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Expert Advice from a Gotham Teacher

Every two weeks Gotham's Brandi Reissenweber answers questions submitted by readers of The Writer magazine.  If you have questions for our expert, you can submit them to writingquestions[at]

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  1. What’s the difference between literary fiction and commercial fiction? The Response
  2. I’ve entered many short story contests and I’ve placed in a few, but haven’t won yet. I feel like I’m missing something. What are judges looking for?  The Response
  3. Can you explain the difference between historical fiction and creative nonfiction? Are they interchangeable or are there definite differences between the two? It seems rather blurry to me. The Response
  4. It has been a lifelong dream of mine to write a fiction novel. I haven't written since high school and have just started writing again. I've joined a few writers’ workshops. Should I improve my writing before I really get too far into my novel to avoid major rewrites? The Response
  5. I'm confused about how to reveal direct thought in first person. Can it just be included with the rest of the narrative? Or should I use italics? The Response
  6. In my current story, my grammar check keeps adding "and" before some of my sentences that include "then." For example: "We took off, then he called." Its happens a lot with this narrator. When I add the "and" the sentence sounds wrong. Is there another way to deal with this? The Response
  7. Can you tell me where I could search to find a literary agent? How can I tell if the agent is honest, trustworthy, and worth his/her fees? How should I proceed to approach them to get positive results? The Response
  8. I'm preparing my first application for a writer's residency and they ask for a sample. This is stopping me cold. I have written plenty, but I have no idea what to send. The Response
  9. I am writing a nonfiction book on a trial recently in the news. I have done thorough research and know the characters well. I want to share the feelings, thoughts, and motivations of my characters based on that research. I am getting some resistance from fiction writers who admonish me to be transparent in what they call speculation. My thinking is that the research informs my writing, and the reader will understand my sources by the time they have read the entire book. Am I wrong about this?  The Response
  10. An editor at a conference suggested I learn about cumulative sentences. What are they?  The Response
  11. Writers are often instructed to use only one point of view in a novel. However, I note that some authors use multiple points of view - often in the same chapter. Are multiple points of view okay if transitions are not jarring and the reader isn't overloaded?  The Response
  12. Is "OK" or "okay" the correct spelling? What about the past tense? The Response
  13. What is a memoir and how is it different than an autobiography? Can memoir take more liberties with what's true?  The Response
  14. What's the Oxford comma?  The Response
  15. I'd like to write a memoir with my sister, but I've never seen a book like this with two authors. Is it possible?  The Response
  16. I've written a trilogy (three book-length manuscripts), but I'm not sure where to end each book. Is it okay to end on a cliffhanger that's resolved in the first chapter of the next book?  The Response
  17. I'm writing a character whose first language isn't English. In using English, though, he uses a lot of common phrases. My readers are taking issue with this. After a number of years in a country, wouldn't he pick up phrases like "that takes the cake" and "you're pulling my leg"?  The Response
  18. Here's the sentence of concern: "She was tired of living out of a suitcase, in dimly lit motel rooms, and driving for entire days." I write a lot of sentences like this where I think there's something wrong, but I can;t tell what.  The Response
  19. I'm not sure how to write description so that it seems like it's coming from the character. Isn't description just a way to help the reader see something?  The Response
  20. I know some authors write short stories and novels, but what about different types of writing? I'm writing a novel but I'm also interested in poetry. Is it possible to write in both or do authors usually just stick to one?  The Response
  21. I've written most my life, but it's not until my retirement from a career in banking that I've started really putting in the time. I'm hopeful about my progress but I get easily discouraged because of my age. Is it just too late for me?  The Response
  22. I'm interested in learning more about the early writing of writers I admire. How do I track this down?  The Response
  23. I'm writing a short story that relies on recent real-life events specifically, the rash of mass shootings and the demise of the Twinkie. I'm concerned that while these might be relevant to readers today, they might be less so even a few months from now, when the short might actually find its way into an editor's hands. How can a writer keep current events like these fresh and meaningful to later audiences? The Response
  24. Should the word Earth always be capitalized?  The Response
  25. How do you remain focused on a current work of writing without getting distracted and starting a whole new story? I often come up with many ideas that draw me in and tempt me to begin working on another story, but then I lose interest in the previous story I was working on. My current strategy is to jot down an idea I may have so that I can look back at it and flesh the rest of it out. The Response
  26. My question concerns the use of a foreign language in a novel. I am writing a spy novel with a plot that begins in North Korea and has American characters, including the protagonist, a CIA hired assassin. When the Korean-speaking characters are talking to each other, should I write the dialogue in Korean or do I write it in English? I have been writing the dialogues only in English as the book is, after all, going to be sold in the west and perhaps South Korea. The Response
  27. I find feedback perplexing. I can't make everyone happy and sometimes people disagree. How do I know when advice is good?  The Response
  28. I'm writing a story in the voice of a pre-teen and I want to get across the text culture she lives in. I tried writing the story using spelling she would write in a text, but I'm not sure it's working.  The Response
  29. I have a lot of creative writing classes under my belt, but I feel compelled to take more. At what point are classes no longer useful? The Response
