Ask the Book Doctor
By Bobbie Christmas
Education, Punctuation and Submission
Q: Years ago (probably sixty) I had a wonderful text on the use of figurative language. I lost it a few years ago. It was written by Thrawl and Hibbard, I think. It carried definitions of figurative language uses, such as simile, metaphor, hyperbole and many, many more. I can't locate the book on the Internet, probably because I have insufficient information to provide. Have you, by any chance, any idea what I am referring to? If so, do you know how I might acquire the book? It may well be a discarded relic.
A: I found something close enough for you, used, for only $1.75, through Amazon.com. It’s called A Handbook to Literature: Based on the Original Edition by William Flint Thrall and Addison Hibbard by C. Hugh Holman. To order it: click here.
Q: I have written a novel that could be described as conversational style. There are large blocks of text in which one of my characters is telling the story of her life to someone. I am having trouble finding information that explains how to use punctuation marks in this type of writing. Any suggestions?
A: Without seeing the manuscript, I’ll take a stab at the answer.
Even though contemporary readers don’t want to be told a story—they want to watch it "happen," monologues do have a place, and they also have punctuation guidelines.
Here’s the key: When a character speaks for more than a paragraph, do not end the paragraph with end-quotation marks. Leave it open. Open the next paragraph with quotation, marks, however. At the end of the monologue, close it with quotation marks. In the following brief example, note how I added some action to the monologue, to help readers "see" the person as he speaks:
John shifted his weight to his left leg. "One night my father came home stinking of whiskey. He yelled at us and woke us from a deep sleep. We didn’t know what he was going to do next.
"To our surprise, he made us all get up, Ruth, Susan, Samuel, and me, and he danced with every one of us in the living room." John shook his head. "That night turned out to be one of my best memories of my old man."
I must again emphasize that monologues (long speech without anyone interacting and without action) are discouraged in contemporary literature, because readers today prefer to see a story unfold with action as well as dialogue. You may want to intersperse action with the dialogue, and you will more clearly know when to start and stop the quotation marks.
Q: I wrote a short profile during a feature-writing class that would be a good fit for "Seventeen" or "Cosmo Girl," but I want someone to advise me before submitting a query. Since I've already written the profile, can I just submit it as is, indicating that I can lengthen or slant it as desired?
A: The quick answer would be never to write an article without an assignment, because it’s often a waste of time. Then again, it isn’t always a waste. Many articles have been sold that way.
You may submit it as is, as you said, indicating that you can adjust it in any way the magazine wishes. It’s worth a try. It won’t burn any bridges, if a magazine rejects it. Before you send it anywhere, though, study the magazine and see what subjects it covers and what slants it takes. In addition, read the submission guidelines for the periodical, to ensure it accepts articles as well as query letters.
—Send your questions to the book doctor at Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. If you liked these questions and answers, order Bobbie’s e-book, Ask the Book Doctor: How to Beat the Competition and Sell Your Writing. It addresses hundreds of questions from writers like you, for only $8.95 at http://www.booklocker.com/books/1906.html.