Sunday, January 5, 2014

Names and Titles

When I’m writing, I’ll usually create a place-holder of a name for a given character until I can come up with something better. Sometimes that approach helps, sometimes it doesn’t. Where it becomes a problem is when I finally have a solid name for a character and I have to change it. Sometimes cut-and-paste doesn’t work. And sometimes, my memory doesn’t quite keep up with the decision. During the early stages of editing Aggadeh Chronicles Book 1: Nobody, I finalized the name of one of the characters, changed it, and wrote on. It wasn’t until the edits came back that I discovered that while I had changed the name of the character, I changed to another name half way through the chapter, creating confusion among the editors. Fortunately, the character was distinct enough, everyone figured out pretty easily what happened. An email or two later, the problem was fixed. Creating names is difficult for me. I’m not the only writer with this issue. I’ve come across many comments by others just how much they struggle with naming characters. 
I didn't even have a working title for the book until I was halfway through the story. The Aggadeh Empire was referred to as “The Empire” through that time. If the empire had encompassed the entire world, then that would have sufficed. But the country was finite. There were other kingdoms in the world. There was another empire that could be considered its rival for power. It had borders. It had limited time. It needed a name.
I looked at various mythologies, but found they had been dipped into just too many times. I kept moving back farther and farther in human history. I finally settled on the mythos of Gilgamesh, one of the earlier mythologies in human culture. It provided something that was just outside the box of familiarity.
A lot of the place names I found within those stories were just too complex. They didn’t roll off the tongue easily. But one name stood out to me: Akkad. It was the name of an actual empire that existed in Mesopotamia.
There was another criteria I was trying to fill with the name. One affected by something far removed from ancient mythologies. A criteria created and driven by modern technology.
I love ebooks. On this small device with a screen the size of a paperback book (the trade name of this format is Pocket Book), I can carry my entire library. I can carry as many books as I can read.
When I was a child, a couple times a year we would travel to visit family or to go on vacation—sometimes both. They were long trips. As an adult, I did a lot of traveling for business. These, too, were long trips. To wile away the hours, I would read.
Books take up a lot of space in a suitcase and add a lot of weight. Two things that were prime issues when traveling. Ebooks take up no space and have no weight to them, other than the ebook reader which weighs less than a common paperback book.
When looking for something to read, it is incredibly easy to look at books lined up on a bookshelf on stacked up on a table and say, “Ah! This one.” You see all the titles at the same time. The colors of the book spines catch your eye and you can identify them by the pattern of their colors without even the need to read the words of the titles.
However, the interfaces for browsing through titles on an ebook reader are terrible.
One issue I came across that I found particularly vexing involved multiple books that were part of a series. You could never tell what the proper order was to read those titles by how they listed. If you list alphabetically, then the titles would be scattered throughout your entire library, between A to Z. Even if you listed the titles by author, the book titles would be sub-alphabetized under the author’s name, and would still be scattered through the series rather than be in order. One of the ebook readers I have does offer the option to list books in sequence within a series, but it doesn’t work if the titles are catalogued properly by the publisher.
Organizing books you want to read on an ebook reader is a terrible experience. Want to select a handful of books to read during a trip? Good luck keeping them straight.
So, looking at this issue, I wanted to give my books names that would work well when being alphabetized, whether by title or by author.
And—because I never lose sight of the fact that writing is a business and to survive means you have to promote—I wanted my books to have names that would be easy to find on an ebook reader’s library interface.
I also wanted my books to be the first titles a reader sees when perusing through the ebook reader’s library list.
That meant, I needed to have my books start with the letter “A.”
So, the ancient name from depths of human history suddenly seemed to fit the bill: Akkad. It started with “A” and rolled off the tongue with ease. But I didn’t want to use a name so obviously ripped off from history. Not of a totally fictional world, at least. I didn’t want readers jumping to a conclusion that since I pulled the name from this period and place in the world, then these people must be from that period of time.
I needed to modify it by just a little.
I softened the name of Akkad by removing the hard consonants. This turned it into Aggad. But that was still too close. An old but fond memory of a spontaneous gag that left a teenage friend laughing his head off brought to mind the sound, “-Deh.” I tagged that onto the end of the word, and it became Aggadeh. The capital city would remain Aggad, with the explanation that -deh was from an ancient language that indicated ownership. Hence, the land in the empire was owned by Aggad and that made the name of the empire, Aggadeh.
Ta da! I had the name of the empire.
Using a digit in the name of the title, Aggadeh Chronicles Book 1 instead of Aggadeh Chronicles Book One was important to force the alphabetization of the titles. This way, 2 would come before 3, where the word Three comes alphabetically before Two.
Nobody was always the title of the first book, because it is the story of Nem. But alphabetically, it would put all the books of the series all over the place. So, I had to put the series at the head of the title. The title of the first book was settled to be Aggadeh Chronicles Book 1: Nobody.
All the following titles will follow this format.
So, on an ebook reader, the titles will always appear at the top of the list because they start with the letter A, and even when listed by author or series, they will always line up together in proper order. This makes it easier for the reader to make a choice and to organize their reading.
There was one other effect of my made up word-name that I never saw coming.
I spent a week working on this word. When I was finally happy that I had a name for the empire and the story, I announced it to my friends. Two of them—one a theologian and the other Jewish—independently  jumped on my title choice with great excitement. An excitement I didn’t understand.
Both of them, almost chose the same phrase: “What a great choice of words for your story!”
My reaction was, “WHAT?! How could you have heard of something that I just made up? Crap! Now I have to go make up another word?”
Again, on separate occasions just hours apart, their response was the same: “No! Keep it! It is an incredible choice for your story!”
Somehow, I had managed to completely and randomly make up what turned out to be an actual word in another language!
The real and existing word is Aggadah. Aggadah is a collection of  folklore, historic anecdotes, moral lessons and practical advice in Jewish culture. Examples of how one should conduct oneself in society. This factors heavily on Nem as he becomes enmeshed in the Aggadeh Empire.
On a deeper level, Aggadah comes from Aramaic and means “story” or “lore.” It also carries an older meaning of “flow,” as in the flow of ideas. This, too, plays very much on Nem’s stories in the Aggadeh Empire. Nem carries with him new ways of thinking. Ways of thinking that in the Empire are popular with some and not so popular with others.
Faced with this, I decided that it probably would be a better to keep the name Aggadeh. Lord knows, I don’t think I could have come up with a better name. (And now that it is out and published, it’s kind of too late to change it now.)
But it has had one very strange effect: I’ve noticed a wildly disproportionate number of visits to my web site from Israel. I guess people trying to looking up Aggadah on the internet are coming up with my title, Aggadeh Chronicles.
Now you all know the story behind how I came up with the title.

To my visitors who find yourselves in this situation looking for Aggadah, I’d like to say, “Shalom aleikhem! Stay and read a while.”