  30. I've seen both "color" and "colour" in print. Which is right? The Response
  31. I'm interested in stories that are set in unique locations. I'll pick a setting, but then I can't get the hang of mixing in all the other important things, like character and conflict. Do I have to start with character? The Response
  32. In a writing class, my teacher said we should always use present tense when talking about the action in a novel. Is this right? The Response
  33. I usually find ideas from real life that would make great short stories. How can I make it fiction instead of just retelling the real event? The Response
  34. Do I really need to bother with a cover letter when submitting my short stories? The Response
  35. How do authors come up with stories?  The Response
  36. My story settings are similar to where I live, but I prefer to use fictional names. How do I go about making the names up?  The Response
  37. I'm writing a novel about a family of seven. The novel is about the whole family, but I keep wondering if I should focus on just one character as the main character. Can a novel have multiple characters as main characters? The Response
  38. I always learned in school not to use contractions in writing, but I see it all the time in fiction. It makes sense to use it in dialogue, but what about everywhere else? The Response
  39. I can never seem to get past the first draft. I know revising is important, but I just don't know how to start and I'm really dreading it. Can you help?  The Response
  40. I use a lot of idioms in my writing because it seems to me that is how my characters would talk. I use phrases like, "she's slower than molasses" and "that fits her like a glove." Are these considered clichés? Should I avoid them?  The Response
  41. I wonder if some stories just fizzle out, no matter how much revision go into them. When should I call it quits on a short story? The Response
  42. While researching publishers, I notice many of the larger ones have imprints. What are these?  The Response
  43. I read advice and exercises for writers that use the term "freewrite." What does this mean? The Response
  44. Who are Stunk and White and why is their book The Elements of Style< supposed to be on every writer's shelf? The Response
  45. I'm so tired of writing characters who are a version of myself, but when I try to branch out, I end up freezing. Do you have any suggestions?  The Response
  46. How do I punctuate dialogue when a character is quoting someone else?  The Response
  47. How do I begin a story that needs a lot of explanation, like when it takes place in another time or if the character has an extraordinary skill?  The Response
  48. I often get tripped up when I list things. What's wrong with this sentence: "She would stammer over the tea cakes, keep the butter in the refrigerator too long, and there were no napkins in the holder." The Response
  49. What is a novella? How is it different than a short story? The Response
  50. When writing dialogue, do I always have to follow a question with the verb "asked" or can I use "said" too? The Response
  51. What's the difference between science fiction and fantasy? The Response
  52. I'm meticulous about grammar in my manuscripts but I'm casual in emails. I don't always capitalize or use periods. I use the typical abbreviations. I think it comes across as friendly, but a writer I recently emailed blasted me for it. Doesn;t everyone go easy on the rules in email these days? The Response
  53. Is it legitimate to use first person if the character is a man and the author is a woman? Or if the character is from Russia and the writer is from the US? Isn't that what third person is for?  The Response
  54. Can I use several question marks when a character is confused? Or that little mark with a question mark and an exclamation mark when a character shouts a question? The Response
  55. An editor wrote this in the margins of my story: "red herring." What does that mean?  The Response
  56. If I can start a sentence with "and" or "but," why can't I start a sentence with "because"?  The Response
  57. When sending out submissions, what do I write in a cover letter?  The Response
  58. Do I italicize the title of a short story? What about poem titles? The Response
  59. What's this business about "Chekhov's gun"?  The Response
  60. Can I use "etc." or "et cetera" in a short story? The Response
  61. I'm interesting in working with symbolism in my fiction, but I can't seem to do it without making it so obvious that's what I'm doing. Do you have any advice? The Response
  62. I'm always on the look out for interesting ideas for first lines. I've read plenty on how to do this well, but I'm interested in more examples, particularly from fiction that's contemporary. Can you help? The Response
  63. I'm working on a story about a character climbing a mountain. There are plenty of obstacles and she is often in peril. Readers aren't thrilled, though and, to be honest, I'm not either. Is it possible I'm just not suited to write action-adventure? The Response
  64. Can I begin a sentence with "and?" The Response
  65. What are common mistakes you see in the plots of writers who are new to writing? The Response
  66. I'm writing a story set at the New York World's Fair in 1939. It seems like a lot to write out each time it comes up in the story. Can I simply call it the fair? The Response
  67. In his ten rules for writers, Elmore Leonard advises that writers "avoid detailed descriptions of characters." Do you know why? Isn't this one way to characterize? The Response
  68. I can't find the rules for the correct spelling of "e-mail." Some do ";e-mail," others do simply "email." Which is right? The Response
  69. Where can a writer surprise the reader? It seems this mostly happens in endings. What about other parts of a story? The Response
  70. I've revised a story over and over for the last six months and it still doesn't seem right. I'm fed up with it. I've taken all the advice out there on revision and I'm still at a loss. What can you tell me that I haven't already tried a thousand times? The Response
  71. I like to create settings that are creative but plausible, even if they may not exist or aren't well known. (In other words, I don't want to write fantasy or sci-fi.) I don't find a lot of fiction that does this. Is it out there? The Response
  72. I've been having debates with fellow writers on the merits of using dashes over commas (specifically to separate parenthetical clauses) and vice-versa. How interchangeable are these points of punctuation? The Response
