Playing SET with book titles:

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.

34 Responses to “Playing SET with book titles:”

  1. Klimpaloon says:

    How about “Particles”?

  2. admin says:

    I thought about that, but then we have two of the three that start with “parti-.” No set.

  3. Tanya Butt says:

    Scraps, Shreds, Remains

    Words that are too foody: Morsels, Portions, Leftovers. Give off a nice cannibal vibe, don’t they? Perhaps, for your next book…

    All that being said, I really do like Remnants. It has that sciency big word feel, is indicative of something that’s ended and there’s the faint hope that it can be gathered up again. I’m not sure the similar sound hurts it enough to throw it out of the running.

  4. Shpshftr says:

    A few ideas:


  5. Dan Crews says:

    Partments – Maybe they live in apartments now…



  6. R O C says:

    Is there a one-word version of puzzle pieces, indicating individual pieces that can be fitted together?

    I also like the word automatons, because it can mean both those who act independently, and those who act merely mechanically or out of habit, which are rather opposite meanings when you think about it. But while it indicates discrete individuals, it doesn’t quite connote their incomplete nature.

    Members, pieces, components, sections, factions, sectors, packets, I don’t know.

  7. JimJimmyJim says:

    I’m only commenting to put myself in the acknowledgements of this post, because I introduced you to Set.

    Also, “Seams” is probably not set enough, but I like it because it implies the joining together of pieces of things.

  8. Klimpaloon says:

    @Dan Then you can make another trilogy where the second one doesn’t fit and you can have a meta-set! 😉

    After a bit more thinking, I’ve got a few more (though some are a bit of a stretch): Elements, Catalysts, Supplements, Attachments, Modifications, Fascimiles, and Replicas.

    And if we’re voting on other people’s, I liked ROC’s “Factions.”

  9. Rob Montroll says:

    Jigsaw, Mosaic, plural too.

  10. Katya says:

    While it’s true that “partials” and “fragments” are both nouns, if you get rid of the plural ending, the former is actually an adjective. (“Partial” is very rare as a noun.) So maybe you could look for another adjective to pluralize into a noun. (Or if you’re really a diehard SET player, I guess that means you now need to pluralize an entirely different part of speech.)

  11. Brent says:

    There’s “quantums”, as in the OED’s definition: “A minimum amount of a physical quantity which can exist, and in multiples of which it can vary”. Of the several definitions of quantum, this is the one that is most often pluralized with an ‘s’ instead of “quanta” (according to the OED website), which helps preserve your set. It kind of evokes hope and despair like cells and bones, although probably not as well. It means something really small or simple, and thus probably not whole or complete, but everything is built of quantums of its constituent materials. The series is more about biology than physics though, so bones and cells fit that better. And you would have to carry the OED around with you to stop people from saying you should have spelled it “quanta”.

    Another one I just thought of is “currents”. Rather than part of a material or object, they make up of the motion of the sea or air. And they can be good and bad, helping people move faster or dragging them away from land. It has non-physical meanings too, like currents of change. It has almost the same problem as “remnants” though.

    “Ashes” or “cinders” are like dust, only burnt, but those aren’t hopeful and can’t be put back together.

    Constituents is another word with the right meaning but it might sound too political and/or boring.

  12. HamletMonkey86232 says:

    For names, I also like Factions, but for other suggestions, perhaps Assemblies, Unions, Refurbishments, Adaptations, Adaptives, Forwards, Growths, Collectives, Recoveries, Triages, Practicalities, Resolutes, Reactions, Processes, Progresses, Gathers, Absorbtions, Adoptions, or, what the hey, Pancakes. (Mmmmm…Pancakes)

    On another note, I’ve been curious as to your opinion regarding used book sales. I’ve heard some suthors state that it does get someone reading their work, but it also is oney the author won’t see. I just came across an ARC of Partials in a local used book store, and I was trying to decide whether it would be appropriate to purchase it or not. (Also, the label on the front stating it is “not for sale” was rather intimidating.

  13. Kristine N says:

    Apocrypha, revelation, omission, hiatus, or (for true geekiness) lacuna? Thinking of the fragmentary, incomplete documents most scripture is derived from.

  14. Josh says:

    What about “Traces”? It connotes a wisp of something left, but it’s also something left to latch onto and follow.

  15. admin says:

    I really like Ashes, but it does have a pretty nihilistic feel, doesn’t it?

    Are there really authors out there who freak out over used books? What do they think about libraries?

  16. HamletMonkey86232 says:

    Good to know, thanks. I just thought it would be polite to ask. I’m not sure if its so much freak out about it as it is bleed over from music and video game fights over used games and CDs.

    I’ll just say, while I’m sure the John Cleaver series is not for me, I am intrigued by Partials, and will certainly buy the rest of the trilogy (new), most likely.

  17. I thought of “Remains”, but I like “Traces” too. Good suggestion Josh!

    Other words: lingers, quivers, shivers

    P.S. I LOVE set!! So great! And I like that your trilogy will be a set! Good call!

  18. Teen Reader says:

    Just some suggestions I’m going to throw out there:
    “Despondent”, “Endurance”, “Relience”, “Loosen”, and “Dissidence”.

    I love all of your books, they are all absolutely amazing, and while the disturbance to the SET for your “I am not a serial killer” trilogy may bother you, I love the titles, even though “Full of Holes” would have been a radical title.

