Want your theme? Your subconscious will eventually grab you by your short and curlies

To her surprise,  Bella finds the foot she'd misplaced two years ago. I’m knee-deep in my fourth draft when lo and behold, out pops my theme. It was freaking amazing how it felt, too, so I scribbled it down and realized that I already had so many elements in place it was a wonder I hadn’t gotten whiplash from it hitting me in the face before.

Are you a pantser like me still struggling with finding your theme during revision? I’ll share what I did that made it so glaringly obvious.

Lots of craft books on theme always say not to force it, that it will just come to you, and after a year and three drafts when it hadn’t, I had started reading that advice and saying, “Yeah, right. Pfft.” Finally, I settled for something like “love conquers time,” but it just didn’t ring my bells.

Meanwhile, I’ve been entering some RWA (Romance Writer’s of America) Chapter contests (three to date) and one of them required a synopsis. Gasp! I knew I had to do one of these dreaded things eventually so I sat down and read up on best practices, did some brainstorming exercises to help boil the plot down to its essentials and hammered one out, sat on it, researched some more, revised it, brainstormed, posted it for review, etc.

It was during one of those moments when I was looking at the macro structure of my story that I realized my theme. And then I made bullet points of every single way that theme was a part of my story already, and I was bowled over. I swear, it was like I’d planned it the whole time! The craft books were right!

One of the craft books I’m working with right now is Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors II by Alexandra Sokoloff and among other tips, she’d advised making a list of thematic words that will convey what the story is about so that you can start assembling a visual library in your mind as well as vocabulary you want to incorporate. So I did that and went back to my revisions and it really helped tighten my first chapter. Who knows if anyone will really get that I chose the visuals and setting specifically as subtext for my theme, but it’s now there and it feels great. It will also help me make final decisions on some backstory and as well as see that certain paragraphs aren’t really necessary – they’re now just clutter. I’m also keeping the theme and my word list handy as I work through my fourth draft to see if there are ways for me to strengthen my scenes and prose.

It’s also helped me to strengthen my logline/pitch, and when I get closer to the query stage, I’ll be sure to have it in there.

One thing I want to make certain I don’t do, is hit the reader over the head with it though. I feel it should be something that’s just lying there under the surface, helping to buoy them along as they read.

How about you? Plotters, is this another instance where you’re shaking your head at us poor pantsers? Pantsers, have you also struggled with your theme and how did it come to you? How do you ensure you haven’t been too obvious with it? Readers, do you like trying to find the theme?

Oh, For A Title…

Next to perfecting my query, coming up with a better title than TO OUR FUTURE is a big one for me. I thought summarizing the story into one sentence was hard, but now I need to do it with a title.

I did some brainstorming exercises yesterday to try to come up with some possibilities. By the end I was getting pretty silly. I thought I’d let it stew in my head and let my subconscious work on it for a day or two, but just now, when I turned off the TV after watching Castle, an alternate title for this blog post popped into my head: Oh Title Where Art Thou?

No, no, no! Stupid subconscious! Work on the title for my book. Argh!

Anyway, a full day’s gone by and not a peep from my creative juices for the book title. I finished the 3rd draft in the beginning of October and thought it would be good to take a break from it so that I could see it with fresh eyes when I got my betas’ feedback. But now I’m thinking I’ve been apart from it for too long and have lost the thread of it. So I think I’ll  reread it straight through over Thanksgiving break and see what might pop out at me for a title.

Are you also struggling with a title?

I know that some say you shouldn’t get too attached to a title, because the publisher might change it. But I’ve also read that agents can be drawn or repulsed by a title. If we can have a strong title to help sell it, why not, as long as we know it might change. Here’s some links I found that helped me brainstorm.

  • Agent Rachelle Gardner’s How To Title a Book
  • I love Katie Macalister‘s titles, so I added her name to my search parameters and came up with this post: Finding the Perfect Title
  • Someone on critiquecircle.com had a great brainstorming list, but since that’s password protected, I just googled and found the same list here. By the time I tried this though, my brain was pretty fried and I couldn’t come up with numerical much less ironical versions.

Titles need to set the tone

Besides all the other reasons why nailing the title is important, there’s also setting the expectation for the reader with the right tone. A quirky, fun title for a dark horror story would just not work.

My story is light and funny (mostly), and I’d like the title to reflect it. I’ve revised my query down to this so far:

Isabelle Rochon has met the man of her dreams.  There’s only one problem: he lives in a different century.  Talk about a long-distance relationship!

A modern American working at the British Museum, Isabelle just wants to know what it was like to live ‘back then.’  But not really. When a silver card case strands her in 1834, she must navigate the pitfalls of a stiffly polite London, find out how to get back, keep her origins a secret, and, oh, resist her growing attraction to Lord Montagu, the Vicious Viscount so hot he curls her toes.

To Lord Montagu nothing makes more sense than to keep his distance from the strange Colonial. However, when his scheme for revenge reaches a stalemate, he needs her to masquerade as his fiancée. A bargain is struck. What he did not bargain on is being drawn to her mentally as well as physically. Now, nothing makes more sense than to make their engagement official. Except to his fiancée.

Isabelle must find the case, or she’ll be stuck in 1834 where they haven’t heard of toilet paper or women’s lib. The fact that she’s falling in love with Lord Montagu isn’t helping either. Staying would be the ultimate follow-the boyfriend move and she can’t go through that again.

TO OUR FUTURE is a 95,000 word novel featuring such historical figures as Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage. Fans of LOST IN AUSTEN will love the modern woman’s fish out of water foibles, while experiencing a more scientific and mechanical London. It is similar in tone to THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE PINK CARNATION, and Katie Macalister’s contemporary romances. It is a standalone novel with the potential to be a prequel in a series of steampunk romances.

So here’s what I’ve come up with so far, from the okay, to the bad, to the just plain silly:

  • A Viscount In Time
  • Man from Another Century (the literal approach, lol!)
  • A Kiss in Time
  • Soulmate in Time
  • Time for a Soulmate
  • Lord Drool-Worthy (that’s her nickname for him in the beginning)
  • Timeless
  • London Calling
  • Dang This Corset
  • Worlds Apart
  • My Historical Hunk
  • Sweet Adorkable You
  • To Love is to Embrace
  • Like Water for Corsets (I know, bad!)
  • Isabelle’s Excellent Adventure
  • The Once and Future Dork
  • Should I Stay or Should I Go
  • Time’s Embrace
  • Embracing Corsets
  • Ripping Breeches for Fun and Profit (this one was so silly I had to tweet it to some tweeps I knew would appreciate it)
How about you? How do you come up with your titles? Do you have your title before you even start writing, or do you struggle afterwards like me? Please God and all that is holy, do you have any ideas for me? :D Do you have any authors you love who have great titles?