Sunday, November 2, 2008

Where Titles Come From

And a Happy All Souls Day to you!

A lot of folk ask me how I come up with titles. To which the short answer is, "Well, I just sort of tumble short phrases around in the back of my mind, like a rock polisher, and every once awhile, I pull out a handful and see if anything looks smooth and shiny yet."

But there is (you knew there would be) a longer answer, of course. [g] This varies from book to book, but as it happens, I just stumbled across the account I wrote for a friend regarding where AN ECHO IN THE BONE came from. So, for the benefit of anyone else who might be curious...

Dear X--

Well, we (Doug and I) were on a plane to Alaska, and I was thinking about the shape of the book (of which I have a vague approximation, but not firm at all, yet), and generally considering it in abstract visual terms (i.e., not "visual," as in thinking of incidents that occur in the plot, but rather the pattern that emerges from them). I kept seeing pebbles dropped into water, each with concentric ripples spreading out, and those ripples intersecting. Now, "ripple" is not really a good title word, generally speaking. "Pebble" is better, but not suitable to the tone of this book. But looking at the ripples made me think of lakes and water, and waves, which led me to Loch Ness, and a consideration of standing waves--which is one suggestion as to the origin of the Loch Ness monster; i.e., that people saw a standing wave--which occur frequently in the loch--and assumed it to be the back of a sea monster. (Here, btw, is one of the simplest definitions of what a standing wave actually is:

"A type of wave in which the surface oscillates vertically between fixed nodes, without any forward progression; the crest at one moment becomes the trough at the next. Standing waves may be caused by the meeting of two similar wave groups that are travelling in opposing directions."

Well, this image had some promise, in terms of what I think's going on in this book, and at this point, I turned to Doug and said, "What do you think of STANDING WAVE as a title for Book Seven?" His response was to hold his nose, so I abandoned that one.

But I still kept seeing ripples, and since I'd started thinking of them in terms of waves ("wave" being much more evocative than "ripple," just as a word), I kept thinking--in a vague, half-conscious sort of way--of various wave-forms. And arrived at "echo." Which is (courtesy of

echo (ek'o)
1. the repetition of a sound by reflection of sound waves from a surface
2. a sound so produced
1. any repetition or imitation of the words, style, ideas, etc. of another
2. a person who thus repeats or imitates
3. sympathetic response
4. Electronics; a radar wave reflected from an object, appearing as a spot of light on a radarscope
5. Gr. Myth. a nymph who, because of her unreturned love for Narcissus, pines away until only her voice remains
6. Music
1. a soft repetition of a phrase
2. an organ stop for producing the effect of echo
7. Radio, TV the reception of two similar and almost simultaneous signals because one of them has been delayed slightly by reflection from the E layer in transmission

Etymology: ME ecco < L echo < Gr echo < IE base *(s)wagh-, var. of *wag-, to cry out > L vagire, OE swogan, to sound, roar

"Well, all _righty_, then," I thought. Echo is a much more evocative word than "ripple," and has multiple related definitions, virtually all of which might apply to the metaphorical levels of this book. Cool. I like "echo."

So--and mind you, this process took several days--I was tossing "echo" around in my head, letting it form what associations it wanted to, and I started picking up the echo [g] of a line from BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE:

" He spared a moment to look before touching off the next shot--so far, he had been firing with not the slightest thought for attitude or effect--and forced himself not to blink as the gun went off with a jump like a live thing and the thunder that made you feel as though the ground shook, though in fact it was your own flesh shaking."

And I thought, "Yes! That's it, it's the echo of artillery fire, felt in the flesh." Well, now I felt I had a grip on something, and began playing with that concept. "ECHO IN THE FLESH" has a lot of impact [g], but as Doug noted, sounds butcherous, rather than substantial. "ECHO IN THE BLOOD" is pretty evocative, but sounds too much like a crime novel. OK, there ain't much to the body, in simple terms, beyond flesh, blood, and...bone. A bit of to and fro with the prepositional phrases, (of the flesh? through the blood?), singular vs. plural--bone or bones?--and articles for rhythm (ECHO IN THE BONE is OK, but I like AN ECHO IN THE BONE better). And I liked the repeated "O" (as Baerbel notes, it's the same thing going on as with the "U" in DRUMS OF AUTUMN"), and the balance of four letters--ECHO/BONE.

