- Books, Literature, and Writing
The Writer's Mailbag: Installment Fifty
Fifty and Counting
Not bad for a one-time only article. Fifty installments later we’re still going strong. Who woulda thunk it? Certainly not me.
Here we go again. You ask, I answer, and we all come out of it a little bit more informed. At least that’s the hope.
So let’s get started with a follow-up question from Carol about correct grammar and punctuation.
From Carol: "Is it wrong to stretch correct punctuation with non-fiction???
For those who missed last week, this is in response to a question we had about stretching the grammatical limits in fiction writing. Carol wants to know if we can do the same thing in non-fiction.
Is it wrong to do so? I’m not sure the word “wrong” works here. I’m of the belief that there is no right or wrong when writing, but that’s a bit esoteric in the extreme. Non-fiction is a bit of a sticky wicket with regards to proper grammar. Usually non-fiction is, almost by its very nature, grammatically correct. I do think, though, that there are times when the author of a non-fiction can use incorrect grammar, or incorrect punctuation, to make a point, and I have read some non-fiction writers whose natural voice includes some grammatical liberties and it flows smoothly.
I’m going to go back to my original statement: there is no right or wrong in writing, and there are no rules that are buried in cement that can’t be broken. Just take care with non-fiction that you don’t muck it all up by being creative with your grammar.
From Zulma: Hey, Bill. You've talked about how you create your characters here and it's good to know. When you do their 'bios' do you include the environment they grew up in and interactions they had with neighbours, friends, etc? What about a psychological profiles? Any traumatic or particularly happy events?
Zulma, thanks for the question. This idea of doing a bio for characters struck a chord with a number of readers last week, so it’s good to have a follow-up.
When I do the bios I try to make them as detailed as possible. The things you mentioned in your question would certainly be included. As a writer of fiction, I want my characters to be as life-like as possible, so of course they have to have a past that has affected them in some way. Even if I don’t use that information in the novel, it serves as background information for me.
My main characters tend to be complex, so I usually delve deeply into their psyches. I’m working on a vigilante right now, and I want my readers to know why he is the way he is. He was not born to kill. Certain things happened to him while growing up that put him on the path he is on, and I think it’s important to understand that. The same with my main antagonists. I want them to be seen as complex human beings and not just stone-cold killers with a thirst for blood-kill.
Helpful? I hope so!
It’s a Mystery
From Miriam: “I’m working on a novel right now, and I don’t know whether it falls under suspense, thriller or mystery. I know it’s important to name a genre, so how do I decide which one?”
The first thing that came to mind, Miriam, is if you don’t know how can you expect me to know….but I’m being silly when I say that, so please don’t take offense.
This is actually a common problem with writers, and it is an important decision to make. Agents and publishers needs to know which genre your book falls into. Even if you self-publish, you need to name a genre, so yes, you have to make up your mind.
The two you named are, at the very least, murky in definition. Mystery usually relates to a crime being committed and the solving of that crime. It’s when you talk about suspense/thrillers that we really have a problem, so much so that you will often see them lumped together as one. Instead of giving you a definition of a suspense/thriller, let me just say a name….Alfred Hitchcock!
It is entirely possible that your book involves all three in which case drop back ten yards, punt the ball and hope for a great roll. J
From Nadine: I was reading a book the other day, and the story was set in today’s world. The main character spoke like he was from the Sixties, even though he was only thirty years old. I found it distracting and not realistic at all. Can you comment on using the correct dialogue for the correct time period?
Well yes I can, Nadine, and I’m guilty as charged. LOL
A couple months ago I had a beta reader politely chew my butt out for exactly this thing. My main character was using words that were popular four or five decades ago, even though the book is set in today’s time. I didn’t even notice it. I was too close to it, and actually my main character was speaking like I speak. I thought everything was okay. My beta reader told me that everything was not okay.
On the other hand, in my very first novel, The 12/59 Shuttle from Yesterday to Today, I have one character who is a hippy at heart even though he’s only mid-thirties, and he speaks like he time-travelled from 1968, and it seems perfectly appropriate because of who he is.
So consider all that, consider your characters, and be careful as you proceed with dialogue. If you want your book to seem realistic, then the language must be consistent with the characters and the time.
From Bob: “I’ve never published a book before but I’m almost done with my first and I don’t know which route to take. Do I make it an ebook or do I try to find a publisher. Any words of advice?”
How’s that for an honest answer?
If you want the safe route then make an ebook. If you want to pull your hair out daily in frustration then try to find an established agent and/or publisher. But what do you want from your book is probably a better question? Do you just want a book published with no expectations about selling great numbers? Then by all means make an ebook and print on demand through CreateSpace.
Do you want huge sales? Then learn how to be a topnotch marketing expert, because you’ll need to be that no matter how you publish that book.
I’m not trying to be pessimistic, Bob; just realistic.
More Next Week
We’re getting close to the one-year mark for this series, and I find that remarkable, and I have all of you to thank for it….so thank you! I love this series and I’m glad you’ve found it valuable and entertaining for fifty weeks.
Let’s do it again next week, okay?
2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”