New Words or Old?

One of the important ways to tie together novels in a series is using similar titles. It’s a marketing trick, but a useful one, and it’s at least 80 years old. (Starting in about 1935, Erle Stanley Gardner wrote Perry Mason novels whose titles all began with The Case of.)

I’ve been working on a four-novel series using made-up compound words in the titles: The Leafstone Shield, The Ribbonglass Tree, The Heartsong Fountain, and The Firepearl Chalice. The one I’ve never much liked is the word “ribbonglass.” And now that I have an excellent cover artist (Karri Klawiter) working on the series, she’s struggling with how to make a visual image of a Ribbonglass Tree. So now I’m thinking, should I change it?

I think I’m going to change it. My leading candidate, after listing about 30 options, is The Rainbow Tree. Oddly enough, it appears nobody has ever used that title for a novel — that’s the good part. The bad part is, “rainbow” is not a made-up word. It describes the tree well, and has the added benefit that it’s a shorter word, which means it can be put on the cover in a larger font. Also, the other three words are all joinings of single syllables (leafstone, heartsong, firepearl), so the meter of “rainbow” fits better than “ribbonglass.”

But do I dare go with a familiar word? My list of bad alternatives includes lightdance, shimmerflower, glowfruit, silverapple, and sparkglow. The least clumsy of the bunch is shimmerflower, but it’s an even longer word, so it would be just horribly small on the cover.

Along the way I had to change a made-up word that’s not in a title. I had a thing called tumblerock — a patch that might be the size of your back yard, or larger, in which boulders ceaselessly tumble over one another, occasionally colliding and shooting out shards of rock. Tumblerock is deadly, unless you know the right magic spell to pass through it unharmed.

But the tumblerock patches are centuries old, and it occurred to me belatedly that after only a few decades, each of them would be surrounded by a ring of gravel several meters high. Having to climb up over the gravel to reach the tumblerock would be bad storytelling. It would be undignified. It would be silly. So I needed a replacement for tumblerock.

I’m probably going to end up with air-tangles. It’s much the same concept, but now space itself is contorted and in constant motion rather than a bunch of boulders. An air-tangle is just as deadly if you walk into it, but it doesn’t produce inconvenient amounts of gravel. I’m still wondering what you’ll be walking on if you know the magic spell and enter the air-tangle. Walking on air?

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