No . . . that’s NOT the tagline for my next middle-grade book. It’s the tagline for YOURS.
Let me explain!
I am always on the hunt for new ideas to provoke, inspire, and entertain my teen-aged creative writing students. Many of them tumble down the rabbit hole of a long, epic project and I feel a big part of my job is to simply keep them motivated along the way with short and sweet writing projects.
That is where the The Best Fantasy Book Ever project comes is . . .
The pure unabashed joy of imagining
So many of us writers love imagining the package of a book. We love visualizing it on the shelf of the library or the bookshop, love picturing a reader curled up with our book in their hands. This is the type of enthusiasm I wanted to try and capture in this project. I also wanted my students to really unleash their imagination without having to worrying about actually having to . . . deliver.
The title comes first
I’d be curious to know how many authors start with a title—that is to say, they have a title before they have a first draft of the manuscript, or even a first chapter. Personally, I’m all over the map. I have baptized books very early on in the process with a title, while others it took many drafts of the manuscript before I could settle on a name. (As a side note, I’ve never had a publisher change a book title on me, though I have known many authors who have had this happen.)
As for this project, the title definitely comes first! I ask students to generate the title of a fantasy book using three simple wheels I created and posted on a hidden page on my website.
There are three wheels, each producing its own word. String those words together, plonk a “the” at the beginning and—voilà! You have the title of the Best Fantasy Book Ever.
Here’s the hook
Next, I ask my students to write the back-cover copy for the book. Of course, this serves as an opportunity for me to explain the purpose of this text (NOT to summarize the book, but to sell it) and give some tips on how to write this sort of copy.
The results have been a lot of fun so far—and fantastic. I tried to use words that offer built-in story elements, words such as “last” or “apprentice” or “treason.” I also have a lot of words to suggest fantastical settings, such as “cloud” or “palace.”
I have ended up swapping out a few words here and there since I first built the wheels—I suppose, I could just expand them, too, adding more words, which I might do in the future. So far, though, no two students in any one class have generated the exact same title.
One thing that I find interesting is that very few of my students have felt the need to re-spin the wheels. They could easily do this, and I wouldn’t even know, since all of my classes that I have delivered this project for have been virtually delivered. At the end of the process I always ask how many times they have spun the wheels and I’ve only had a couple of students admit to spinning twice.
There are a lot of possible extensions to this project. Some of my students wrote fake testimonials or reviews to grace their back covers. Others have written biographies of the authors they imagined wrote the books. Some have even written the opening scenes. Others have produced cover designs.
The freedom to create
I’ve now delivered this project to several different groups of teen-aged students, and I’ve had some time to reflect upon the results.
Many of my students get really caught up in creating something perfect. They are so attached to an idea that they want to write that they freeze halfway through a first chapter, petrified by their own dissatisfaction. Others peter out of steam later on in a manuscript because they get stuck on the ongoing nuances of the plot (I call this “Plot Paralysis”).
The Best Fantasy Book Ever project is aimed at helping remove that layer of self-conscious second-guessing. This is a fake book. They don’t have to deliver on it. They have no attachment to it. They just gush out their ideas, then move on.
However . . . there is some magic going on during this process. Because they are not thinking of the big picture, the big possibility, they simply do—and in doing, they are generating fresh ideas, interesting characters, premises, settings, and plot circumstances. Sure they might not write this book . . . but they’ve just bottled a bit of fuel for other projects.
Of course . . . I am waiting for one of my students to tell me they are going to write a book based on the hook they created for the Best Fantasy Book Ever project, because having read some of their back-cover copy . . . well, let’s just say there are some pretty amazing ideas out there!
By the way . . . for my upcoming book, Spell Sweeper, the title came early. I had been contemplating the ideas of magical brooms for a long time, but I wanted to do something with brooms that did NOT involve flying. I finally just asked myself this question: “What if brooms in the magical world were still for sweeping?” From there, the title seemed obvious and natural, though I had a few variations: The Secret Society of Spell Sweepers, Caradine Moone and the Secret Society of Spell Sweepers, and (my favorite): Cara Moone Definitely Does Not Want to Be A Spell Sweeper. Pretty quickly, though, I decided that the simpler Spell Sweeper was the best fit.
You can pre-order Spell Sweeper here. As you can see by the cover image, the tagline is NOT the Best Fantasy Book Ever—it’s Magic is Messy.