Hey lovelies! I was recently approached by author Durham with a review request for his latest release Winterset Hollow and was happy to oblige! It seems really interesting and I’m excited to welcome him to the blog today to tell us all about what’s in a title. I could go on about my life for hours but that’s not what you’re here to read about. Without further ado, welcome Jon!
What’s In a Title?
Jonathan Edward Durham
I suppose the answer to that question is everything…or nothing…or any place on the spectrum in between those two bookends. Titles can be clever, just as they can be nonsensical. They can be evocative, just as they can be obtuse. They can be singular or complex, powerful or plain, important or benign…and they can mean everything…or they can simply mean nothing at all. Different artists use different tools in different ways, and the title is no different, but for me, a title is a mantra, a tone-setter, and a glimpse of both the quality and the content of what’s behind it…and when it’s particularly good, nothing makes me want to dig into whatever story is attached more earnestly.
Take The Grapes of Wrath for instance. Doesn’t that just send chills up your spine? Those four words simply ooze gravitas, and even if you had no idea what the actual book was about, it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that its pages are full of hardship and struggle and life-and-death circumstance, and indeed they are. It’s a glimpse at what’s inside, and when you pair a title like that with an evocative cover image, that’s really all you need as a potential buyer to make your decision about whether or not it’s a story that’s right for you. It’s a marketing campaign in and of itself, and it’s a brilliant turn of phrase, and it communicates confidently that whatever lies inside the cover is just as cleverly crafted.
Back to the Future, Slaughterhouse-five, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, James and the Giant Peach, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—all titles with different tones and different functions from different writers, but all equally effective. As for myself, my titles are of paramount importance, and are always, always, always the first thing that I actually write when I’m developing a story. They’re like an anchor to me…a thing that holds me in the story’s gravity and a mantra that keeps me centered on the tone and atmosphere of what I’m writing.
I’m a storyboarder, so before I even sit down in front of a keyboard, I spend about a month or so in front of a corkboard the size of an entire wall meticulously outlining and brainstorming and adding and subtracting and organizing and reorganizing until it all feels just right to me…and the very first step in that process…is printing out my title in gigantic font and tacking it top-center of my board. And there it stays until I’m done with the final edit. It’s what everything stems from for me…like the power generator in the machine that builds my story. And if a great title doesn’t come to me, for whatever reason, it’s often a sign that the raw story concept isn’t fleshed out enough, or worse, that it isn’t cohesive enough to be boiled down to a few words.
When a title feels right, that’s when I really start to see my story begin to unfold. That’s when I know I’m onto something good, and that’s when I start to seriously consider devoting a year or so of my life to what might follow it. Take Winterset Hollow for example—there was a vague idea of a concept bouncing around in my head, and it had been there for some time, but once I landed on those two words…that was when it all started to fall into place…that was when I saw the book within the book begin to take shape, and that was when the history of The Hollow really began to sprout roots and feel alive to me. I remember repeating it to myself over and over and over that night just to make sure that it was right…that it was interesting enough…that it was something I’d be able to say countless times throughout my life and never feel bored or embarrassed about it. Is it catchy? Does it feel like the story? Can you see it on a cover? Can you see it on a marquee? Is it memorable?
That was a long and relatively sleepless night, but the next morning I put those two words top-center of my freshly cleared storyboard and smiled because I knew it was a strong seed, and I knew that what was sure to blossom from it was going to be just as strong. It all felt so right, and a hundred and twenty thousand words later…it still does.
About the Author
JONATHAN EDWARD DURHAM was born near Philadelphia in one of many satellite rust-belt communities where he read voraciously throughout his youth and beyond. After attending the College of William and Mary, where he received a degree in neuroscience while also studying literature, Jonathan waded into the professional world before deciding he was better suited for more artistic pursuits and turned the page on his career.
He now lives in California with his partner where he writes to bring a voice to the space between the timeless wonder of his favorite childhood stories and the pop sensibilities of his adolescent literary indulgences. His debut novel, Winterset Hollow, a dark yet elevated contemporary fantasy, is mined from that same vein and is currently available everywhere.