  73. Is it ever appropriate to kill off or maim a character in the first sentences of a short story? The Response
  74. How do I reveal a first person narrator's name? The Response
  75. I have trouble making jumps in time clear to the reader. How can I do this? The Response
  76. I've read that characters sometimes have favorite expressions and that using these in dialogue can make them seem more real. I've been looking for this as I read, but I'm just not coming across any examples. Can you help? The Response
  77. I recently finished the first draft my first short story. I've never gotten to the end of a story, so I'm excited. But I just don't have it in me to start revising. It's enough to just finish the thing. I worry this means I might not be cut out to be a writer. What do you think? The Response
  78. If a character asks a question, does the question mark go inside or outside the quotation mark? The Response
  79. I'm tired of one or two word titles. They don't seem to give the kind of insight into the story that I'm hoping my titles will give. But I run into the problem of making titles too convoluted. What can I do about this? The Response
  80. My protagonist has two friends. Their personalities are similar, but they're still different characters. It seems like a lot of work to cut one out and I don't see the harm in keeping them both in the story. What do you think? The Response
  81. Is it possible to use too much dialogue? The Response
  82. Should a question mark follow a question when it's summarized? Here's an example: Lisa asked why didn't her mom get the letter yet? The Response
  83. I make a resolution to write more every year. However, I'm rarely able to keep my resolution much past the second week of January. Any suggestions on how I can be more successful? The Response
  84. I'm self-publishing my novel and I'm hesitant to hire an editor. I don't want to lose control over it. I'm proud of how it turned out and I can't imagine what an editor would say--about the story or the grammar--that would make a significant difference. Is it really so bad to just skip this part of the process? The Response
  85. A character in my novel is grumpy. Yes, he has other traits and he's not one-dimensional, but when you get right down to it, he's not pleasant to be around. I'm worried about his dialogue. He's always shouting at someone or saying something unkind. His other traits come through his thoughts, mostly. Is that okay? The Response
  86. Do I really have to start a new paragraph every time someone different talks? It seems to take up a lot of room on the page. The Response
  87. Does a character have to fail in order for a story or novel to have enough conflict? The Response
  88. Is there anything wrong with starting a lot of sentences with verbs that end in -ing? Here'san example: "Swinging the bat, the ball soared past the wooden fence."  The Response
  89. I want to write a novel told by three characters, but I'm stuck. I've tried first person, but then it skews to one character. Third person omniscient isn't working either. What now? The Response
  90. Aren't clichés actually dead metaphors or similes? "He was tall, dark and handsome" is, to be sure, hackneyed language but it's not a cliché; An individual may, literally, be tall, dark and handsome. The Response
  91. I'm overwhelmed with my memoir. The writing seems unwieldy if I try to feature every single person and all the major events. How can I handle this?  The Response
  92. Is it worth the extra money to pay for online classes that offer college credit? Will the credit help me get published? The Response
  93. In pursuing a writing career, how important is it for one to have an MFA? The Response
  94. How long should it take to write a short story? The Response
  95. I often hear writers say, "write what you know." But how can this be if you want to write fantasy or science fiction? The Response
  96. Which is correct: "six or ten-day trip" or "six- or ten-day trip"? The Response
  97. What is indirect dialogue? The Response
  98. I am a little confused on when to use "to" or "too" in a sentence. Please explain. The Response
  99. Why would I want to use an unreliable narrator when writing in first person?  The Response
  100. What's the difference between flash fiction and a short short story? The Response
  101. When I read, I don't like to slog through a lot of description of where the characters are, so in my short stories I usually name a place and leave it at that. Is that enough?  The Response
  102. My first story will be published by a small on-line magazine. They've asked for a biography. What should I include? Should it be written in first or third person? I asked the editor and he wrote back saying there were no real guidelines, just to keep it brief.  The Response
  103. I've had enough of the grind of sending out story submissions and collecting rejections. Are there other ways to get my short stories into print without self-publishing?  The Response
  104. An editor rejected one of my short stories with a note that I should proofread carefully before submitting. One of the sentences he circled was this: "I can't hardly wait for the game to start." What's wrong with it?  The Response
  105. I have an amateurish habit of using ellipses, the three dots all in a row that are supposed to indicate hesitation, interruption, or unfinished thoughts. Should there be spaces in between each dot? What about before and after?  The Response
  106. How do I break my habit of using so many ellipses?  The Response
  107. My writing instructor recommends writers avoid using a thesaurus, but I find it's a great way to discover new words. What's wrong with using one?  The Response
  108. Many experts advise using Courier New, 12 pt font for manuscripts but the print is so large that not many words fit on a line. My manuscript looks better using a smaller size or a different font, such as Verdana. Should I always follow the advice or go with what looks better on my manuscript?  The Response
  109. An editor sent me extensive notes on a short story I submitted and asked to see a revision but she hasn't actually accepted the story for publication. Do I bother with all these revisions in the hope she will accept it or just try my luck elsewhere?  The Response
  110. Can a story have too many comparisons?  The Response
  111. When a writer uses first person, is it possible to include what another character might be thinking without changing point of view? If so, how?  The Response
  112. How does a writer choose a pen name?  The Response
