Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Ask the Editor Free-For-All Tuesday

Last month reaped a whopping 101 comments here at the Ask the Editor Free-For-All. That record will be hard to beat, but let's give it a try, gang. Our Editors, as always, are standing by to answer your questions.
For those new to the game, today is when you get to ask whatever writing question you want. No question is too basic or silly.

How it works:

Today, and Every First Tuesday of the Month, The Blood-Red Pencil sponsors what we call the Ask the Editor Free-For-All. I send out e-mail blasts to my e-groups, post on Facebook and other hot spots putting out a call for brave people to step up to the plate and try to stump our Editors. Even if you don't belong to any of the groups I contact, you're still invited to participate.

Confess that you don't know everything. Get your answer now before you send in your submission. That way you'll shine, instead of coming off as an amateur.

Or, maybe you haven't reached the submission stage. You still may have a question blocking you from doing your best writing. Find out what to do about it here.
The Blood-Red Pencil is at your service. Ask, and our Editors will answer.

To Submit A Question, Follow These Easy Steps:

Leave a comment in the comment section below. Make sure you include your name and blog url or website not only for promo, but so we know you’re legit. (One link only for each person, please!)

One or more of our editors will hop over during the day and answer your question in the comment section. If an editor feels your question needs a more lengthy explanation, you'll get a comment to the effect that an entire post will be devoted to the subject at a later date. If that's the case, you'll receive even more promotion. You may even be told where to send a jpeg of your book cover and/or yourself and a buy link.

It's not required, but you can leave your e-mail address with your comment. Because your question may require a follow-up, it wouldn't hurt if you mention somewhere in your comment where you heard about our Ask the Editor Free-For-All. That way we can contact you so you don't miss the answer.

Remember to check back here not only for your answer, but also the answers to other people's questions. You never know what may prove helpful down the line. Since some of you are on a Digest setting for your e-groups, questions and answers may carry on through Wednesday, and possibly Thursday.

Once again, remember that no question is too silly. Everyone starts somewhere, and this is a good place to begin.

Okay, start your questions!


Morgan Mandel


  1. I'm sure I have weightier questions than this, but this one has been bothering me lately. I'm going through my manuscript (a memoir) and find a lot of sentences that start "one day." For example, "one day I was walking back from class." It looks like I'm using "One day" as a transition from a general description into a specific instance. There are a lot of these, and I stare at them but can't figure out a better alternative. Your suggestions would be appreciated. (Thanks to Kathryn Craft for pointing me to this event).

    Best wishes,
    Jerry Waxler
    Memory Writers Network

  2. If you edit something that you think is a good match for an agent or publisher do you tell the writer?

    Thanks, Simon.

  3. Hi Jerry,
    Thanks for coming! I don't want to keep the other editors from addressing this as well, but it occurs to me that we write like this in draft form (one day, three days later, that Friday, etc.) so that we have a sense of the timeline of our story. When writing a memoir it is important to us to get that order straight so we can see what events influenced other events. But if you are in general writing chronologically, and have clearly marked any flashbacks, in later drafts I would suggest simply removing these time tags to see how it goes.

    The modern reader, especially one who grew up watching film and television, is used to the "jump cut." We are used to adding up the scenes and making of them what we will, and we will assume you have placed these events in chronological order unless you tell us otherwise. A line break is enough to set off the fact that this happens at another time.

    If the amount of time passage is significant (as in, "I didn't see my father again for two years"), you of course need to mention this. But instead of:

    I didn't see my father again for two years. One day he rang my doorbell and when I saw him standing before me he looked pale and withered. I almost didn't recognize him."

    You could say:

    I didn't see my father again for two years. I answered my doorbell and there he stood, pale and withered. I almost didn't recognize him.

    Try to stay within the specific as much as possible, building scene after scene, tucking the general in to support the specific, and you may also see less of a need for this. In the remaining instances for which you DO need that segue, "One day" will serve just fine.

  4. Simon:
    I would. I'll be interested to hear what the other editors say (I always seem to show up here on the early side, they'll be along later!). I think the main ethical concern is to avoid feeding clients' manuscripts directly to agents or editors yourself, especially if they tend to go to one person.

    Is the appearance of conflict of interest your concern, or have I misread this?

  5. I am writing my sixth book based on a true story.This is about a person who had a difficulty and the entire situation should not have happened. Should I write this story in the third person narrative or should I write it in the first person as if she was telling the story. I have started the manuscript and have switched back and forth between the first person and the third. I thought of writing it in the first person only because might bring readers into the story and allow them to know the character and understand what she went through.
    Thank you in advance.
    Fran Lewis
    I received this information from Morgan Mandel

  6. How do editors feel about multiple point of view in a mystery novel when chapter alternate between first person and third? I have seen other writers do this successfully, and am using this device in my first historical. My protagonist (first person) is a 1920s physician with a flapper daughter (third person). thanks to Facebook for pointing the way here.

