The Hardest Problem, Revisited

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2020-05-22 17:00:00 No comments

A while back I wrote about how one of the two hardest problems in computer science is probably also one of the two hardest problems in writing: naming things. Here I am, decades into the game, and I still take forever to come up with good names for stories. Half the time I feel like I've settled for less.

One of my writerly colleagues brought up a piece of advice waved under her nose by some marketing experts. Titles should avoid in-universe names, if only because that makes them harder to sell and less approachable.

Common sense bears this out. If I name a book The Argoth of Gremilock, there's liable to be any amount of head-scratching about who or what Argoth or Gremilock are, and that just makes it harder to imagine what the experience of reading the book is like. But if I name the same book The Throne Of Life And Death, that's really gonna turn some heads.

Looking back across the titles I've settled on, I think I only made this mistake, or something close to it, once: Flight Of The Vajra. And even that one's not too bad; at least you know what that Vajra thing might be doing, whatever it is. Welcome To The Fold and Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned are good ones, I think, even if I pinched the first one from a song and the second one from an album title. (And why not, since titles aren't copyrighted?) The Fall Of The Hammer, now nearly done, also fits the bill; it has some mystery to it, but not too much, and not in a way that poses issues. And in the case of Shunga-Satori, if that ever gets off the ground, the title is meant to be a little mysterious. This may well be a case of writing the book to fit the title.

Now comes the next book, whatever it may be called. As with Vajra, I may end up writing down upwards of fifty or more titles before something clicks. And because it features such a complex universe, I have to work twice as hard to avoid just referencing something in that universe and committing the above-described sin. I'm sure by the time I'm done I'll have a few more pointers.

Tags: creativity naming things writing