  113. I've never been to a writers' colony but it seems like they come with a lot of hassle—the application, the lengthy wait to hear back, the high rejection rates and sometimes even fees—for what amounts to a quiet vacation. I'm sure I'm missing something. So, what's the point? The Response
  114. The main character in my novel is strongly influenced by a character who never actually appears in the novel. (She's part of his past.) Some of my readers object and say I should re-think this and perhaps give them a scene together. Every scene I come up with feels contrived. They just wouldn't cross paths. Are there examples in literature of characters who have a profound influence but don't actually appear in the story?  The Response
  115. Most the writers I know plot out a short story before they write it. I don't do this. I just have an idea and start writing. Is there a right way to do this?  The Response
  116. In a short story, should I use a little squiggle or hash mark or just skip a line when switching to a different scene? The Response
  117. My writers' group agreed that my recent short story submission was too long, but it's only three double spaced pages. How is that possible?  The Response
  118. I use words like "moreover" and "ergo" in my fiction. Others tell me this is too stodgy. This is the voice I find most comfortable. Must I change it? The Response
  119. I understand appearance is often cited as one way to characterize, but isn't this misleading? What a character looks like doesn't necessarily reveal the truth about him.  The Response
  120. What's wrong with using cliches? They're easily understood, so it seems like a good way to write clearly.  The Response
  121. Can I start a story with a line of dialogue? The Response
  122. This sentence has a question in it: "I wondered if she'd ever take me seriously?" However, I've been told it should end with a period. Why? The Response
  123. Is there a preferred length for flashbacks? The Response
  124. An editor sent me an email saying he read an article I recently published in another magazine. He wants to republish the piece and pay me some money and asked me to send a digital copy and my social security number. I'm leery because he contacted me, but could this be legit?  The Response
  125. I know it's important to give a character a unique voice in dialogue, but what about the story itself? When writing in first person, does the whole story have to sound like the main character?  The Response
  126. I hear about literary magazines, but I never actually see them for sale. Where do I find them?  The Response
  127. My character witnessed a murder when she was a teenager. My novel isn't about the murder, but that experience does influence her. Should I write it as a flashback? The Response
  128. Here's a sentence in question: The children went home to their house. Should "house" be singular or plural? What about if the children follow their nose? Is "nose" singular or plural?  The Response
  129. How should I keep track of where I've sent my stories?  The Response
  130. Are words like "band" and "jury" singular or plural?  The Response
  131. I'd like to keep a journal, but I never know what to write in one. How do I start? The Response
  132. Should I write out numbers or use numerals?  The Response
  133. I like the idea of using letters in fiction, but I don't see this often. What about email? Is anything off limits? The Response
  134. What is the difference between valuable and invaluable?  The Response
  135. I'm having trouble with a violent scene in my novel. I keep coming back to this question: How much action is too much? The Response
  136. Is someone waiting "on line" or "in line"? The Response
  137. Does a story or novel have to have an antagonist? The Response
  138. Do I need to get an ISBN number for my unpublished manuscript? The Response
  139. I'm revising a first person story and I'm frustrated that so many sentences start with "I." Some paragraphs have at least four sentences that begin that way. Some have even more. Is this just par for the course with a first person narrator or am I doing something wrong?  The Response
  140. I have a tendency to overuse the word "seem." I catch a lot of these uses in revision, but I often need an outside reader to help, too. How can I curb this tendency? The Response
  141. Friends and family often ask me what my novel-in-progress is about but I'm reluctant to share. I trust them so I don't know why I feel this way. Would it be better for me to get over this and talk about it? The Response
  142. A character asks a series of questions all in a row. Right now, the dialogue looks like this: "Did you leave it in your car, in your office or at school?" Should I break it up into separate sentences: "Did you leave it in your car? What about your office? Is it at school?" The Response
  143. I'm writing a short story in which a secondary character is important to the plot but is only in one short scene. Is that okay?  The Response
  144. In a previous column ("Writing slumps; showing your work to others") you write, "It is also useful to consider who you show your work to." Shouldn't you have used whom instead of who? Am I missing some obscure rule or was this just an oversight? The Response
  145. I get stuck every time I start a new chapter. The blank page makes me feel like I'm beginning the novel all over again. How can I avoid this? The Response
  146. I'm new to submitting my poetry, and many journals' submission guidelines say that they pay in "contributor's copies." What does this mean? The Response
  147. What novels are "must reads" for fiction writers? The Response
  148. I start a lot of sentences with the word "there," but I'm not sure how to reword them. Is this really a problem? The Response
  149. One of my characters is a botanist and her occupation is important to the story. However, I don't know much about botany---just enough to give some specifics. Is this enough? I'm worried that she won't be a believable character. Maybe I should just stick to what I know. The Response
  150. How do I know when to start a new paragraph? The Response
  151. I'm writing a novel about a family and the children are in junior high and high school. I'm struggling with their dialogue. What I've managed to write either sounds too adult or is rife with stereotype. I'm sure that some of the language is outdated, too, as I'm drawing on my own teen years. How can I make this work? The Response
  152. Going by the rules of when to use "a" and "an," I think "an one man show" is correct but "a one man show" sounds right. Which is it? The Response
