Good evening, fans, friends, foes, and so on. Okay, I will knock off the whole Monsterpiece Theatre bullshit from this point and just give it to you straight. I have a lot of trouble with deciding upon titles, character names, place names, you name it. If it needs a name for the reader to identify it by, I have trouble with that.
Now, if you are an asshole like the male parental unit I have recently made a public spectacle of making persona non grata in my life, you may attribute this to laziness on my part. In a manner of speaking, you would be right, but not in the sense that you would be thinking of. No. In Time Enough For Love, Heinlein‘s narrator, a gentleman who has unlocked a means to live far beyond what we normally think of as normal for our kind, recounts how he knew a man once who was exactly the right amount of lazy. That is, he was motivated enough to make the tasks he needed done easy enough for him to be done with minimal effort. That is the kind of lazy that I use in my approach to writing stories or any kind of fiction.
Robert Rodriguez, the man who brought us such slices of a different world to the usual crap coming out of Hollywood as El Mariachi or more recently Machete, has this approach with many of his films, at least in a sense. Early in his career, he was known as the guy to go to in order to make a film that looked like it cost much more to shoot than was really the case. And how he accomplished this often goes back to the same kind of industrialised laziness that Heinlein described.
For example, when one is shooting a film in which a hapless mariachi is mistaken for a drug dealer that another drug dealer is scared is going to come and kill him, there are certain requirements to tell the story properly. One such requirement is to be able to simulate both gunfire and the impact of gunfire against a target. The latter is probably an example where at least a little coin was spent, but Rodriguez found himself with an interesting problem when trying to make shots to simulate gunfire. You see, a common misconception is that guns are guns are guns, and any gun can expel a round that is designed to only give the appearance associated with firing, or a blank as it is known. But the reactions involved with firing a blank and firing a live round differ, which means that in order to fire blanks, a gun has to be modified in a specific way. This process involves the use of money that Rodriguez did not have. And he found that when people attempted to fire blank rounds from the weapons that were provided to him for the shoot, said weapons would jam after one shot.
So Rodriguez shot footage of every gun he had at his disposal (only a few, apparently) firing a blank, from three or four different angles. Through the use of creative editing and repeated footage, he managed to give a crude symbolic effect of guns firing in short bursts. Although the effect practically screams that the film was made on seven thousand 1992 dollars, it also allowed Rodriguez to get the film made, finished, and released without exhausting his allocated resources. A “less” lazy individual would have exhausted themselves trying to find money to get themselves guns that are capable of firing blanks. And for what? The total amount of footage in El Mariachi that these improvised gunshot shots occupies would be less than five minutes, and that is a generous estimation given that the film’s total running time is eighty-one minutes. So rather than exhaust a lot of effort for a dubious result, Rodriguez simply exhausted the exact right amount of effort to get the effect he needed in the situation.
Every day, we deal with a conundrum that will likely plague our society for at least another century. If not however long it takes overpopulation to do our species in. What do we want to make happen (clean clothes, study task accomplished, orgasm), and how much effort are we willing to expend upon that? And do not kid yourself for a second that we are all on the same page with these things. When it comes to figuring out how to get my display unit working or why my receiver suddenly refuses to pass video signals to it, no effort is ultimately too great or excessive. But trying to arrange the furniture around my home so that things can be easily accessed is an entirely different story. Because most of the time, the discomfort involved is such that the apparent gain is not worthwhile.
So anyway, that brings me to another point about Rodriguez‘s methods of filmmaking. In audio commentaries, Rodriguez has stated at least once that coming up with names for characters is a process one should never labour too much upon. Because often, when one is writing a character, the first impulse one gets in terms of naming is the best one. Does that always mean it is the right one? No, but obsessing and overthinking it will net the author nothing. Again, it is a matter of effort versus reward. A character who is in front of the camera for more than ninety percent of the film usually (but not always) requires a name. Even if it is only a designation. One of the few exceptions that comes to my mind is They Live, in which Roddy Piper plays a character who is only named in the credits (as Nada). But getting your audience to relate to a character who lacks a name also takes some skill on the part of the storyteller, and unless there is an important reason to attempt this trick (for instance, you wish to emphasise how much the mainstream society shits on the character), it is best to not try.
So important characters will obviously have a lot of effort expended upon their back story. What their full name is, what led to them being at the point they are at the start of the film, and so on. Is any of that background necessary? Well, if your story ends up getting distributed to a bunch of idiots who know nothing of the effort and time that went into it, that information can be used for marketing purposes. Like putting it on an encyclopedic website and using that, in turn, to advertise your work. But stressing about it in the time prior to commencement of writing is just more stressing with negligible net results.
