What’s in a name?
Name. It really is such a funny thing. A string of syllables and sounds that once heard or said can conjure up a wealth of images and memories. It is something that every author must ask when naming a character or a story. A name shouldn’t just be a title to make something easier to find when sifting through your library. It should say something about the story, about the characters, and maybe even about the author.
Titles to me are such a wonderful thing. The images and feelings they summon when you hear names like Raiders of the Lost Ark, To Kill a Mockingbird, Apocalypse Now, Lord of the Rings, all of them contain such a wealth of treasures in such a small string of words. If the words work, your reader will know what awaits them.
This can make the title one of the most difficult parts of telling a story.
Funnily enough for me, the title is usually one of the easier parts. I can name lots of titles for lots of stories that just blinked themselves into existence. Hook Echo, City of Wolves, Abyssus, The Phantom in the Pit, The Ant Hill, all of them coming so quick and so easy for so many stories. So ironic that it should be such a chore to name the work that meant most to me.
The epic adventure of Zhyx the dragon and his cohorts is the best thing I have written to date, and I am hard pressed to see myself ever surpass it. Honestly, that doesn’t bother me. It is a world that has been such a joy to create, with rich characters that were such a privilege to see come alive. There certainly is no shortage of ideas in this world, and should I ever so desire to stretch my writing legs again, a journey back to Tygan wouldn’t be too difficult to manage.
Yes, it was a world so full with characters so rich, it almost seemed criminal to condense their story to a mere few words. It had to be done though, so I accepted the challenge. But try as I may, none of the statements I wrote seemed worthy.
I tried finding creative ways to say ‘dragon’, trying to sum up a relationship with a sentence, using the MacGuffin as the title, often times looping around and trying the same thing over again, with no signs of improvement as the list grew longer.
It was a journey that lasted three months, and it really got under my skin at times. I started to feel like that kid from The Neverending Story who had to give a new name to the Childlike Empress. The fate of this entire world I created depended on giving it a new name.
As the list and my frustration grew, I gave myself a limit. It became clear that without that limit, I would be stuck on this one aspect of the story for the rest of my life, never an opportunity to begin work on the next chapters of the saga, never a relief that the job was done. With over three hundred titles to chose from, at least one of them would be passable.
I was on a vacation to see friends and family at the time. I made a deal with myself, that if I did not come up with that title upon my return to Los Angeles, I would pick my favorite from the list and go with it.
The day finally arrived for my flight home. I had a two hour layover in Dallas, got myself some cruddy fast food chicken, and prepared for the four hour flight to come. Since I had some time to spare, I figured it was a good opportunity to take one last crack at the name for the story. I was heavily leaning towards Seekers of the Dark Shard, in spite of it bearing far too great a resemblance to the work that inspired this mythos, Raiders of the Lost Ark.
I thought back to a few titles, like Jaws, Alien, Predator, and I realized that while those titles had now become iconic, at the time they were just words. Before 1974, jaws was just the name of a part of the skull. By 1976, everyone thought ‘killer shark’ upon hearing the word. That’s because the material was so great, it elevated an otherwise bland title to greatness itself.
That was the most solid bit of inspiration I had during this entire ordeal, and it was from there that the first sentence of the novel caught my attention.
“Dragons are never heroes.”
There is so much in that statement. Firstly, it is demonstrably false by merely looking at past works of fiction, and even reading the novel itself. It reflects the character’s cynical attitude at the start of his long journey in that he says something so untrue. It is that tone through which the story is told, something that, as a writer, was one of the most enjoyable parts of writing the story. To write it in Zhyx’s voice, a voice that patronizes and often outright insults the reader, it made the story come alive. And finally, that statement is somewhat of a punch line, because a hero is exactly what Zhyx becomes by the turning of the final page.
Truly analyzing that statement for the first time, the final two words came to me. They seemed to float off my computer monitor.
They were so blunt, so final, so deceptively simple. Those two simple words which said everything about the hero, about his journey, about it all. They even seemed to hint at their false nature. In spite of the narrator’s best efforts to convince you otherwise, this is the story of a hero.
When the plane touched down in Los Angeles, the decision was made. The title of this manuscript is Never Heroes. Is it a great title? Perhaps not, at least not yet.
It is like many titles that came before. It may not look or sound like much, but there is a lot in it. I spent far too much time trying to find the perfect title, as if expecting to snatch something out of the air that already had the rich impact on popular culture the story hasn’t even had a chance to make yet. It may not be a great title, but maybe that isn’t the point. Maybe the point is to find a title that the story can make great.