Choosing a name for a story is a lot like picking a name for any other living entity. When we decided to get our first puppy 12 months ago we spent several weeks trying to pick out a name for him from an ever growing list of suggestions. Even when we went to pick him up there were still several potential names we needed to choose between. It wasn’t until we saw him and spent some time with him that we knew he was a Jasper. Now I couldn’t imagine him being called anything else.
I went through a similar process when writing my latest story (out now on Kobo and Kindle). Please note I will be discussing some mild SPOILERS ahead. It started life as a 2000 word short story which I simply titled Karma, due to the primary focus being on fate and consequence. When I had finished writing my 2000 words I put it aside and didn’t think about it again for a while until NaNoWriMo, when I decided to dust it off and expand some of the back story. I wanted the main character to be someone of questionable morals, someone who was not a good person in the traditional sense. This would give me more to work with as the story developed and make for some interesting scenarios when fate got involved. As I started writing the history of this character he immediately became a loner, someone who only looked out for himself. He is not a ‘people person’ – quite the opposite in fact. Now I had a new problem, how could I give him any meaningful interactions if he hated everyone?
After a couple of long nights an idea struck me. Jasper deserves a lot of the credit for this one. I wondered if I could give him a meaningful relationship in a less traditional sense, and just like that a dog appeared in my story. Anyone who has spent time with a puppy will know that no matter how selfish and miserable you are it’s hard not to like a dog. At first the dog was a secondary character, someone for my main character to talk to. It was my own little joke to name him Lucky, to tie back into the primary theme of fate and chance. Then something interesting happened, which I am sure many a writer has experienced. The more I wrote the more the story changed and the more integral the dog became. What started as a minor bit-character became a center-piece of the story. The focus stopped being fate and karma and started being the relationship between two characters completely reliant on each other. The change in focus required a change in the name of my story.
Getting Lucky was an obvious choice, both for the play on words, the tie back to the underlying themes and the fact that the story was literally about the main characters attempts to gain ownership of Lucky. I was very pleased with myself until I typed it in to Kobo and got several pages of books with the exact same title, most of them in a completely different genre (seedy romance if the covers are anything to go by!) It is hardly easy to stand out from the crowd when a big chunk of the crowd is called the exact same thing. However, whilst a unique name might make it easier for potential customers to find me it just wouldn’t fit the story. It’s just like with Jasper, I’ve spent time with this story now, I know it inside and out, and I just couldn’t imagine it called anything else! It may not be the best business decision, but it’s the right name for this story and to me that’s more important.
One final note, I couldn’t resist making Lucky’s original name equally symbolic…