Category Archives: How To

Writing tips & prompts / etc

Insert Title Here

A Title. It’s the first thing you see, pretty much.

That is, unless the book’s cover artwork is so busy or the font is the same colour as the background (in which case you need a new designer). A title might seem like a simple affair, but it’s incredibly important. Like naming characters, it has to embody everything that it is.

It can be very easy for novels to sum up the journey, purpose, setting, or MacGuffin in its title, and there isn’t anything wrong with that. But choosing the most obvious element can lead to a book being seen as dated, stereotypical, immature, or pretentious, especially if it’s too long or contains tropes already overused by its particular genre. There’s an increasing trend now for genre fiction to use much shorter phrases (unless it’s Steampunk, where it’s acceptable to over-explain anything in keeping with the setting’s vernacular), or even butt two words together to form a catchy portmanteau. Romantic, dramatic, and biographic books capitalise on phrases that generate an emotional response. Crime fiction usually has something very serious, or military code. When deciding on a title, it’s important to consider the most prominent theme; the one that you feel is best represented in the story overall. A good way to start is to write one word that describes that theme, and develop it from there.

Using some of our titles as examples: Craig Hallam’s ‘Greaveburn’ uses the name of the city in which the book takes place, not just because it’s a very evocative word, but also because the city itself is a hugely important aesthetic in the book. It’s everywhere, and inescapable. David Wilkinson’s ‘We Bleed The Same’ emphasises the physical bonds between two sides of a war. ‘The Last Time We Saw Marion’ is a brilliant phrase that ties together the narrative structure of Tracey Scott-Townsend’s novel.

There isn’t necessarily a ‘wrong’ way to construct a title

…but keeping it relevant to a tone, theme, subtext, or particular pathway is important, as is making sure the word or phrase you choose isn’t copyrighted, and/or doesn’t have misleading connotations. Even though Greaveburn is Steampunk, calling it ‘Abrasia’s Peril in The Dark and Dangerous City of Rain and Death’ makes it sound like a kids’ Dungeons and Dragons spoof. Likewise, if “We Bleed The Same’ was simply called ‘Bleedwar’, it changes the expectation of the book immediately. The former is more representative of the nature of war, the latter seems to focus on the war itself by being a more brutal word in its own right. And ‘Marion’ wouldn’t be enough to describe Tracey’s book. Despite aptly describing the character the story wraps around, it needs fleshing out to act as a hook.

It’s fun to play around with, though.

Coming up with the most drawn-out and ludicrous name you can for you story is a good way of exploring what words and themes come to mind. A title can change at any time up until it’s put into print, as well, and some even change afterwards. The most recent example we can think of was a Tom Cruise movie, released in cinemas as ‘Edge of Tomorrow’, and subsequently changed to ‘Live. Die. Repeat.’ for its DVD release. It would be interesting to see if people viewed it differently. Which would you prefer to watch, based on the names alone?

Name (Noun)

“How do you come up with all these names?”

For those of us writing Earth-based fiction, or any genre not based in fantasy, on the surface it’s a fairly simple process- you don’t generally have to invent them. But there’s more in a name than its spelling. They’re indicative of culture, heritage, location, trends. Unassuming people can have incredibly unusual names for the place they’re living, but it has to make sense to the story. A male character coming from a whole line of Johns and Roberts isn’t as likely to have a bizarre or unique name, unless that’s a point in the story and forms part of their character.

Fantasy names are a little more difficult.

Coming up with something unique is very hard. Because we typically want fantasy names to sound unusual or exotic, or at the very least a departure from our typical surroundings, a good starting point is a directory of names which can be categorised by language, region, or mythological base.  There are countless websites that have name meanings that you can get lost in, (we’ve even included a few at the end of this post!) and I’ve known many writers who have. Being able to divide them by region gives a useful opportunity to hear the combinations of sounds used by different cultures and decide how (or even if) you want these reflected in your worlds.

Choice can become overwhelming, though.

Nobody wants an off-the-shelf character, so sometimes the names need customisation. Pick an almost-but-not-quite name, or even a word that you particularly like, a syllable, any element that you’d like to see in the name somewhere, and start adding or removing letters to see what comes from it. Think about whether you want the end with an open or closed sound. Open-ended names (ending with a vowel sound) tend to be more feminine, but this isn’t always the case. If you plan to have a lot of action scenes, think about whether your name of choice would carry well over a battle. Is it easy to shout, or whisper? Once you have all of your variations down, it’s never a bad idea to keep them. Many writers have notebooks with pages and pages of names and name variations, and each one can be experimented with and built upon for future characters.

