Danielle Hanna

Hearth & Homicide Fiction

Definition of “Working Title”: A Title Which Is Not Working

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Mailboat beta cover art“Oh! You’re writing a novel? What’s it called?”

This question has always annoyed me. One of the hardest parts of writing any book is the title. By and large, I prefer to save those few choice words for last. That way, I genuinely know what the book is about. But in the meantime, it needs to be called something. Hence the concept of a “working title” – also known as “What we call the book until it has a proper name.”

My usual convention for working titles is to call the book after its primary character. Hence a lot of the files sitting around in my computer have names like “Tiffany” and “Coburn,” etc. This pattern took on new twists when one book became filed away as Redemption – which is a horse, not a human – and another began to operate under the name Mailboat – which is a watercraft, and not a human. But in a way, both Redemption and the Mailboat are main “characters” in their respective stories, so I actually haven’t drifted too far from my norm.

Mailboat is the current work-in-progress. And using a working title was all fine and dandy until I went on a research trip to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, last summer. All my conversations started pretty much like this:

“Where are you from?”

“North Dakota.”

“Oh! What brings you here?”

“I’m doing research for a novel.”

“Wow! What’s the novel called?”

(Pause. Internal conflict, knowing that the title may very well change by the time first draft is done. Shrug to myself.)

Mailboat.”

Mail Jumper on the Lake Geneva Mail BoatDon’t get me wrong – I love that title. I’d love to use it. But there were a few reasons flitting through my mind why the title might not work. And I knew I’d have no way of knowing until at least first draft was done.

Well, ever since finishing my non-fiction title Journaling to Become a Better Writer last December, I’ve been plowing through said first draft of (working title) Mailboat.

A note: I don’t actually write my books in order. I usually pick up one thread and follow it through until it ends. Then I go back and pick up another thread and write it through until that one ends. Then I pick up another thread, and so on.

Well, since January, I’ve been working on just one thread in the novel Mailboat, and I already have somewhere in the neighborhood of 50,000 words. For those of you who have never tried writing a book … 50,000 words is about the size of your average full-length novel.

And I’ve only been adding words to one out of three primary story threads (not to mention a bunch of little complimentary threads).

DSC01835 (640x480)That was a little bit of a wake-up call. I suddenly realized that the story arch for Mailboat – which has been set in stone for about five years – was not a stand-alone novel at all … but probably two or three books masquerading as one.

And that brings us back to our working title. This single story arch is no longer one book, but two or three or (gasp) … maybe more?

So now what do I call it? What do I call the series? And what do I call the individual books within the series? So far, the answer eludes me.

For now, I’m still referring to the whole darn thing as Mailboat*.

—————–

*working title

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8 Comments

  1. I just finished a novella that doesn’t have an official title. Hopefully it comes to me because I really like this story and have a sequel in mind.

    • Feelin’ for ya! For my own book, I’ll probably come up with a handful of options and run them past my writing groups. Nothing like a good, old-fashioned vote!

  2. Danielle,

    The solution that leaps to my mind is to name the series after the setting (assuming they all take place in the same place). Then you have Book 1 in the Lake Geneva (or whatever) series and so on.

    The individual stories will no doubt fend for themselves, though if the titles followed a pattern (Redemption, Restoration, etc.), that would also cement the idea of a series.

    My works in progress are also usually named be main characters, but I’m much more formal. They all have a first name and a last name.

    • Good ideas, Carrie. More than anything, I consider the Mailboat to be the center of the stories, so whatever series title I come up with is likely to have “Mailboat” in it, rather than “Lake Geneva.” Other than that, we’re thinking along the same lines. 🙂

  3. J M Levinton (@JMLevinton)

    April 1, 2015 at 7:43 AM

    That’s better than my working title was! The first word (at the time) of my novel was “Bored” so I saved the file as that and it remained that way for almost the entire time I wrote it. LOL

  4. I’ve been down this road more than once and usually the illusive title appears out of the fog during the editing and revising phase.

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