Meanwhile, the more I played with it, the more I began to pick up the metaphorical echoes [g], and thus to be convinced I'd found it. I tried it out on my agent and editors, then on a couple of roomsful of people while touring, and finding the general response to be a collective "OOOOh!", decided I probably had it.

So now you know, too!


  1. I am re-reading Drums of Autumn, and the following sentence, understandably, jumped out at me: "The universe had shifted, with a small, decisive click; he could still hear its echo in his bones." (Roger contemplating his love for Brianna.)

    Crazy coincidence or unwitting foreshadow, lol!

  2. Awesome, Diana! Thanks again for sharing your thought processes! I always find it fascinating! Hope you had a great Halloween and a blessed All Saint's Day! I am looking forward to reading it when it comes out. I am excited and yet apprehensive of things that will happen. :)

  3. As an afficionado of Good Titles, I have to say that you do know how to do them well - but "An Echo In The Bone" is one of the most evocative. I kind of think a lot of people have had such an experience (either metaphorically, or in actual physicality), so (like for Roger, via Irma's post)that clicks in some deep, visceral way.

    Can hardly wait til we can all read it...!

    Happy Samhain!

  4. Irma, that is a really interesting intersection... if it is intentional or not, it still is really cool.

  5. Working in a bookstore I know how important titles are, and I've known many customers who have picked up a novel based solely on its title, often times I've had to point out that it is second / fourth etc in a series. "An echo in the Bone" is such an evocative title I'm sure people will be picking it up with no idea of the evolving saga that is Claire and Jamie, and I of course, will be more than happy to recommend (as I do already) the rest of the series.

  6. Since you announced the new title of Book 7, I've seen "echo in/of/his bone" used at least twice, that I can remember, in Drums of Autumn; so it does flow through the series. I like that!

  7. Diana:

    I, too, have seen phrases echoing your Books' titles run throughout the series and immensely enjoy your artful weaving of them into the fabric of the stories. When you do this, whether intentional or not (I personally believe you allow little to go unattended and unintended) I am fascinated as to how you keep it in context of the story and not allow it to become a ploy.

    Thank you for today's post.


  8. also loving the story behind the title and the actual title.

    this is the type of obscure stuff i remember, that fascinates me and drives me crazy. people look at me like "and WHY, exactly, do you even KNOW this?"

    i like being a weirdo =)

  9. Speaking of things you can hear like an echo, I am having trouble hearing the latest podcast! Help! It's Episode 23 and it just doesn't want to behave like all the rest. Any suggestions?

  10. Oh, never mind. Color me red. I'll not describe the silly mistake I made. . .4 times. ; ) Technology gotta have it, but it can be prickly.

  11. Dear Zan--

    Glad you figured it out--'cuz I wouldn't have had the slightest idea what to tell you. [g]


  12. Oooh! I just found an interesting article on the BBC Scotland website about the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. They are plannning a display of rare and historical books and artifacts; some dating back almost 400 years. There's a great picture of the medicine cabinet used to treat Bonnie Prince Charlie! Very exciting just to even look at the picture! Enjoy...

  13. Oops...the complete web address didn't come through. I'll try again, but if it still doesn't, just go to BBC and navigate to Scotland. It's under the sub-title of Edinburgh.

    Here goes:

    Did it work?

  14. In Drums, at the end of Home for the Holidays, Roger is struggling with being dazzled by a naked Brianna just out of the bath and distraught with the interruption of the burning cockaleekie soup. A short time later he realizes that when he touched Brianna's skin, the universe had shifted . . . he could still hear its echo in his bones.

    Seems to me there are about a gazillion echoes reverberating from book to book, echoes often brought forward as the narrative progresses. (And doh! I see irma has said just the same.)

  15. I just discovered your blog recently, so I hadn't read this entry yet. While reading the novel, I was trying to figure out how the title related to the book, and I was way off. I presumed once hearing of another Beauchamp, possibly of relation to Claire, that "An Echo in the Bone" was literally a physical resemblance to Claire (something like having similar bone structure in the face and in meeting this relation cause the "echo", which is not right I know because with Claire it's all about the eyes). However, I kept clinging to this notion because I want Claire to find some family (I know Jamie is all she needs), but her speculation about the geneological chart Frank made for her and such kept me on this path. Anyway...loved the book!

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