Ssss or tthhh?

It’s also important to think about a character’s biology. If they’re reptilian, for example, can they even articulate certain sounds as accurately as a human? If they can, do the historically-favoured names bear more resemblance to hisses or screeches, a more native tongue?

It isn’t all in the mind.

That said, certain names might be fun to read or write but not to say. Something that’s impossible to say out loud may prove an irritating obstacle for people scanning through the pages, so name like ‘Pzzzlmlrickxytz’ is probably not well-advised for a protagonist. You’ll also be starting potential arguments among fans about where the emphasis is, but that’s what your eventual Comic-Con panels will be for. Right? (Hands up! Who first mind-pronounced Hermione as ‘her-me-oh-knee’?)

Oh, and here’s hoping we didn’t go for the cliché ‘What’s in a Name?’ for the title of this one, or that rose line from Romeo and Juliet. If so, please roll eyes at the editor. (Please, as if I would ever do that! [Itotallywould / blognamesarehard] – SJ)

Resources:

Name Etymology: http://www.behindthename.com/

Random Name Generator: http://www.behindthename.com/random/

Name Generator: http://www.be-a-better-writer.com/character-name-generator.html

Fantasy Names (including Places): http://fantasynamegenerators.com/

Cover Development: The Old Ways

The beginning:

The very first step I take in the process of making the book cover is to focus on the story behind the book, whilst also taking key elements from the brief that will make up the composition of the piece. For this particular cover, it included: “silver stag prominent on the front cover on the right-hand side, figure visible in the tree-line, scene continues into autumn on back cover, stone city in the distance, tree line gives way to a darkish sky.”

From this I sketched a rough composition that I sent off to the editor (Sara) to make sure it’s what the author is after. The trickiest part is making a singular image that can be made into two separate images (front and back cover, as well as the spine), while making sure all three make sense to the viewer. So, I decided to follow a very shallow ‘U’ shape for the perspective, making a path that leads from the stag on the right to the city on the left.

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Drawing the central image:

Once I got the go-ahead I began to add detail – starting off in greyscale so that I could focus on detail and lighting first, without getting distracted by colour. For inspiration of style, I did research into a large amount of similar books and artistic pieces, making sure I didn’t stray too far from the original three art pieces that the author placed in the brief.

I started with basic shapes and a main direction of light, so when it came to adding detail I didn’t have shadows going in all directions.

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I wanted to leave the archer with less detail so that his appearance would be left more to the reader’s imagination. So, I made the light beams stronger, putting him and other elements of the book in the shadows.

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Adding the colour:

The author said in the brief that the image on the front cover starts with a forest scene in summer (so lots of bold, lush colours to contrast with the silver of the stag), which then fades into autumn on the back cover. I decided to stick to deep greens for the grass, contrasting with occasional purple flowers, while being lit with a light but vibrant yellow for the summer sun.

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Deciding on a font:

Most commonly the author will give me a font that they want to use, and I will always try to stick with that font. This is because the author would have the best feeling of which font would match the story the best. (Although there are some fonts that are a designer ‘no-no’ unless being used for ironic intent, Comic Sans for example. But as of yet, I haven’t had someone choose this font). In this instance the author chose a font I instantly felt fitted with the rest of the image and the book, so I had a lot of fun playing around with styles.

I made two that mirrored the glowing of the shimmering stag, one using similar colours as the stag, and another that mirrored the glow of the sun and the colours of autumn on the back cover. The third was one that had slight stone texture to match the stone of the castle, but using the same sun and autumn colours.

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Once I had created a selection of styles to the font, I sent it over to see which is preferred and then worked on the final finishing touches of the image – including putting in a further foreground to make it fit in with the framings of a book cover.

On the whole…

It’s hard to say which was my favourite part of this project as the whole thing is at the top with a few other projects that I have enjoyed the most. I would say that if I had to choose a favourite part of the creation process, it would be the transition of the image going from black and white into colour, seeing the small added touches really bring it to life and add feeling. However, my favourite part of every project is the reaction from the author, and this one was particularly nice!

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Phew! A huge thanks to Venetia Jackson for giving us a wonderful insight into how much work goes into a cover here at Inspired Quill. What do you think of the cover and process shown here? Do you guys want more posts like this as more books are released? Let us know!