The meaning of book titles: how I named the Stories of Aligare

Like summarizing a book, titling a book can be surprisingly challenging. Actually, the summary and the title have the the exact same issue, just in a more concentrated form in the title’s case. A book’s title is less than a sentence — possibly as little as one word. But needs to be memorable, indicate the genre/tone, give and intrigue the reader. And it should be unique enough to make the first page of a Google search. That’s a lot of pressure.


Unfortunately, we can’t just call the book what it is.

Sometimes the story’s location or significant event make a good title (as in Dune or The Hunger Games). Lucky writers can just use the main character’s unusual name (as in Lolita, Pippi Longstocking or Don Quixote). And sometimes the book’s strongest messages and themes can be summarized in one distinctive metaphor (as in To Kill A Mockingbird or Like Water For Chocolate).

If none of these work, the writer (or the editorial committee naming the book) need to get a bit more abstract. And when you get abstract with a title, there’s a risk of being vague and generic. Plenty of books use “shades of grey” or “fire and ice” metaphors as their titles. Fifty Shades of Grey and A Song of Ice And Fire are only memorable titles because they each added a more distinctive word, Fifty and Song respectively.

So how did I come at this for the Stories of Aligare series? Well, Remedy’s earliest working title was Shades: Flicker. I’m kind of embarrassed to type that, it’s so terrible. I mean, I was trying to use Shades as a series title but you’ll recall what I said about “shades of grey” being an overused concept. A critiquer said that Shades: Flicker sounded like a brand of eyeshadow and I couldn’t disagree with him even at the time.

Okay, then, what else could I call the book? I didn’t want to use a simplistic title like a main character’s name.  Peregrine might be the most main of the 3 main characters but Peregrine just didn’t quite fit. It suggests that Peregrine is the center of everything that happens, when he’s actually trying to remove himself from central importance in Tillian’s life. And I didn’t have a place name to use because in the Aligare books, the characters only know their land as “the land”.

So I figured I should have a title with multiple meanings that make you think. The story is a medical drama and also an internal saga of Peregrine’s efforts to fix his life. How about Remedy, then? For the literal remedies of herbs and magic, and also the way Peregrine, Tillian and Rose try to remedy situations? I immediately knew that was perfect. I later added the subtitle A story of Aligare — to act as a series name, and to hint that Remedy is a quieter fantasy work. It’s not an adventure or a quest. It’s not some grand chronicle of destiny. It’s just some people and their stories. (And as I’ve said before, Aligare isn’t what the characters actually call their homeland. It’s an external label I decided to use.)

With that, I had a naming pattern for all future stories set in this fantasy place. Ravel, a story of Aligare is the same: a ravel can be either a physical ravel (a snarled knot), as in Llarez’s ball of string. Or ravelling can be the act of untying or unwinding something. Like, say, a sticky romantic situation.

And now comes Render, a story of Aligare. It doesn’t suit its noun meaning so much. According to my Macbook’s Dictionary function, a render is a first coat of plaster applied to a wall. Uhhh, home renovation wasn’t what I was going for, although I guess a rough base coat works as a metaphor for Aloftway village’s haphazard beginnings. No, I was thinking mostly of the verb connotations of the word “render”:

-To render an animal carcass for useable material.

-To render services, or render your assistance.

-To render an idea into pictures or words.

-And finally, to render as in “to make”. Rendering oneself useful, or circumstances that render escape impossible.

All of these meanings fit Render, a story of Aligare. Rue and Felixi act them out and muse on their meaning. (If someone writes an alternate universe fanfiction where Rue is a computer programmer, we can have a royal flush of word connotations!)

Do I intentionally give all the Stories of Aligare titles starting with the letter R? Yep. For no particular reason, just because the alliteration felt right. Sometimes you don’t know the right title for something until you read it, hear it and speak it aloud.

One Comment on “The meaning of book titles: how I named the Stories of Aligare”

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