Q: What is the correct punctuation for the following?
“You makin’ fun of my name, or you be callin’ me a buzzard?” Linus asked.
Kendra’s infuriating “Whatever” was followed by “If the buzzard-shoe
fits, lace it up.”
A: The punctuation is fine as is, as long as the sentence beginning “Kendra’s” starts a new paragraph, which didn’t seem to be the case in the e-mail, but that’s a format issue and not a punctuation issue.
Also not a punctuation issue is my concern about the use of dialect (makin’, callin’) which is not recommended, for quite a few reasons. Rarely can an author maintain the dialect throughout, and when one does, dialectical dialogue grows tedious for readers. Dialect is not only difficult to write but also difficult to read, and many publishers shun it. Instead of dropping letters to show dialect, rely on word choice to show the speaking style of characters, as was skillfully done in the last piece of dialogue, “If the buzzard-shoe fits, lace it up.” More on punctuation rules. Visit the Book Doctor for more writer resources.
Q: Where can I find an established writer to write my husband’s story?
A: Let’s first discuss the term “established,” because I want to be sure you are informed about the writing business. Most established authors and ghostwriters will not co-write a book without getting paid up front, because their time is valuable, they know how difficult it is to sell a book to a publisher, and they know that even if a publisher buys the book, the royalties on it can be abysmal. For those reasons, established writers won’t “write on spec,” as we call it, a term that refers to the speculation that the book might sell, and if it does, the writer would participate in the royalties. Unless you have $10,000 to $25,000 to pay an established writer or ghostwriter, look for someone who is not yet established. For a writer willing to work on spec, call around to find a college with an MFA program in creative writing or a Masters in Professional Writing program. Ask the program coordinator how to get your request to students. Perhaps one of the students will take on your husband’s story as a writing project and use it toward getting a degree.
If, however, you have the funds to pay an established ghostwriter for your book, many are registered with writers organizations. Search the Internet, and be sure to get references on the person you choose.
Q: I’m usually good at creating characters, but I’m having a devil of a hard time with creating the protagonist for my novel. I don’t want him to drink or smoke, so on the face of it he’s picture perfect--too perfect. I’d like to give him vices, perhaps even a schism or an addiction, maybe even be self-destructive; however, drugs, sex, and alcohol just seem too cliché. Nothing really comes to mind or “feels right.” Do you have any suggestions or perhaps a method you can suggest?
A: You are correct that you don’t want any of your characters, even the good guys, to be all good or all bad. We all have our flaws, so your characters should have flaws as well.
Here’s a possible technique for adding flaws to your characters: Read the traits allegedly applied to various signs of the Zodiac. Most listings of traits give the good traits first and then the darker side of those traits, the ones that can go to extremes and become negative. Use one or two of those negative traits for your protagonist, to show his dark side. In this way you won’t use traits that are overused by other authors to make a character less than perfect.
When reading those personality traits, you’ll find realistic things that even good people can do when they allow their dark sides to prevail on occasion. For example, I know a fine, intelligent man who is romantic, loving, generous, helpful, and kind. If someone doesn’t want his help though, or if he thinks his efforts are being rebuffed, he gets defensive and even sometimes shouts, slams down the phone, or says hurtful things.
As another example, I am a Virgo, and most horoscopes say I am organized, diligent, and a good communicator, which is all true; however, on the dark side, when things get disorganized, I can feel frustrated and defeated and get depressed, if I’m not careful.
What’s your question about writing or publishing? Bobbie Christmas, book doctor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at www.zebraeditor.com.