  153. I haven't felt very inspired lately, so I haven't been writing much and I'm worried about this. Is there anything I can do? The Response
  154. I'm embarrassed to admit that I don't know the true distinction between "there," "their," and "they're." I mess these up often enough that I could use clarification. The Response
  155. When writing in first person, I have the narrator say, "My face turned red" and "a blush spread across my cheeks." Is this okay? She's not looking in the mirror so she can't see it happening, but she's embarrassed and knows it's happening. The Response
  156. I mistakenly switch from past to present tense when writing. How do I avoid this? The Response
  157. When I workshopped a short story recently, everyone assumed the narrator was a man. This is probably because I'm a man. I think this is the reader's problem--they shouldn't make assumptions--but the group insisted I should do something about it. Who's right? The Response
  158. I'm writing about the root of the lotus and I keep going back and forth between "the lotus' root" and "the lotus's root." Which is right? The Response
  159. Usually a character's name just comes to me, but that's not happening this time. I don't know where to start. What should I do? The Response
  160. I know that submitting a hard copy requires beginning the story halfway down the first page. Should an on-line submission be done the same way? The Response
  161. I am working on a novel told primarily in first person with one narrator. However, I want to change this from time to time and tell another character's story. Can I do this without confusing the reader? The Response
  162. I need help settling this disagreement with a friend: One space or two after a period? The Response
  163. Thanks so much for going deeper into third person narrator information. It spins my thinking into tornadic twists. But now you leave me with new questions. I feel that I'm on the brink of a great new discovery. Can you recommend books that would lead me on? The Response
  164. Is the word "everybody" plural or singular? What about the word "nobody"? The Response
  165. I've taken many fiction classes. In a university, you know you're done when you get the degree. Since I'm not working toward a degree, how do I know I'm done? The Response
  166. I'm going to a book release party for a friend of mine and I know her agent will be there, too. Should I try and find him to tell him about my novel? The Response
  167. In a recent response on third person narrators, you gave an illustration of Joyce Carol Oates opening in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" I'm still a little confused. Who is the third person narrator in this short story? The author? Or is it Connie's mother? To me, the narrator in this opening scene is omniscient hanging above the scene seeing and knowing everything. The Response
  168. Should I use past or present tense when writing about my book in a query letter? The Response
  169. I'm ready to find out what others think about my poems, but I'm afraid to share them. How can I get past this? The Response
  170. A writing instructor marked an entire scene in my short story as "redundant." How can a whole scene, with everything that goes on in one, be redundant? The Response
  171. What do you do when the words just aren't coming? Is it okay to just take a break? The Response
  172. Is it possible to get published these days without an MFA? The Response
  173. Is it all right to write a story with very little dialogue? The Response
  174. When publishing a story, do I have to take an editor's advice on revisions? The Response
  175. Do I really need to spend a lot of time doing a final proofread before submitting my fiction? Isn't that what an editor does? The Response
  176. I've heard the advice that writers should read whatever they can, even if it's bad. Why bother? The Response
  177. I'm only able to write fiction in first person. When I try third, it ends up sounding stiff and boring. What can I do? The Response
  178. How do I indicate that a character is repeating someone else's words when speaking? Using quotation marks inside of quotation marks seems confusing. The Response
  179. I know all about closure when it comes to endings, but I never know how to finalize a story. What makes for a great last line? The Response
  180. What is exposition? The Response
  181. Is it possible to have too much action in a scene? The Response
  182. What are epigraphs? The Response
  183. Should I use flashbacks or summary when giving my character's background? The Response
  184. Are contests that charge a fee legit? The Response
  185. I just read with interest your column on writings with a twist at the end. What if one ends the story untidily, skips several spaces on page, and in the next paragraph the writer turns off his computer that he just wrote the story on, turns off the light, and pushes back his chair. Is that an acceptable ending? The Response
  186. Can writers use made up words in realistic fiction? The Response
  187. I want to write a short story about claustrophobia. How do I develop this idea? The Response
  188. What is the difference between a short story and a vignette? The Response
  189. What is a creative writing portfolio and why would I need one? The Response
  190. What's the difference between "whose" and "who's"? The Response
  191. I've been in a lot of creative writing classes and I'm thinking about taking some time off. I'm worried that I won't write as much on my own. How can I make the transition without losing steam? The Response
  192. When should I use a dash? The Response
  193. I'm told that sometimes my fiction reads too fast. How can I slow it down and still keep things intense? The Response
  194. How do I know when to capitalize titles, like those of family members, political offices, or rank? Does "mom" get capitalized? Does "president" always begin with a capital letter? I've seen these words both ways. The Response
  195. How much setting do you really need? Is it enough to describe the place well and then just move on and focus on character and plot? The Response
  196. What is a magazine's masthead and where would I find it? The Response
  197. I'm in the military and am currently serving outside the United States. Is there a course of study available for an online, untraditional student that will challenge me to become a better writer? The Response
  198. Where do you put the apostrophe and when you want to show two people own something? For example, is "Linda and Carl's home" or "Linda's and Carl's home" correct? The Response
