Thursday, August 21, 2008

Titles and Grammar (again)

Titles are tough, but some perverse part of me enjoys coming up with them. Kind of like finding that elusive word in the morning paper’s crossword puzzle. Not that I’m all that good at that, either.

I love the title Burden of Memory, which tells us something about the book. Doesn’t everyone have a burdensome memory, which may be an act we hope no one ever knows about? Good stuff for a mystery. Same with In the Shadow of the Glacier. Glacier? That’s scary already.

I never liked the title of my first book, Primitive Secrets, though I was trying (too?) hard to fit the title to the story I was trying to tell. And it seemed to come across as a little forced. I thought the title to my second book, The Green Room, was perfect because it’s a surf term, and the mystery takes place during a big surfing contest on Oahu’s North Shore. I should have known if I thought it was brilliant there would be a pitfall. Sure enough, DUH, non-TV person that I am, I forgot that the green room is also a place where a guest waits to go on the air. I’ve never been sure if the double meaning, as it turned out, was a good or bad thing.

Someone—and it may have been Barbara Peters—told me once that a title mentioning snakes is a bad idea. Not that I’ve been writing about snakes, but it could happen. (We don’t have any snakes in Hawai‘i, and people are working hard to keep it that way.) There are plenty of other frightening creatures, though, some with fins, some with legs—usually two.

Fire Prayer is the title of the third book, which refers to a type of Hawaiian sorcery. The word prayer is sort of a pun, as it’s used to mean both the plea and the supplicant. The next book, coming out early ’09, is called Pleasing the Dead. Because one of the characters is, well, you’ll find out. I hope people like it—the title and the book.

On another, but word-related topic, not long ago I was scanning DorothyL and came across a discussion/argument on the use of the word bad. As in, “I felt bad.” An author wrote that the word bad is an adverb, so the above sentence should be written, “I felt badly.” To me, the latter example meant that the speaker would be a wash-up at Braille.

So I looked it up, and here’s what I found. The following example came from my kids’ school’s website, where there is an excellent source of questions and answers pertaining to English usage. In case you want it, the link is: http://www.iolani.honolulu.hi.us/Keables/KeablesGuide/Start/contents.htm
This information is corroborated by another of my favorite grammar books, Woe is I, by Patricia T. O’Connor. Now that’s a title I can appreciate!

Whereas action verbs require adverbs ("I run slowly"), linking verbs (to be, to become, to feel, to seem) require predicate adjectives. Often people mistakenly use adverbs with to feel:
WRONG: I feel badly. RIGHT: I feel bad.
To act can be an action verb, requiring an adverb, or a linking verb, requiring a predicate adjective:
ACTION VERB: The Oscar winner acted brilliantly.
LINKING VERB: I acted innocent, but Mom knew I had broken her vase.

5 comments:

NL Gassert said...

I love Woe is I, it’s one of my favorite grammar reference books. I’m not much for titles, though. I’ve never been good at them. Imagine my surprise when my working title The Protector ended up on the cover of my book. How cool was that?

I love your titles. I think they work very well. I cannot wait to read Pleasing the Dead.

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

Nadja, thank you! Hey, we miss you big time. Howzit?

And The Protector is an excellent title.

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