    Sarah Wisseman

  7. Jerry, I am working on a memoir, too, and discovered I have a similar problem. Try the sentence without the "one day." See if you can just start. "I was walking back from class" and add something like "on a day that..."

    Simon, yes, I always make a recommendation about a particular editor or agent if I see an immediate fit.

  8. Sarah, there are no rules set in concrete regarding switching POV, except one should not be switching a lot in one scene. What you say you are doing sounds just fine. You will find acquisition editors who won't like it because they personally don't care for that style, but another editor at another house may just love it. That is one of the joys of this business. LOL

  9. Fran and Sarah, as long as you understand the strengths and limitations of what you are doing, you can make either work. First-person in mysteries is often used to let the protagonist discover clues and have information revealed as the character discovers it, creating a natural sense of suspense and beginning-middle-end. I am not a fan of switching POV between first, second, and third, though obviously it has been done with success before.

    Fran, I'd be cautious about using first person in your situation solely because it suggests a veracity that you may not possess--but of course it will heighten emotional immediacy. Those are the types of things each writer must weigh.

    Scott Nicholson

  10. Thank you so much for your comment. I will definitely rethink the way I am writing this book. Possibly writing it in third person from the point of view of a narrator might be the way to go. Unfortuately, I do know the truth behind this character's plight but it might not be wise write it enough though I have my facts. Thanks you again fran

  11. Fran:
    The only thing I might add to what Scott said is to assess what kind of story you really want to tell. Is it an intimate story, where you want deep access to your character's POV, and her journey is your main objective? Then why not stay with first person, whose confessional nature evokes such intimacy.

    But if you want to tell a broader tale--of what was happening behind the scenes while your protagonist was otherwise occupied, and how what happened impacted an entire community, for instance, you might want to stick with third. You can still go deep, but you can also pull way back to give the broader view.

    Since you have chosen fiction, veracity only becomes an issue if you envision your disclaimer saying "This novel is based on true events. Some names have been changed to protect identities." That's like writing someone else's memoir, and you might choose to stay out of first person so you don't suggest this happened to you. But if you would have the standard disclaimer that this is a work of fiction, and while all fiction is based on experience, these characters do not represent actual people etc., you are freed to enter your character's POV if you want.

  12. Thank you Kathryn
    I have to tell you that this story is based on the events that happened to someone that I worked with. I will not reveal the name of the person in the story nor where these events took place. This person was wrongly accused of doing something and I really think her story needs to be told. Unfortunately, she is no longer here to read it. I was going to say that although the names and places have been changed that the story is based on true events. I think that you are correct in stating that it might be safer to use the third person narrative and tell how these events impacted her family, friends and others. However, I do want to dedicate the book to her memory. Thank you again your comments and Scotts are really invaluable. Fran

  13. Commenting about the "one day" dilemma. This is a perfect opportunity to throw in descriptions that enhance the story. These could be seasonal, or current events outside of the story, that sort of angle. This adds information to the story that eliminates the lame jumps, but also act like spices in a dish. More flavor to the story. Consider your "one days" as cues to flesh out the story with descriptions. How nice of your subconscious to do that for you.

    Also, good job for noticing the weakness to begin with.


  14. Does a middle grade story need to be told entirely from a single POV, that of the main character? My critique partners have offered very positive feedback on my current WIP, but there are smaller portions of it where the MC is not present and the POV is from an adult. Is that okay?

    Thanks for your input.


  15. Simon, yes, as an editor and writing coach, I would give contact info for a publisher or agent if I thought it would be a good match for a writer.

    Fran, you've already gotten some great advice, I won't repeat. Since you're already written 6 books based on real people, you probably already know this...but for those who might not, take care when writing about real people since if it's too close to reality and the character could be recognized as or by the real person, you can get in trouble if someone feels they've been damaged.

    Straight From Hel

  16. In my current WIP that I'm getting ready to submit, I have this line of dialog: "We're the Smiths." A critter suggested that it should be: "We're the Smith's." I think that is incorrect because the suggested correction is a possessive, and I think it should be a simple plural. Please help, and if possible point me to the correct section of CMS (tried to find but couldn't). Thanks.

  17. Cheryl:
    This kind of question is where your market research plays a role. If you can find books that have been published that have used this technique, jot down the name of the publishing house. Standards on this vary from house to house. One of my clients had to rewrite his MG fiction in third person because the house loved the story but wouldn't publish anything in first person--even though we all know this is done. Sometimes "if you've done it brilliantly it's okay" will win out, other times they stick to seemingly arbitrary rules.

  18. Joan, ask that person, "We're the Smith's WHAT?" (And even in that case of plural possessive, the apostrophe would be after the S anyway--"Smiths'" ).

    It's simply "Smiths."

