Is it OK to write in present tense? And what do you do if you don’t have a title for the novel you’re writing? I tackle both questions today.
Grace posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
I have a question regarding the tense used in writing fiction. I write in third person present tense. I was told this style of writing makes it harder for the reader to follow.
Randy sez: It’s no harder for a reader to follow present tense than past tense, unless she thinks it is. Unfortunately, some readers really dislike present tense, which means that if you choose to use it, you’re going to alienate these readers.
Personally, I like present tense when it’s done well. Some examples of books where it’s done very well are THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger, THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins, and THE SPEED OF DARK by Elizabeth Moon. If you want to see how it’s done well, check out these books.
That was a short answer, so I’ll take on another question today.
Hi! I have a follow-up to the question about publishers changing book titles. How bad is it is you don’t have a title in mind at all? That is my situation…five years in to a nearly completed manuscript ready to be thrown into the market, and a title evades me. Thanks!
Randy sez: Five years is a long time to go without a title. I’d start working on that, because it’s going to be a lot harder to sell your novel without a title. It sounds like you’re blocked on this title thing, Cathi, so maybe it’s time to enlist some help.
I’m assuming you know the category of your novel (your genre and sub-genre) and your target audience. I also assume you can summarize your novel in 25 words or less. If all of the above is true, then it’s time to start asking your writer friends for some ideas. Tell them your category, your target audience, your one-sentence summary and then ask or beg or threaten people for ideas on titles.
Cathi, if you’re feeling brave, you can even send the above information to me and we can run a “Name Cathi’s Book” contest here on this blog. That could be fun.
One reason writers get blocked sometimes is their perfectionist streak. It’s easy to refuse to take any title except the absolute best one on the planet. Unfortunately, there can be at most only one of those. Even more unfortunately, nobody agrees what it is. So you aren’t going to get perfection. Pick a title that fits your book. Even if it’s not perfect.
Odds are fifty-fifty that your publisher is going to want to change it anyway. As soon as they start telling you the title their geniuses dreamed up in committee, trust me, you’ll suddenly be Xtremely motivated to come up with a better one.
Some thoughts on titles, in random order:
Don’t tell the ending. SAMANTHA GETS THE GUY is a terrible title for a romance. RAMBO SHOOTS UP 200 COPS is also not so great.
You don’t need a gimmick. HARRY POTTER AND THE X works pretty well for just about any value of X. No gimmicks there. Good writing trumps gimmicky titles every day of the week.
One word titles can work well. Some of my titles have been OXYGEN, TRANSGRESSION, PREMONITION, and RETRIBUTION. The first three of those were not my original titles. The original title of OXYGEN was O2. (Our editor showed good sense in changing that one). The original title of TRANSGRESSION was AVATAR. (I still think AVATAR was better, but I have no idea what I’d have named the sequels if my publisher had kept that title. It took me a while to realize that using similar words as titles for a series can make a lot of sense.)
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.