Monday, 31 January 2011

Punctuating dialogue

Many beginner writers struggle to get dialogue punctuation right, so I thought I would copy some paragraphs from The Writer’s ABC Checklist to give a few pointers on punctuation for dialogue.

When the dialogue tag forms part of a sentence, you should use a comma after the speech, close the quote marks, and use a lower case letter for the tag.

“You drove me to it,” he said.

Notice that in the examples below a lower case letter is used even when it follows a question mark or exclamation mark. This is because the tag is part of the sentence, not separate to it.

“How could you?” she asked.
“You’re an idiot!” he yelled.

However, when no tag follows the dialogue you should use a full stop, question mark or exclamation mark to finish the speech and then close the quote marks.

“How could you?”
“Easily, you drove me to it.”
“You’re an idiot!”

When dialogue continues after the tag, but is still part of the same sentence, a comma is used, with a lower case letter starting the next section of dialogue.

“There are times,” she said, “when I could murder you.”

When dialogue continues after the tag, but is NOT part of the same sentence, a full stop is used, with a capital letter starting the next section of dialogue.

“I don’t understand you,” he said. “What on earth did you think you were doing?”

First page writing competition

Words with JAM are looking for the most captivating first page of a story. Think about those people who only buy books if the first page or two excites them. Entries will be judged anonymously, and it can be the first page (up to 400 words) of a novel – it can be from a novel previously unpublished, a part written novel, or simply a first page written purely for the competition.

1st Prize - £250
2nd Prize - £100
3rd Prize - £50

Closing Date
29th April 2011

All three winning entries will be published in the June 2011 issue of Words with JAM.

Judge: Andrew Crofts

For more details go to the competition page.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Getting the Personal Bio Right

Penny from Sheffield has had her first magazine article acceptance, but panicked when the editor asked for a short bio. She posed the following question: Should I write about myself in the first or third person? Although most of the bios I’ve seen have been written in third person, it feels a bit weird writing about myself in that way. How long should it be? Also, what should I put in it? This is my first success, so I don’t have much to say.

Firstly, Penny, well done on having your article accepted for publication. The bio should be written in the third person, exactly as you want it to appear in the magazine. As far as length is concerned, if the editor hasn’t specified the number of words, then you should count the words of other bios used in the publication. As a general rule, magazines tend to use bios of about 60 words.

An author bio shows that readers can trust the writer because of their expertise in the field. So, let’s say your article is about witchcraft, but you have no previous writing credits, then mentioning that you come from a long line of witches would more than compensate.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

My Six Favourite Short Story Competitions – by Trish Nicholson

Writer Trish Nicholson has a very useful and informative post on writing competitions she feels are well worth entering. I'm thrilled to say that she has placed Flash 500 at number one. Read all about the Flash 500 and five other competitions here:  My Six Favourite Short Story Competitions – by Trish Nicholson

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

What is a Sidebar?

Elizabeth from Whitstable in Kent wants to know about sidebars. I sent away for article guidelines from one of the major weekly magazines and they say they want sidebars included with travel articles. What is a sidebar?

A sidebar is the term used for information which is relevant to an article, but which doesn’t appear in the main text. For example, when writing a travel article, the details of how to get to a town, or other information pertinent to the reader, such as the tourist office address and opening times.

These details appear to the side of the main text, usually in a box, to draw attention to the information. Sidebars can also contain quotes, polls and lists related to the article.

The term is used in both newspapers and magazines and is also now common in web design, where sidebars are used to make links stand out more readily against the text.

When submitting your article, the sidebar facts should be given on a separate page and clearly marked as additional information. Many articles, but particularly travel pieces, are enhanced by the use of sidebars. It is a good idea to mention in your query letter the type of additional information you intend to include.