by Bobbie Christmas
Q: Do I need a comma in dialogue after “Oh” here:
“Oh no, I can’t do that.”
“Oh my, that’s a good question.”
A: No comma is required after “Oh” in your examples; the commas after “no” and “my” are sufficient.
Q: My protagonist, who had his eye shot out by his abusive father, later discovers he is a proficient shot himself. He earns the nickname Deadeye, not only because of his natural marksmanship but also because of his lost eye. The double meaning seems too awkward and obvious, so do you have any other suggestions for a cool nickname for him?
A: I have no issue with using an obvious nickname such as Deadeye. My concern instead is the fact that depth perception is lost when someone has only one eye, and I am not convinced that someone with no depth perception could be an excellent marksman. I’m not an expert on the subject, though, so I suggest checking with an expert in marksmanship and an expert in vision to be certain such a thing is possible, because even in fiction, every premise must be possible and believable.
Q: I’ve written a book in philosophy but am having a hard time getting it promoted. Do I need a literary agent for book promotions?
A: The job of a literary agent is to sell your book to a publisher. If the book is already published, a literary agent will be of no help. If you wish, you may want to hire a publicist. Many can be found on the Internet, but be sure to check each publicist’s references and successes before hiring anyone.
Q: Referring to your book Write in Style on the subject of dialogue interruption, your example shows a quotation mark following the em dash. I’ve just heard from my editor. I hadn’t put quotes at the end of interrupted speech because the quote hadn’t ended. She put them in, but they went in backwards, so she wondered if she’s wrong; perhaps they shouldn’t be put in. I checked your book for reference and see that after the dash you do have quotation marks, and they face the correct way. Can you shed some light on the subject?
A: I certainly can. Even if the person speaking did not finish a sentence, the dialogue ended. Quotation marks must appear at the beginning and end of dialogue.
As for which way the quotation marks turn, computers are fallible. When we use curly quotes, an option with some fonts, the computer often gets confused, because some keys have more than one function. For example the apostrophe and the single quote mark are the same key on the keyboard, but an apostrophe turns to the left, and an opening single quotation mark should turn to the right. Opening and closing double quotation marks also share the same key on the keyboard, so it is up to the person typing the manuscript to ensure that the marks are turned the intended way. Sometimes typing a period and then quotation marks will fix the issue of quotation marks turned wrong, but then the person typing must go back and delete the period and leave the quotation marks. I am glad the editor knew that every piece of dialogue must begin and end with quotation marks. Let’s not let a computer glitch make us question our knowledge.
Q: I can’t find anything in Chicago Manual of Style Online about how to edit testimonials for my mom’s book of memoirs. How do I find out how to edit testimonials for a book jacket and what to include and omit?
A: No rules govern how to choose, edit, or omit testimonials. It’s a matter of taste, room, and message. Each testimonial you include should have a unique message; no two should be too similar. Use the ones that seem appropriate, and edit them for length, grammar, and punctuation. That’s about it.
For much more information on hundreds of subjects of vital importance to writers, order Purge Your Prose of Problems, a Book Doctor’s Desk Reference Book.
Send your questions to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Bobbie Christmas, book editor, owner of Zebra Communications, and quadruple-award-winning author of Write In Style: How to Use Your Computer to Improve Your Writing, will answer your questions quickly. Read more Ask the Book Doctor questions and answers at www.zebraeditor.com.