  199. I recently read a short story that was one long letter from one character to another. The structure inspired me. Are there other interesting story structures like this that I just haven't come across? The Response
  200. What makes a group of books a series? The Response
  201. I like to write stories that have a twist at the end, something to shock the reader. My writing group says they don't like this. Are twist endings passé or am I in the wrong writing group? The Response
  202. What is personification? The Response
  203. I'd like to start trying to get some of my creative writing published. How do I know where to send it? The Response
  204. What is the difference between "toward" and "towards"? The Response
  205. As a young writer who's been at it for four years, I'm wondering how to cope with rejection. Although I have had one short story accepted at a respected literary magazine, I find the relentless rejection--especially to my novel--very discouraging. Do you have any tips on how to not let it get you down? The Response
  206. I entered a poetry contest and learned that my poem is a semi-finalist and that it can be published in their anthology for a fee. Is this common? The Response
  207. Can a novel or short story have too much dialogue? The Response
  208. I notice more journals are accepting work online. Is this really a good idea? The Response
  209. My character has a unique situation that I need to establish early on. Is it okay to summarize this before starting the action of the story? The Response
  210. Should all poetry lines end with a comma or period? The Response
  211. When writing in first person, do I automatically have to use the main character as the narrator? The Response
  212. How do I choose a name for a town that I made up? The Response
  213. When writing a story, who tells it? The Response
  214. What is a ghostwriter? The Response
  215. I keep hearing the advice that writers should read. I still don't get it. Why is this so important? The Response
  216. Can I submit two short stories to the same journal? The Response
  217. What's the difference between a round and flat character? The Response
  218. How can I reveal the gender of a character who doesn't have strong gender-specific traits? The Response
  219. I've started submitting to literary journals and haven't heard back. The wait is excruciating. Why does it take so long? The Response
  220. How long does it take for someone who just started writing to get published? The Response
  221. I started my short story with a character waking up in the morning and I was told this is a bad idea. What's wrong with it? The Response
  222. When a character asks a question, does the question mark go right after the question, or at the end of the sentence after I indicate who said it? The Response
  223. I hear the advice to "write what you know." Does that mean I should only write based on my experience? The Response
  224. Why do journals and magazines use form rejection letters? Wouldn't their comments help make writers better? The Response
  225. I'm writing a story based on a difficult situation while I'm in the midst of it. Is this a good idea, or should I wait until later? The Response
  226. Can I submit an excerpt of my novel to magazines to try and get it published before the whole novel is finished? The Response
  227. I always hear it's a good idea for writers to keep a journal, but what am I supposed to write in it? The Response
  228. Can a published poem be entered in a poetry contest put on by a journal other than the one it was published in? The Response
  229. I'm told my stories sound too formal, but I'm following rules and advice I've learned over years of literature classes. What am I doing wrong? The Response
  230. A magazine that accepted my article is sending me a galley. What's that? The Response
  231. How can I make summary interesting? The Response
  232. I like to use the thesaurus, but my critique group says I should put it away. Isn't the point of creative writing to find the perfect word? The Response
  233. In a critique I got lambasted for a story that ended where the character finally got what she wanted. What's wrong with that? The Response
  234. After sending out query letters for my first novel, an agent contacted me asking to see a sample, and now she's asked to see the whole thing. She wants to have it "on exclusive." What does this mean? The Response
  235. I am writing a story about a girl who is ten. Her early life is important and dramatic, but will I discourage older readers with a five-year-old main character? Are flashbacks appropriate in this case? The Response
  236. If I send a query to a publisher or agent and they accept it, do they send a formal contract or money to write the book? The Response
  237. It seems clunky to explain relationships or basic information, such as age or occupation, when first introducing characters. Is there a way to avoid this? The Response
  238. I'm new to publishing and I've noticed some writers send queries to see if a publisher wants them to write a book. I thought that writers were supposed to have the whole book already written and send that. What's right? The Response
  239. I am having difficulty with the dialogue of my story. I have the premise of what I want to write but I feel like the dialogue isn't good compared to books I have read. I am interested in romance writing and wanted to know if there is a book you recommend on dialogue. The Response
  240. I'm at a point in researching the market that I don't know where else to look for places to publish my personal narrative pieces. What can I do when I've exhausted the well-known market resources? I'd love to find more magazines. Any suggestions? The Response
  241. I'm writing a story set in an actual city, but I'm not staying true to the reality of it. How much can I invent? The Response
  242. Using 'he said' or 'she said' to indicate who is talking sounds awkward sometimes. How can I change things up but still make it clear who is speaking? The Response
  243. I'm interested in creative writing, but I'm not sure how to go about it. How do I get started? The Response
  244. Can I try and publish my fan fiction? The Response
  245. I want to write, but something else always seems to come up. It's not an issue of desire. I genuinely want to write. With a full-time job, family, and other obligations, am I just not cut out for this? The Response
  246. I received a rejection note that had some comments from the journal's editor. They liked the writing, but felt the plot was undeveloped. I've only gotten form rejections in the past, so I'm not sure what to do. Should I revise and resubmit it? The Response
