If you’re like me then you have to have the perfect title for your book, right? And sometimes that title is the inspiration of your story and you keep it through all the drafts or sometimes you might use a working title, knowing that you need to come up with a final one later.
With my second book in the U.S. Marshal series I actually started with “Empty Town” but as I developed the outline I knew that the title needed to change.
With all the stories being published today about the apocalypse and zombies, I wondered if something like that could be brought into the old west. But then I decided that I wanted to keep my Western stories realistic and about real people who had to survive the wild frontier as it was.
And then I wondered what Matt Kemp would do if he discovered an empty town…hence the original name. I found this intriguing and jotted down some quick notes and let things simmer on the back burner for a while.
But when it came time to actually work on the outline I began to ask the question the original title and the direction I thought the story would go.
Here’s an actual unedited excerpt from my notes:
Why would a town go missing?
- Someone wants the land?
- Or they want something in the town
- Or wants a particular person
- So why would they take the whole town?
- This person knows where there’s wealth
- But antagonist doesn’t know who it is – so takes them all – and the all won’t give up the one (if they know who it is). Town won’t give up their secret.
- So the secret is someone important to the town or that they feel they must protect and hide — a little girl?
How do you get a town to hide something or someone?
Do they get a piece of the action?
What’s so important?
…was someone murdered and the whole town is culpable?
Antagonist wants to know who killed this person – a relative?
The whole town was kidnapped because they wouldn’t give up a little girl.
— she witnessed a murder and now the murderer wants her…to kill?
— the murderer only knows that a child witnessed it but not which child or if it was a boy or girl
–the people hide her, she’s hardly seen
–so now they’re all threatened
–moral dilemma…do they give a child up to save themselves?
–OR the villain doesn’t know it’s a child, wouldn’t even think it. So is only looking at adults
Kemp infiltrates the townspeople and finds out the truth
–he takes the girl away
–comical scenes about the gunfighter Marshal and a little girl
–they get attached and Kemp is willing to die for her
These were just some of the questions I knew I needed to address. And as I delved deeper into the story I came across a great line from Randy Ingermanson, author of “The Snowflake Method”:
THE STRENGTH OF YOUR STORY IS SET BY THE STRENGTH OF YOUR VILLAIN
When I read this I knew I needed someone inherently evil that could answer the question of why a whole town disappeared. Thus, Jason Pope was created as the antagonist.
And “Empty Town” became, “A Witness To Murder”.
In this story, a 10 year old orphan girl witnessed Pope kill a couple that were going to adopt her. It’s become a story of innocence vs. evil…and the U.S. Marshal that steps between these two forces.
But the title is now driving the story as well. Yes, the girl, Amy, witnessed a murder but now Pope must kill the witness before he’s arrested and hung. This has given me a new focus and will lead to the ultimate confrontation between Kemp and the killer.
So, that’s how I came up with the title of my third Western novel. As of the date of this post, January 12, 2015, I only have two chapters written. It will be very interesting to see how this story unfolds.
But one thing I know for sure…I have a “killer” title!
How do you come up with titles for your books? And do you get the title first or not until after the book is written? I would be really curious to hear. Thanks for reading.