get a huge thrill from finishing a book. To date this includes three non-fiction and two fiction. So if I can write a half-decent trilogy that doesn't fizzle out half-way through the second book, then maybe, just maybe I could start to think of myself as a writer.
So I spent my daily run with the dog racking my brains for a story, and thankfully I didn't have to wait too long. I dusted down an old idea a while back, took it to a different place and expanded the story - and hey, I'd got the basis for my trilogy :0)
I set myself some rules beforehand.
Two weeks later it was May 2014 and I had something I could work with. But now came the hard part - having to get all those plot lines, characters, twists and subtexts into a coherent story. I had my basic plan, although I have to admit at being so eager to start my masterpiece, that I got going before the plot was fully scoped. But what the heck, it would all work out in the end :0)
In March 2015, I finally came up with the title, The Never Dawn, to complete the first book of the three, got it proofed and was ready to go. All I needed was the cover and contacted The Cover Collection to design a bespoke cover. I sat with my daughter and came up with a few ideas, well okay I admit it was my daughter who had the idea of using The Metal Sun (a plot device from the book). She sketched it down and sent it to Laura at TCC. And I have to say I was very pleased with the finished product and was eager to publish.
However, I didn't want to put it out there and then leave it to go cold before the next book came out seeing as it would take at least another twelve months. So I bit my lip and left it on the shelf and set to work on the second.
I decided to dedicate more time to writing (difficult when you have a full-time job ,kids, and coach athletics in your limited spare time), but I set a target of a thousand words a day, quite a challenge for me, but it does focus the mind.
Although I stumbled a few times on book two (due to not having the story fully scoped out) I did manage to finish the draft after several rewrites in December 2016. Wow, a book in just nine months! However, while I can write 82,000 words, I really struggled to come up with just a few for the title. But as fate would have it, I was listening to the radio in my car when I responded to a comment made that 'they were living in cloud cuckoo land' - and bingo! That was it. It fitted nicely with the story and was short and simple.
So repeat with proof-reading and cover and I was ready to go. I published the first book, quickly followed by the second and it was out there... always a nervy moment. You've spent all that time and you still don't know if it's any good.
Thankfully, the majority of reviews were positive, some being very positive, so I set about writing the third. This one I found the easiest seeing as I'd done most of the hard work with the previous two, and it practically just took shape quite quickly with only a few re-writes.
Cover and proofreading done, I published in August 2017 and have to say I was both pleased and relieved to finish. It's a good feeling to have set a target and completed it with some degree of satisfaction :0)
I'll blog more in the coming weeks on each book and how I felt about them at the time and what I feel now a year or two later down the line.
Here's my first 'real' post on my new blog and website, so I'll start with something related to my last project, The Never Dawn Trilogy.
Why are books and movies set in dystopian worlds so popular?
First, a definition of dystopia...
an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.
Obviously, not a nice place in which to live... even the word, 'totalitarian' sends a shiver down my spine. And let's face it, an environmentally degraded world is not going to have many trees to climb.
So if this world is unpleasant, what is it that intrigues us about them? For me, it's about making the 'real' world (whatever that may mean for you), a slightly better place to live. Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I lived under the very real threat of a nuclear war. I particularly remember one night when I couldn't sleep after watching the BBC's Threads - a very scary dramatisation of the Cold War blowing up in our faces and the impact on families in Sheffield, UK.
But every age has its existential threats. In the not too distant past, it was plague or starvation. For the dinosaurs it was a comet strike. In the post-cold war world comets are still a threat, but if we avoid a direct hit we have homegrown dangers such as super-volcanoes, earthquakes and climate change - although I'm more fearful of another ice-age!
And we can't rule out an alien invasion - yes it could happen, who can know for sure.
But whatever the cause, I believe the one aspect of a dystopian world that intrigues us, and especially teenagers, is a either a complete breakdown of law and order following an apocalyptic event, or change of world leaders if political/ religious events take a turn for the worse. How would we cope? What would it mean for our everyday lives?
When I was a teenager, the thought of a post-apocalyptic world meant no school, no exams and a free-for-all - bring it on! But of course, it would also mean no drinking water, no electricity and definitely no TV and all the comforts I'd come to take for granted.
A good dystopian tale also helps us to question our own world, and maybe, just maybe make us appreciate what is good about it. For the majority, we flick a switch when we want light or power; we open the fridge when hungry; and we tap a screen when we want to talk with our friends and family. In a dystopian world these simple acts would be rare indeed.
For writers it's a fantastic opportunity to image the unthinkable and create our worst nightmares. In my Never Dawn trilogy, my nightmare of the same day playing over again and again, the relentless routine, lack of personal space and freedom took shape. Part of the idea came from my teens as I vividly remember my Monday and Wednesday afternoons at school consisting of and hour of ten minutes of math, following by an hour and ten minutes of French. I would watch the clock and be sure the big hand had stopped moving.
Reading George Orwell's 1984 at sixteen was also an eye-opener. Orwell's description of Winston's daily grind made me wary of any religion or political party that was keen to tell me how to live my life!
But we hope that whatever the situation, the human spirit will endure and survive the trials of a totalitarian state or natural disaster. The heroes in these stories fight back against the evil and adversity and win through in the end. Of course, they'll be challenged along the way and have their beliefs shaken to their core, but if it's a good story, then so will the reader.