  247. I've been writing a novel for the last six years. Parts of it have been workshopped and it has undergone extensive revision. Now, I need somebody to read the entire novel and tell me what to do to make it publishable. I don't think I'm ready for an editor. I think I need a story evaluator. The Response
  248. How long should it take to write a novel? The Response
  249. What is telling detail? Does it have anything to do with the advice to show and not tell? The Response
  250. When it's time to quit writing, what's the best place to stop so I can easily get started again? The Response
  251. I'm debating whether to use a profane word in a particularly traumatic scene in my book. When is it all right to use profanity? If I keep the word in, could that be a problem when I try to publish? The Response
  252. I don't understand rights in the new e-world. If you publish your writing on your own blog, is that no longer unpublished? The Response
  253. What is flash fiction? The Response
  254. What should I put in a cover letter when submitting to literary journals? The Response
  255. I want to write a scene that my character didn't witness. She knows about it, but wasn't there. I don't want to switch into another character's perspective because I don't do that anywhere else. Should I have my character talk about this with a character who did witness it? The Response
  256. In manuscripts, should I indent the first line of a paragraph or can I just skip a line and not indent the first line? Indenting looks so old fashioned. The Response
  257. A friend of mine, who has a pretty interesting life, recently approached me to write his life story. I've taken fiction writing classes at Gotham Writers Workshop in the past. In order to get in shape to write this book, would I be better prepared if I took memoir course or a novel writing course? The Response
  258. What's the difference between "lay" and "lie"? The Response
  259. Do I need an agent for the submission of a first novel? The Response
  260. What do I do when I submit a story to several journals and it's accepted by one? Is it possible to have it published in more than one journal? The Response
  261. Does a story always have to have a definite conclusion, or can it be a mysterious ending, where it is up to the reader to decide what happened? The Response
  262. How does a beginning writer approach having a pen name? Do you include it in your manuscript? How do you mention it to potential publishers in a professional manner? The Response
  263. I am so paranoid about having a "sagging" or boring middle. I think it makes me afraid to write. I'm not sure of all the things that need to happen, despite knowing the last part of the novel. Any suggestions? The Response
  264. I understand the idea of keeping exclamation marks in check, but is there more latitude in their use in the thoughts and dialogue of characters, the same way there is some flexibility in characters using clichés in their speech? The Response
  265. Is it really that important to revise? I write when I'm struck by inspiration and I don't want to lose that vitality. The Response
  266. I've been told my dialogue includes too much of characters' conversations. Why should I omit greetings and goodbyes when we use them all the time in real life? The Response
  267. I've been told more than once that my writing is wordy, but I just don't know what to cut. How can I fix this? The Response
  268. Does it really matter how I format my manuscript when submitting? The Response
  269. Because of a recent job change, I don't have as much time to write as I used to. I'm exhausted when I get home and the last thing I want to think about is writing. How do people who work full time manage this? The Response
  270. I'm writing an article about a local author. The website where his book is listed for sale contains comments from his readers. I want to use a short sentence--four words--from one of these comments. Must I get permission from the person who posted the comment or, since the comment is already published on the bookseller's website, can I use the sentence without permission and simply cite the website as the source? The Response
  271. I'm working on a novel that involves a lot of research. So far, I've researched extensively but written very little. At what point in my research should I really start writing? The Response
  272. I've been searching for clarification on the differences between the phrases: "as if" and "as though." Can you instruct me on their proper usage? The Response
  273. What is magical realism? How is it different than fantasy? The Response
  274. Why is connotation important in fiction? The Response
  275. When I write I often mimic whatever I'm reading. Is this helping or hurting me? The Response
  276. Should I hire someone to edit my manuscript before sending it out to agents? If so, do I want an editor or a writing coach? The Response
  277. I always thought surprise was important in stories, but my writing group says it doesn't work when characters do things that are "out of the blue." Who's right? The Response
  278. For queries and short fiction submission cover letters is it appropriate to use my professional letterhead that includes my (PhD) degree? The Response
  279. I write both poetry and fiction. Is it better to develop skills in one specific genre or go back and forth between genres? The Response
  280. I've been told I overuse italics to make a word stand out. But isn't that the point of italics? What's the correct use? The Response
  281. My writing group needs some inspiration and structure. Can you suggest activities or formats that have worked with other writing groups? The Response
  282. I've been cautioned to avoid passive sentences with "was." But is every use of "was" passive? The Response
  283. If the pronunciation of the main character's name is not apparent, should some explanation accompany it the first time it's mentioned? The Response
  284. After submitting work to a publication, I received a letter, addressed to me personally, saying that although they could not use my article at this time, they will keep it in their files for future consideration. I took this as somewhat positive, and plan to submit more in the future. But should I bug them in another month telling them I've improved the article they have on file with a few changes, and resubmit? The Response
  285. How do you know when a piece of fiction is finished? How do you know if you're at the point where additional editing will degrade the story instead of improve it? The Response