  19. BookWorm says:

    Just wanted to say that I really, really, really enjoyed your book “Partials”. I can’t wait for the sequel to come out! 😀

  20. Abbe Hoggan says:

    By way of organizing my thoughts, here are the elements to consider in the previous titles:

    1. Plural/singular – both plural
    2. Number of syllables – both two syllables
    3. Starting letter – both different (P,F)
    4. Ending letter – both S (because they’re plural, but worth noting because not all plurals end in S and not all words that end in S are plural)
    5. (As noted by Katya) Parts of speech before being made plural – different (adjective, noun)

    So to complete the set, we need a plural, two syllable word, staring with a letter other than P or F, ending in S, and a part of speech that is neither adjective nor noun. Of all the suggestions made, I think the best fit is REMAINS. (Plural, two syllables, new initial letter, ends in S, and before being made plural, it’s a verb.) It also works as the last book because of its dual meaning of “what’s left over” and “dead bodies.” So that’s my vote.

    And can I say how perfect the Set concept is for finding a missing piece like this. I have a feeling I’ll be trying to make sets of things I never would have looked at that way before.

  21. Linda Wood says:

    Strands , as in dna

  22. admin says:

    Abbe, it is so nice to meet someone as overly-analytical about this as I am :)

  23. t.j. schutt says:

    i like quantums. i sorta like atoms, too.

    they both sound kind of final and sciencey, but i’m not sure either of them have the hope and despair thing you wanted. also atoms has the same first syllable rhyme with fragments. then again they would all three be using a’s…quantums uses an a too, though. and maybe there’s not a lot of despair in the sound of it, but there’s definitely possibilities.

    yeah, i’m voting for quantums so far.

  24. Rhys says:

    I would vote against “Bones” as there are already many high-brow media with that as or in the title. eg. Kathy Reich’s novels and TV adaptations.

    However, I do like Remnants, Ashes, Cinders (though that reminds, possibly, to much of the recent rewrite of the Cinderella “Cinder” by Marissa Meyer)

    I do think it’s important to keep the dual-sylabbic feel of the title.

  25. Evan says:

    Some ideas:


  26. Weijian says:

    “Subsets” ;p

    I vote for “Remains”; it’s ironclad.

  27. peavybob says:

    Ashes. It does give a sense of finality, but not necessarily so.
    There is the phoenix which rises from its ashes. Ashes also make good fertilizer, and can be made into diamonds (saw an add for it a while back). If you have your cover art follow one of those themes, it could give the impression you’re looking for.

    Traces also sounded good, but doesn’t fit your criteria for recovery.
    Fractions, but its too similar to fragments.
    Embers gives a sense of hope and despair, but it doesn’t quite give the same sense of division as the other 2 books.

  28. t.j. schutt says:

    i lied. if you made it a poll, i’d vote for traces. well i’d vote for both of them, but i’d vote for traces first.

  29. The Berylster says:

    Degrees, Elements, Rudiments, Subjects, Essentials, Conditionals, Obsoletes, Underlings.
    I FRIGGIN LOVE PARTIALS!! One of my favorite books ever! (Top three)!!!

  30. After reading Abbe’s very detailed analysis I am swayed over to Remains.

    Not that my vote counts for anything BUT in an online poll that’s how I would vote


  31. Hannah says:

    @ Katya and Abbe

    I also like SET, but I’m horrible at it. Partials, Fragments,

    Weavings: 1) also plural, 2) also 2 syllables 3) (P,F,W) 4) Also ends in s 5) (adjective, noun, verb) 6) But it means bits that have become a whole rather than just a word for bits of things, and 7) it’s …thready… where the other two are more discrete.

    Graftings: 1) also plural, 2) also 2 syllables 3) (P,F,G) 4) Also ends in s 5) (adjective, noun, verb) 6) Again it means bits that have become a whole rather than just bits of things, and 7) it’s organic, which doesn’t exactly match the first two, but doesn’t seem to clash with them as much a thready did.

    Meldings: 1) also plural, 2) also 2 syllables 3) (P,F,M) 4) Also ends in s 5) (adjective, noun, verb) 6) it means bits that have become a whole again and is pretty far into the finished process, and 7) it’s …mining? Social? might be too much ESP/mind power baggage. It’s not as cool of a word either… …a more depressed mining word that would also match most of the requirements is Tailings. So, if the series ends like a Korean martial arts movie, then that might be a great option.

    I think that’s all my brain comes up with…

  32. Michelle says:

    i really loved both of your books. right after i finnished the second one i went searching to make sure there would be a third one. honestly the name really never occured to me. although after skimming the comments i did think that the name Factions and the name Remnants were both really good names and fit in the set really well. its true Fragments and Remants will have the same endng sound but it doesnt really matter considering how well it fits in the set and how awesome it fits into the books theme. i dont know why im writting a comment. i just felt i should probally. i really love your books. they literally made me cry. you probally wont even read this…

  33. Mary Spangenberg says:

    Can you tell me the ending so I can come up with a cool title for you? -lol! Loved book two BTW!

  34. Mary Spangenberg says:

    How about, “Cinders?” I like the ashes rebuilding theme too. (and not only because I live in Phx) Also, Set is a great game! We play it with our gifted students. Thanks for the shout out of a creative game. I am horrible at it too. Apparently I am not gifted only a teacher of gifted children. ;0). I love The series Mr. wells. I grew up in Islip so loved the shout out there too! Yes, most of Islip is not on the water. Brawhaha. For some reason that line made me laugh.

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