Title (optional)

As I began slogging through the submissions process, I quickly learned to loathe the Brief Plot Synopsis {shudder}.  It’s become a Pavlovian response.  My eyes flick across the words and I think, “Oh, sure, right, publisher-type people.  I’m a novelist because it took me a whole flippin’ book to say what I needed to say, and you want me to synopsize this baby?!”

I love haikus, one-liners, and tiny fleeting allusions that unlock worlds of meaning, but I love them the way you love something distant and unreachable.  I could write courtly sonnets about my frustrated love of brevity and how, as much as I try, I cannot seem to heed Hemingway’s advice to leave the rest of the iceberg alone.  Well, I could write epics, maybe.

I know that being concise is a virtue.  I also know that being patient is a virtue, and not living on sugar is a virtue, and remembering to brush your hair in the morning is a virtue.  All of these, however, are not my particular virtues.  Thus, this Brief Plot Synopsis/jabberwocky/albatross-around-my-neck thingy is my nemesis.  Well, one of my nemeses.  I’m a novel-writing kind of girl.  I like to have multiple nemeses, and I prefer for all of them to have complicated emotional baggage and annoying habits and sexy hair.  But I digress.  This is my problem.  Details.  I love them.  Loooove them.  Like, wanna-marry-them love them.

So I’m a little bemused by my latest writerly suspicion, which is this:  it is possible that each of my books may be summed up in one word.

I am too embarrassed to admit in polite company how long it took me to write my first novel, from conception to submission.  Seriously, it’s embarrassing.  Like braces are embarrassing (that was a hint).  But as I worked my way through a massive revision, during which I slashed 30,000 words (an accomplishment of which you will be highly skeptical if you have read my wordy-nerdy blog), I realized that my first novel was about home.  That’s it, really.  That’s all.  Every character in it is homeless, from the two lost children to the queen without a nation to the little exiled furry guy.

As I make my way through the winding paths of an isolated mountain village in the novel I’m currently drafting, it hits me.  This book is about memory.  That’s it.  That’s all.  There are three main characters:  a man who has made a study of forgetting because he can’t bear to remember; a woman who has lost her memory and is struggling to regain it; and the village itself, of which I wrote this–“Because you have known villages like this one, you know that a village has a long memory, but also a prodigious capacity for forgetfulness.”

So, I wrote a book about home, and a book about memory, and now it’s become a challenge and I am trying to sum up my other books in a single word each.  {sits here staring at screen]

{stares at screen}

{stares at screen}

Okay, so that didn’t work.  I’m thinking of my friend Alicia’s recent blog post, which you can read here (Alicia’s blog is one of my consistent sources of Really Good Things for Writers to Think About), and the thought occurs to me that perhaps I know when a book I’m working on is “done” when I can give it a word.  A name.

This makes me think about the power of names, of how you shouldn’t tell yours to the fey folk, and how you definitely never want a dragon to hear it, and how for thousands of years indigenous peoples on this planet–the ones who really know what’s what–have guarded their children’s names like treasure.  Names are words, and so the power of names is the power of words.

Why shouldn’t we name our novels?  I don’t mean giving them titles; of course they need titles, but I’m beginning to suspect that the title of a book is a thing apart from its name, just as the title “Queen” or “mama” or “President” is not a person’s name.  Our titles mark our functions, but our names say who we are, in a single word with a multiplicity of connotations and implications.

My name, Brenna, means “raven-maid” in Irish.  In Old Norse, it means “house-burning.”  (That’s a noun, by the way, because apparently this happened enough in medieval Iceland that they needed a word for it–e.g. “Loki and I are going to the barn-raising at Gudrun Olafsdottir’s, and then we’ll mosey on down to Snorri Sturlsson’s for the house-burning.”  Good times.)  But apart from the definitions, my name, like yours, holds a wealth of other meanings.  Depending on who says it, when and why, it’s an inside joke, an invocation, a benediction, a curse, a revelation, a comfort, a caution.  It is the story of your life in a single word.

I have fond graduate school memories of watching Law and Order with a friend.  Whenever the character Lenny would make one of his characteristic wisecracks, she would smile, shake her head, and say, “Oh, that Lenny.”  “Oh, that Lenny” became a byword in our household, the thing you say whenever anyone performs any action by means of which their character seems to crystallize.  A name holds within it an infinity of things.

Now, at the end of this post, I’m right back where I started–where I always start, which is this:  “I have things to say!  Words!  They want out!!  But WordPress demands a title!  This title must be important, for its blank is at the beginning!  But–disaster!!  I write to figure out what I want to say.  I can’t name this thing because I don’t know it yet.  Anxiety!!”

But hark!  There is something in the box!  It is faint, greyed out to indicate that it is not The Real Title.  But–oooh, lookie!–I can still use it if I type it in!

I will call this post “Title (optional).”

Perfect.

Dangit.  There’s a box at the bottom.

Stay tuned for the riveting “Tags (optional, comma separated).”

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2 thoughts on “Title (optional)

  1. I’m glad that my blog gives you things to think about 🙂 Thank you for linking!

    I actually titled “Salvaged” with it’s name. This is like a Queen named Queen, I know, but Salvaging is what they do in that place. Salvaging the world, the character’s hopes, the stuff that people need to survive, the people who need to live. That’s a great measurement for done-ness though. I can’t title a WIP until I’m halfway through revisions.

    Oh, and synopses are of the devil.

    1. Synopses ARE of the devil!

      And I love the title “Salvaged.” You’re in good company, since Tolkien’s use of Old English in LoTR led to a King named “King” and a mead-hall named “Mead Hall”. 🙂

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