  286. When submitting, should I submit to only one publication or is it wise to submit to several at the same time? The Response
  287. What is the timeline that an individual can resubmit a published poem to another publication? Can a published poem be entered in a poetry contest other than the journal it was published in? The Response
  288. Why is a faction, blending fact with fiction, unacceptable as a genre in literary works? The Response
  289. Is there a standard to the spacing of lines of a manuscript? I've heard several authors talk about the number of pages they write per day as a goal. The Response
  290. Now that I have several chapters of my novel completed, I would like to know how to go about finding an agent? Any suggestions? The Response
  291. I am trying to keep to a strict third-person limited point of view from the perspective of a single character. How can I let the reader know what my character looks like? The Response
  292. Should new writers start with short stories before writing a novel? The Response
  293. Should I revise as I write? The Response
  294. I've seen this word spelled two ways: all ready and already. Which is right? The Response
  295. In dialogue, what is subtext? The Response
  296. Do novel chapters need titles? The Response
  297. Why is the use of a deus ex machina discouraged in storytelling? The Response
  298. I recently had an essay published in an anthology. While the content was not changed, my punctuation was. It's my first publication and I'd like to be able to use it in my portfolio, but will it reflect poorly on my writing skills? The Response
  299. Should I leave my scene alone, knowing that I wrote it before someone actually performed a strikingly similar heroic deed, or should I change it since readers will undoubtedly believe that I simply copied from the headlines? The Response
  300. How do I know if something is a cliché? The Response
  301. I enjoy making up characters, but I'm not sure where to go from there. How do I take all these characters and write actual stories? The Response
  302. Is putting the copyright symbol on my manuscripts enough to protect my ideas? The Response
  303. Can I use the same theme from another writer's book as long as I change the characters and the situations? The Response
  304. Are ellipses the best way to show a pause in dialogue? The Response
  305. When is it appropriate to use "you" in fiction? The Response
  306. I like using adjectives but I often hear they make for weak descriptions. What's so bad about them? The Response
  307. How does a novelist cite research material? Should I include a bibliography? Or use footnotes? The Response
  308. After telling a story using third person from one character's perspective for about three-fourths of the story, is it possible to smoothly shift to another perspective for the final quarter? The Response
  309. How much of a memoir should be true? The Response
  310. Is it true that for submission purposes italics in a manuscript should be replaced with underlined words? What is considered standard for the industry? The Response
  311. I have writing slumps that can last for weeks because I can't think of anything interesting to write about. How do I avoid this? The Response
  312. At what point should I show my work to someone? The Response
  313. What is in medias res? The Response
  314. Why does the exclamation mark have such a bad reputation? When is it acceptable to use it? The Response
  315. When you're writing about a character's thoughts aren't you always telling instead of showing? The Response
  316. What is the best way to write a telephone conversation when only one side is heard? The Response
  317. Does a story have to have a moral? The Response
  318. What is a run-on sentence? The Response
  319. I am writing a story set in the 1700s in the US about a child that has been captured by Indians. I want to show some of the problems the child has of learning the new language. What is the best way to bridge that problem? The Response
  320. When should I start thinking about an agent? The Response
  321. What is voice? The Response
  322. What should a manuscript look like? The Response
  323. My main character is an all-out jerk. Some have warned me that this might not go over well with readers. What do you think? The Response
  324. What is the difference between genre fiction and literary fiction? How do I know what I'm writing? The Response
  325. I often hear that my steamy scenes are too over the top. Are these readers just too squeamish for my stories? The Response
  326. How do I know when I have enough short stories to make a book? The Response
  327. Readers complain that my characters explain too much in their dialogue. What am I doing wrong? The Response
  328. What is passive voice? The Response
  329. When describing a character's appearance, I either over do it or don't give enough. How do I know what to include and what to leave out? The Response
  330. Does fiction have to be grammatically correct? The Response
  331. I always hear that writers shouldn't change point of view, but I see it done in books all the time. Why can't I do it? The Response
  332. I've heard that too much phonetic spelling can be hard to read. How do I create the voice of a character who has a distinctive speech pattern or dialect without it? The Response
  333. I keep hearing the advice: show, don't tell, but I'm not quite sure what it means. Can you explain? The Response
  334. How do I jump from one time to another without confusing the reader? The Response
  335. How important is the title of a story? The Response
  336. If I'm writing a passage where a character is thinking something, should I put the thoughts in italics? The Response
  337. After I get done with the first draft of a story, revision feels overwhelming. How can I keep going and not lose my momentum? The Response
  338. How do I know where to break for a new chapter when writing a novel? The Response
  339. Do you have any tips on researching? I’m looking into dendrochronology and I’m having a hard time finding out more about forensic botany without spending hundreds for books I’m not sure would help. The Response
  340. How long is a short story? The Response
  341. Setting doesn’t seem all that important. As long as the reader has an idea of where it happens, isn’t that enough? The Response
  342. What is a mixed metaphor? The Response
  343. How do you avoid making a character too one-dimensional? The Response
  344. How is dialogue punctuated? The Response

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