Titles often elude me. For Perceval’s Secret, I had a working title of Shadow Lovers for a long time. Just couldn’t think of anything else. I liked this title because of “shadow” and two of its meanings, i.e. in surveillance and in psychology, the shadow in the psyche. I could have titled the book simply Shadows and been quite happy. But it somehow wasn’t enough to pull in readers and struck me as being too ambiguous. So, eventually I began searching for a different title, one that would be specific but mysterious to pull in readers. When I hit on the name Perceval as an important element in the story, I stumbled onto the title. I recently heard from a reader that the promise of revealing a secret has added to her reading enjoyment, anticipation, and need to read on. That’s good news about this title or any title.
Currently, I’m working on a science fiction short story. The working title was “Lights” for a long time. The first version of this story ended up with the title “The Light Chamber” because the kind of light chamber used by dermatologists plays a pivotal role in the story. But this version still wasn’t where this story seemed to be going. More time passed before my imagination finally provided the answer. I started over from scratch. The only element this new story and “The Light Chamber” shared was that light chamber, and it had the same role.
The second version flowed out of me. It felt like it had just been waiting for me to notice it, and now I couldn’t write fast enough. This story had no title at first. I decided not to rush myself, but to let the title find me. As I worked on the main character and her motivation, I realized that at the beginning she had not known the true reason she’d been encouraged to tell a prominent researcher about her experiences. She begins the story wanting one thing: to be believed. As the story progresses, she learns, to her horror and shock, that it’s crucial that she is not believed. She has a choice: to continue to press her honesty and plausibility, or back away and accept the world’s skepticism and disbelief in order to protect someone. The issue is that she has no personal reason to protect anyone, so she would have to choose to be selfless. Could she do it?
Wow. My imagination had given me quite the challenge. It threw me off balance for a while, and I worried that I wasn’t up to this challenge. And what would I call this story? Suddenly, that title challenge popped into my head and threatened to overwhelm me. I had to get away from this story for a while.
When I felt ready to return to the story, I’d been listening to my imagination which had given me the solutions to a couple narrative problems in the story. I no longer felt inadequate because my imagination was helping me. I was back to writing. I thought about the title. The titles I’d used in the past no longer fit despite the continued presence of the light chamber in the story. I needed something that referred directly to the main character and her dilemma. It also occurred to me that I needed to keep the word “light” in the title in some form or function.
One day, when I was thinking about something unrelated to writing, I began thinking of people who are pioneers in their fields. They show others the way forward. Then it hit me. What if my main character had thought that her experiences could show others the way forward in life? Or maybe she wasn’t thinking in exactly those terms but that’s what the result would be? How could I use the word “light” though? It occurred to me that there was irony in my main character’s dilemma. Wow. At almost the same time, I thought of the saying, “to light the way.” I pounced on my new title for this story:
Light the Way.