Which brings me back to where I began. Giving your overall work a title is a difficult task. One needs to invent a name that catches the mind of the reader or viewer, but is quick and to the point. In multiple audio commentaries, Ed Neumeier has stated that when he and Michael Miner were writing RoboCop, the “oh my god” type reactions made them begin to wonder if maybe they should not come up with a different name. But like all good names that seem like a stop-gap measure at first, it stuck. And tell me, humble readers out there. Would you rather give your work a title that makes the audience think “oh my god”, but remember it, or a title that they forget two minutes later? At one point, my idiot male parental unit found himself with a copy of the Tom Clancy novel Red Storm Rising, but simply could not stop referring to it as “Red October Rising” every time he tried to talk about it with people he met. Another good example is the Gustav Hasford novel The Short Timers. In itself, the title is pretty easy to remember but not that memorable. But the names of characters within (one of the Generals that is leading the colossal fukk-up the protagonist describes Vietnam as is referred to as General Motors) also add to the memorability of the novel itself. Yes, novels that try to deconstruct that whole “war is wonderful and fun” thing that people really believed in the run-up to the first World War are numerous, but The Short Timers (which is out of print but also available on Gustav Hasford‘s website) is one of the best.
I like my titles to give the potential reader a strong impression of what the story is about. Let us take the simple title Kronisk’s Mirror for example. There are a number of ways one can take such a simple title, but literally is most emphatically the wrong one. If you think of mirror to mean opposite, for instance, then many characters who populate the story fit this description. Kronisk is very much concerned with justice for those who would otherwise be given none of it. People like Linula or the children of every realm who are not precisely the same as everyone else, for example. But the people we see towards the end of the story, they are the opposite. They mirror Kronisk in the sense that they believe if a child is subjected to degrading and psychologically damaging things (in cases like Linula, digitally violating her anal passage among other things), it is their own damned fault for not being what they call “gooood”. Fukk them, Kronisk thinks. Corrigwen, on the other hand, is a mirror in the sense that in such ways as having a family she loves in its entirety and wants to share in her joy (as well as vice versa), and being able to sleep in relative peace. She is, in a very real psychological and emotional sense, his partial opposite.
There is also the Therion song Sitra Ahra, which I have not really made any direct reference to in my work. In the story, Kronisk opens up elemental doors in order to enter a sort of world between worlds and travel from the world he has been made to serve on, and the world that Corrigwen was born on. To Kronisk, the fact that he is allowed to access and use this world between worlds is the only miracle in the true sense of the word that he has ever seen. Hence, it is not a coincidence that he uses the German word Wunderwerck to describe the place. Aside from being one of Unholy‘s most awesome songs, the word more or less directly translates into modern English as “miracle”. Nor is it a coincidence that after Terra has died at his hands and he has been made to record the history of Kali-Yuga (among other things), he adopts the name Kronisk. It is a Finnish word that translates as “chronciler”. But anyway, one of the more standout things sung during the song Sitra Ahra is, and I quote, “walk across the mirror, to another world”. That is Kronisk all over.
One video critic jokingly (or so I believe at this present moment) published rules on how to review films on video, based solely on their titles. I do not remember all of the title rules, but two stand out in my mind. First of all, if a story is originally published under one title, but the title is changed when it is brought to another territory that speaks the same language, it is for a reason. Secondly, the longer the title happens to be, the worse the film usually is. This also applies to some extent with songs, books, and episodes of television shows. A title can often (but not always) reflect the quality of the content. When you hear a title, think of the first thing that comes to mind. Is it intrigue? Curiosity? Anger? Dismay? Generally, that first feeling you have will reflect your reaction to the content of the story on offer.
So that is why I expend so much effort not just naming characters, but also thinking of a title by which to call my work in future. It is also why a film or novel’s title is never really set in stone until the very last opportunity to change it before replication. I think most people will understand what I mean when I remind them that Stephen King‘s second novel was originally titled Second Coming (Tabitha told him this title made it sound too much like a bad sex story), then Jerusalem’s Lot (the publisher decided that title was too religious), then shortened down to ‘Salem’s Lot (go figure). I think the last of those titles works the best because it evokes the sort of mild horrific imagery that tends to reflect in a potential reader’s mind when the name Stephen King is mentioned. It also happens to be the quickest of the three titles to say, albeit by mere fractions of seconds. As a point of comparison, when I hear the title Dungeons & Dragons: The Book Of Vile Darkness (which is so far a bit mysterious in terms of release date, given that it was shot in January of last year), I think the film that is being released under that title is going to end up being entertainingly bad.
And with that thought in my flu-addled mind, I am going to call it a morning. I need some sleep so I can perform some household tasks, sort out a few messes, and try not to drown. May all your reading and writing be enhanced in some way by the content of this writing.