As most writers know, there are several types of writing styles: APA, MLA, and CMS, the Chicago Manual of Style. I’m going to focus on the CMS, as this is typically the style in which fiction is written.

A reader asked about the use of quotation marks versus italics when mentioning, in a novel, certain books, songs, and TV shows. Let’s start with the style, then I’ll move on to the legalities.

Short titles, e.g., short stories, poems, plays, chapters, articles, and episodes, should be enclosed in quotation marks. Longer and major titles, e.g., book titles, television shows, movies, etc., should be written (er, typed?) in italics—you may, of course, underline these instead, but in fiction writing, italics are almost always used.

To specifically answer the reader’s question, you would do this:

He was watching Letterman, waiting to hear the “Top Ten List.” After that, he planned to finish reading Stephen King’s The Stand while listening to Kiss’ Destroyer; his favorite song was “Beth.”

For more specifics on quotation marks and other miscellaneous formatting issues, check out The Owl or The Chicago Manual of Style Online.

On the other hand:

Sometimes, you cannot mention specific products by trademarked name; sometimes, you cannot use celebrity names; sometimes, you cannot name actual companies or buildings.

Aside from copyright infringement, which most writers are overly concerned about, there is also trademark infringement. Additionally, there can be issues of libel or defamation.

This blog post from 2010, written by an attorney, can address all of these issue far better than I can.

So there you have it—a specific answer to a specific question, which often is hard to find on the Internet. Feel free to contact me, via email, by clicking on my profile pic to the right.

I can also take a look at your query letter—click to the right on QUERY THAT!







Writer Wednesday—Back to Basics

It occurs to me that many, many people are in the process of writing a book. Now, I’ve said repeatedly that not everyone should do that, and I’ll stand by those words.

See, there are storytellers, and there are writers. Often, very often, people have both of those skills. Sometimes they don’t. You may have the ability to verbally tell an interesting, funny, or engaging story, but that doesn’t mean you have the ability to put it down on paper in the same interesting, funny, or engaging manner.

Sometimes, too, a person might tell a story and hear, “Oh, you should write a book!” That’s nice, but writing a book is a lot of work—and, here’s the catch, the average-sized novel runs around 80K words or even more. That’s a really long story to tell, so unless you can stretch out that 10-minute version, you might be in trouble if you try to turn it into an actual manuscript.

The third point in today’s lesson, boys and girls, is that you also have to master the mechanics of writing:

Use the Oxford comma.

Do not leave two spaces between sentences.

Do not even argue with me about these two things.

Do not capitalize random words.

Learn the difference between “Mom” and “my mom.”

For heaven’s sake, learn about comma usage.

Will you screw up? Sure, we all do. But a consistent “my Mom” or “the Minister” or “the Author wrote a Book” is going to irritate your readers.

And you know what else? If you do these things on social media posts or blogs or wherever, I’m NOT going to want to read anything you’ve written. I doubt I’m the only one . . .

So here’s the list, if you want to be a writer:

Learn your craft.

Practice every day.

Make sure you have enough things to say—original, not repetitious.

If you don’t know how to do or spell something, ask. Or Google.

And finally, a few nuggets of writerly wisdom:

It’s okay to only write when inspiration strikes.

It’s okay to make out a grocery list and include that in your daily word count.

It’s okay not to have a daily word count.

It’s okay to type, or use Dragon, or write longhand.

It’s okay to write a short story. Or a poem. Or a series. Or a sequel.

None of the things on this final list make you a writer—or not. All of these things are highly individual, unique to you as a writer. It’s all the rest that makes you a writer—learning, mastering, telling an interesting story.