Since I haven’t blogged this week, and since I opened the can of worms on twitter/facebook, let’s talk about this: what will the name of the third Partials book be?
Obviously the short answer is “whatever I decide to name it, as approved by the Harper sales team,” but there are a lot of considerations to go through before we get there. And as part of those considerations, I get to talk about card games: one of my favorite card games is SET, which I was introduced to in college. You have a big deck of cards, and each card has an image with four traits: shape, number, color, and shading. You lay out a grid of three by four cards and then look for sets of three, with sets defined as “each trait must be the same across all cards, or different across all cards.” So, for example, a set could include three of one shape, or one each of all three shapes, but it can’t have one of one shape and two of the next. Each trait has to be all the same, or all different. This is a fantastic combination of “brain-burner puzzle game” and “quick filler game,” and I play it all the time. It’s one of the few games I brought with me to Germany. One of our favorite things to do in college was sit in a common area and start playing, and then watch as people stopped to watch. Most people would ask how to play, and that was cool, but the best thing was when people would stop, observe for a minute, and then figure it out all on their own and start collecting sets. That’s when we knew we’d met someone extra geeky/awesome.
So what does this have to do with book titles? The geeky/awesome ones have already figured it out. The titles (and covers) of a trilogy should follow the same rule of forming sets: every trait should ideally be either all the same or all different. (Within reason, of course; every rule has exceptions). The Bourne movies are a great example: the first is The Bourne Identity, and the second The Bourne Supremacy, so obviously the third has to be The Bourne [Something] as well. Calling the third one Ultimatum would have been dumb, because it wouldn’t feel like it fit, but calling it The Bourne Ultimatum was perfect.
(My first trilogy, you’ll note, did not follow this naming strategy at all, and that’s completely my fault and it’s always kind of bugged me. I Am not a Serial Killer and I Don’t Want to Kill You are both statements, they both start with I, they’re both denials, and then for some reason the one in the middle is nothing like them. This is because the original name for the third book was “Full of Holes,” which kept our set consistent, and by the time we decided to change it the second book was already in print. Alas. It doesn’t help that half the people I meet on book tours refer to the middle book as Mr. Murder instead of Mr. Monster. I still think Mr. Monster is a great name, but the fact that it breaks the set rules gets under my skin.)
So let’s take a look at the Partials series. We named the first one Partials because it’s an awesome name, and then for the second book I proposed two: “Fragments” and “Failsafe.” The sales team preferred the former, and it’s a great name so hooray, but it set us on a very specific path for book three: both titles have only one word, which are kind of sort of synonyms of each other, albeit with different connotations, and therefore the third one must follow the same format. The working title in my head for the past several months has been “Smithereens,” because it makes me laugh, but obviously we need something cooler than that. My two favorite runners-up have been “Splinters” and “Slivers,” and when I pitched the question on the Internet today those were definitely the most common suggestions, but neither of them really say what I want them to say. Also suggested, some in jest and some serious, were “Remnants,” “Shards,” “Pieces,” “Bits,” “Chunks,” “Ruins,” “Parts,” and “Dust.” I particularly like that last one (partly because it’s the name of my favorite X-Men character), but it a) isn’t plural, and is therefore different from our first two titles, and b) still doesn’t really say what I want it to say. I like “Remnants,” except then we have two titles that end with the same syllable, and that will bug me to death.
The hard part is not just choosing a cool synonym, but setting the right tone. “Partials” works for the first book because it conveys in one word not just the central science fictional element,but the attitude society has to that element. There are artificial people who are not “full” humans, and thus don’t deserve the same rights and considerations that we do. That arrogance is what ended the world and set up the whole series. Likewise, “Fragments” works for the second because it references not only their society (fragmented by war and dissidents) but the state of the characters (separated and alone) and the driving force of the plot (piecing together the answers to the first book’s questions). Both words mean “something that isn’t whole,” but they mean it in different ways.
What I’m really looking for with the third book is something with the right mix of hope and despair: pieces that are broken apart, but could maybe still be put together into something new and better. “Cells” has a great ring to it, implying both the building blocks of life and the semi-blind units of terrorism. “Bones” has a similar dichotomy, mixing life and death, but I’m not sold on either just yet. This will take some thinking.
And by all means, keep the suggestions pouring in. Just remember the rules of SET.