  19. Thank you so much Helen. I think that I will take everyone's advice into account and write this in the third person. Although my three children's books were based on my experiences growing up and my Alzheimer's book Memories are Precious based on my mom's battle with this illness, this one is entirely different. It is definitely based on a true story of a friend who passed last year. I don't want her family to feel that I am invading their privacy, but I do want to tell her story. Many of my friends from where I did work are supporting my project, but only my name will be on it. I just hope that I will not have to use a POD to get it published. Thank you all for your great advice. I think the third person is probably the right way to go and maybe interject some of her thoughts. fran

  20. An editor at a house I sent a children's picture book manuscript to gave me great feedback and books she wanted me to refer to in order to do a rewrite. This was a manuscript that sat on her desk for a year. She asked me if I was interested in working on the project with her, and promised it wouldn't take another year to get back to me. I of course said yes. That was in October '09. I sent the rewrite in Feb. '10. I didn't hear from her, and resent it in May and asked for the status and wanted to confirm that she did indeed receive it. My question is, do I now send it elsewhere, or bug her again? Should I take her non-response as a decline of the manuscript? I am confused and frustrated about how to proceed. Thanks in advance for your help.

  21. Anonymous: I suggest you call her. The call would be warranted.

  22. I agree with Katherine, Anonymous, it is time to call the editor. I used to be reluctant to call an editor, thinking that I, a lowly writer, should not bother them. Then I became an editor and realized they can be lowly, too.

    Seriously, this is a business and you had a business arrangement with that editor. A follow-up call is appropriate.

  23. I have 3 very tiny punctuation questions for fiction writing. I know different styles want different things, what does a fiction editor want?

    1)Commas in a series:
    A)this, that and more
    B)this, that, and more

    2)use of ellipsis,which one is correctly spaced?
    A)this. . .this
    B)this . . . this

    3)Is a lot of one sentence paragraphs frowned upon?

  24. Thanks for taking the time to answer my question, Kathryn. It is greatly appreciated.


  25. Hi MJ, and thanks for the question. You're going to find differences of opinion among editors and publishers on punctuation, so consulting one good style guide is useful (but always defer to your own publisher's guidelines).

    1. In this example, "this, that, and more" is correct unless your publisher's style guide says otherwise. That second comma is called the "serial comma." Be careful of compounds in a series ("This, this and that, and more.")

    2. Again, the publisher's style guide rules. The normal practice is to put a space before and after the ellipsis and a space between each point as well.

    3. A lot of one-sentence paragraphs can be very effective in dialogue and in high tension or action narrative. One sentence paragraphs are useful for a character's internal thoughts as well. Just be careful you don't dilute the impact of a short sentence or paragraph by overusing the technique.

  26. Thanks Patricia for answering my questions, I like that you gave me the general, I don't have a target publisher yet, so I just wanted to do what was probably generally acceptable.

    I just read one blog person (author) saying one sentence paragraphs not in dialog was just short of anathema and I got a bit frightened there. I'm sure it's her opinion/style but I wanted to check! :)

  27. I'm writing a romance, first time soley from the hero's POV. I know some publishers do not accept submission of romance with a male POV. Is it really more difficult to engage female readers (as most romance stories are female) with a male POV?

    Steamy Darcy

  28. Enid:
    If you are drawn to the approach, try it and see! I have a friend who is also using a male POV, despite grumblings from her fellow RWA chapter mates. As my well-published friend Jonathan Maberry said at a recent gathering of writers (and I'm paraphrasing), "It's only wrong until it's the next new thing."

  29. Thanks Kathryn, I'm actually posting the story in serialised format online and so far it's substantially more readers than another wip (first for me too, female 1st POV).

    I've a feeling the female readers actually like how clueless the hero is about romance.

  30. You are right, Enid, about many readers enjoying a male POV, especially one who is clueless about romance. That can be fun and engaging.

  31. I have a prior post about the ellipsis here:


    It's quite a confusing bit of punctuation that even publishers regularly mess up.

    I would add this bit of a hint: if you've used the ellipsis more than three times in your manuscript, take a hard look at why, because an acquisitions editor most certainly will do the same. Too often, its use means the author didn't know what to write. Don't leave it to the reader to guess what the character is thinking or doing or planning. Tell them! Don't leave any of us dangling, because we won't like it after a few rounds.

    Be sure to go to the above link. It'll also tell you the difference between a three-dot and four-dot ellipsis.

    Seems like we have a previous post devoted to commas, too. Didn't Elle write about "The Comma According to Trask"?

    I would avoid too many one-sentence paragraphs unless you have a compelling reason - like to heighten drama.

    Little did he know he'd be dead in a week.

    That would be a pretty dramatic one-sentence paragraph to end a chapter.

    Good round of questions - thanks everyone!


  32. Yes I did:
    Comma According to Trask

    In the case of the serial comma, as Patricia also advised, it is best to check with your publisher's guidelines.

    Blood-Red Pencil

  33. Kathryn and Maryann, thanks for the inspiration. I left her a phone message. Hopefully she'll answer that! Thanks again.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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