Friday, December 30, 2011

Why I Write Series

Why I Write Series:

Ministry of Bombs

When Gods Fail

The Struggle

Part X

This was an update to an old post, if you're here for the Why I write series, it's above, look no farther.

Yesterday (or to be exact, earlier in the morning, but before I went to sleep) I put up the second cover for my third short story/novel. I mentioned that I should explain the title... or rather how I came up with the idea for "Just Smile" for the short.

First a little on the short:
It was a story that I wrote early in my writing career. After I started my first novel but before I left the military. The story was based, partially, on my experiences with returning from a deployment, what I saw in my friends and how the rest of the world reacted to us. It's a very short piece (again, I'm putting cup short pieces for this end of the year push of mine, the longer pieces will come—50k and above—in the following months) and I had to clean it several times to make sure that only several emotions were being considered. The emotions (felt by protagonist as well as his friend) are very real and it is a piece that took a lot out of me. Now, several years later I don't think that it was as bad as the first few times it had been written.

If you ever wanted a close look at the inner workings of the interactions between soldiers back from a war zone and people back home, I recommend this piece (a little under 3k words). It's short but sweet. It has one resounding review (from a friend who was in the military during my time as an infantryman) from a friend who said that it spoke to the problems he had with coming back to the civilian world. I hope it reaches out to other people as well (military and otherwise). It has probably gone through at least seven rewrites. With a three year lag between the 6th and 7th ones.

The title was at first "The Eyes". At first I thought that this was good enough because it gave a hint about the "crazy eyes" that had been considered in the story. The I decided (actually, recently, after I had done the cover, which had eyes on it) that no cover should have a pair of eyes on it as well as in the title. Also eyes may have been fine when I was giving a title to the word document on my computer but it seemed to lack any substance when placed on the title.

That was when the brainstorming started (on the subway, again, the place where ideas either die or come to life) and I had to think of something. The piece deals with the anger that veterans experience when back from downrange, so I wondered if the title should convey that basic information. A few words came to mind here: Angry (immediately rejected by my girlfriend), Anger, Angry Eyes (immediately rejected by me), then finally Rage. The last one stuck for a few hours. By then I had the cover finished and only needed to come up with the title. I ran through one more edit for the piece and wondered why all my titles were so obvious.

Part of that tendency comes from me wanting to tell the reader what they are buying in as few of words as possible. A title with the word anger, or rage, in it would explain to the reader what they were about to buy. But that is what the description is for—correct? What then of the title. It can be straight forward, or it can stretch to something the story touches outside of the normal expectations.

For example in "The Struggle" I have a story about an insurgent in Iraq so the "The Struggle" refers to an Arabic saying "the struggle knows not the logic of morals" which I heard once when someone was talking about the insurgency. With that title I hope that the reader will be able to read the story then get an inkling for what (and come to their own decision as to whether that quote is valid, or perhaps partially valid) an insurgency entails to undertake.

"Kill Writer" was a little more straight forward. The story touches on the issue of what things had to be done for our War on Terror. Since the focal point of the story was a soldier being given the mission of killing his friend, a writer. Yeah, not exactly a profound title. But since the story was straight forward, I felt that it needed a straight forward title.

Now the "Just Smile" came when I decided that something straightforward would not suffice. I wanted the story to reach something deep within the reader (or a better way to say this is make them think more) while also allowing what the story was about to be conveyed. If you just read the title it will not give away any part of the story. The idea is that after the reader has read the story, they will look at the title and then understand... After reading about angry soldiers who don't have a proper way to deal with their rage, just smile will either imply something the soldiers think to themselves, when facing this rage... or it can be something people say to the soldiers as a way of making them more acceptable to society as a whole. The phrase/title can also be taken in other directions. But these were the main two that I wanted.

Make sense? Is there less to titles in general? Perhaps I should make them less accessible. Another idea (which I'm sure has been done before) is to have titles that allude to some forgotten piece of information. I'm thinking 2666 by Bolano (not in that exact way, but after reading the book you have no clue why he named it that and it requires further research). I have a few plans for future titles. For a lot of my personal back titles, the titles might remain (by way of anchoring, which will be another post, another day) the same.

What do the writers out there think? Perhaps the readers can weigh in? Nothing matters as much as what's inside... correct? Opinions, as usual, are welcome.

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