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Ask an Author Q & A Page

If you have a serious writing question, this is the place to ask it. The Ask an Author page allows you to ask questions and receive a prompt reply. The answers are below the submission form on this page. But please, before you ask a question, use the search box above to see if I have already posted information about your question, as I strive to only answer once.

I used to answer writing questions by email, but answering in that way allows only the person posing the question to benefit from my response. Also, on occasion, more than one person has asked the same valuable question.

I hope this page will be more efficient. You may freely ask your creative writing questions, and I will archive them here, in one convenient place, so everyone can read them.

Please give your submission a title suggestive of the question content, so others can scroll through and find questions of interest at a glance.

To get started, fill in the form below and submit your question. I will answer as many questions as I can and if you select the notification option, you will receive an email when I have responded. But please check to be sure your question hasn't already been asked. I delete prank questions and those that have already been answered.

Thank you, and all the best with your writing.

~ Pearl

Ask Your Question Here

Do you have a creative writing question but don't know who to ask? Have you searched the Internet and found only conflicting advice?

I don't claim to have all the answers, but I've been writing, editing, and teaching creative writing for well over twenty years, and I'll help you if I can.

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Ask an Author Archive

Click on any question below to see the full question and response.

If Not Cliches, What Else? 
QUESTION If none of the 681 cliches/phrases you show on the Cliches Page are to be used 'as a rule' then surely writers will run out of phrases …

Accent in Dialogue 
I am writing a YA Adventure (Harry Potterish) There are two worlds, Ours (present day) and medieval Germany with castles and dragons and gnomes and such. …

Is My Story a Memoir or a Novel? 
I am a 60 year old woman writing a story about tracking down my biological family as an adoptee. It basically contains the emotions etc from start to finish …

A LOT of writing questions from a young novelist 
First of all, I must say that your writing tips have been amazingly helpful. I've spent the last few hours trying to cram every last piece of information …

Parent of a New Novelist 
I have a son who's a creative writer & is starting to write a novel by himself.I want to help him show his talent, what should i do? ANSWER If you …

Fiction is Rejected 
I was interested in submitting my story to your website, but apparently I'm well over the Max limit for the character count. I was interested in gettting …

Advice about writing program 
I'm applying to several creative writing programs and I worry about the number of applicants they say they get each year. Is there any way to get noticed …

Is private mentoring better than group work? 
Hi. I'm trying to decide between a workshop that has ten writers and private mentoring. Both would cost the same, but the group would run a few weeks longer. …

Can a short story collection be changed to a novel? 
Have you ever moved a short story collection to a novel successfully? I have tried for years to publish my story collection and received the same response …

Do I Need a Writing Course? 
Is it necessary to attend writing courses in order to improve writing style. Having just got one rejection for my novel I feel I need some guidelines as …

Mentor 
First of all I would like to say thank you for taking the time to read this email. I am writing a novel and I would like to bounce ideas off someone or …

Revise and Resubmit 
An editor said my novel has merit but she would like me to Revise and Rewrite if I want to. Apparently, I'm doing too much head hopping. When I read my …

Where can I find someone to read a draft of my novel 
Hi I am writing my first book right now and would like someone to read it a little and tell me what they think. I don't want to post it in a public forum …

To Be A Writer 
It is my biggest dream to be a writer, to see my name printed on a hard cover book. I am young, with too many ideas in my head that need help getting on …

When A Story Isn't Short 
Hi Pearl! Firstly, I'd like to congratulate you on putting such a fantastic web resource together. I wrote for a free press in high school and I completed …

Author as Publisher 
I'm at the tail end of writing my final draft and was looking for a publisher and came across many obstacles. things that first time authors often endure, …

Author credit or plagiarism 
I am in the process of writing a novel. In it, the main character is introduced to the "Harry Potter" books, and then learns that she and the characters …

If you are Canadian must your book be published by a Canadian publisher? 
I am making a niche vegan cookbook, they are very popular right now with movies like Forks Over Knives and Bill Clinton talking about adopting a plant …

To Prologue or not to prologue 
I am writing a YA Adventure (Harry Potterish) There are two worlds, Ours (present day) and medieval Germany with castles and dragons and gnomes and such. …

Permission 
I'm writing a fictional story about a group of five 14 year old spies sent into Mark Oliphant College under-cover. Because it's a real school do I have …

National Book Promotion 
QUESTION I have a novel currently on the market. As is common for most writers, I have been doing all my own book promotion in the Twin Cities (Minnesota). …

Acceptability of novel length 
I am a first time novelist and am aware of the warnings about novel length ( If your synopsis captures the interest of an agent, and if the first chapters …

young authors' representation? 
I am 15 and have written a series that I hope to be published. I also have a friend that is 15 and wants to be published. Should a writer under the age …

Legit places to send stories 
How does one know if a place online is a legit place for sending out short stories? In other words, how can one know if its a scam or not? ANSWER …

Click here to write your own.

Punctuating and arranging dialogue 
I came across your website just now as I was looking for help with properly punctuating dialogue. My question has to do with writing dialogue in a fictional …

Is Broken Grammar Interesting? 
My teachers and friends tell me my grammar isn't all that great (I misplace verbs, adjectives, nouns, they don't always agree). They've also said it's …

Publishing? 
I'm 13 and have begun to write a book. I really want to publish it when it's done. I have been sending bits to my friends and they are enjoying their daily …

Historical details 
My question concerns historical details. Sometimes, historical detail is so exotic or unfamiliar that it may raise an eyebrow or two. For example, if …

Can I submit young teen book without drawings? 
I finished my first book, a fantasy novel for 11-15 year olds, or so. I want pen and ink drawings included, but I have no artist to do them. Can I submit …

Real people in fiction  
Can you use real historical people in historical fiction? ANSWER Yes, historical fiction is often based on real people who lived during the time …

How can i publish a book at my age? 
Hi. My name is Heather And I am 12rs old. I want to be a successful author by the age Of 14-15. My parents and the students of my school say I am a great …

Best Book to Teach Creative Writing? 
I am struggling with creative story writing. What book title do you recommend to me to search for and read, that will teach me everything about creative …

Using another author's idea 
In the book Jumper, by Steven Gould, he uses the idea of being able to 'jump' through space and end up in another area. You can only 'jump' from one place …

Main Character 
How do i describe what a main character looks like when I am using first-person? ANSWER: Appearance may be the least important way to characterize …

Short stories 
Does writing short stories help you with writing in general, or just writing short stories? So if I had a lot of practice at short stories, would those …

Creative writing tip 
Don't overuse I, the character's name, he, she or it. Not: She ran through the rain. She had to get to her best friend's house. She had promised she …

Should I use the Oxford comma? 
For publication do you recommend the use of the Oxford comma or not? I tend not to use a comma before a conjunction unless a group dictates it for clarity. …

Book Synopsis Should be Written in Present Tense 
I would prefer to write a synopsis in first person of a novel written in first person, however, the regular industry format is third person, and not first …

Creating original symbols and motifs 
Hello, Can you please give me some advice on how to come up with original motifs/symbols for a poem or a song? For instance: ''The moon's a harsh mistress'', …

Writing out of disgust? 
This may sound a little strange but I've always wanted to ask about something. I like writing; I've started several stories for my own personal enjoyment. …

Prologues 
I would like to ask your view on prologues. I am reading so many publishers' sites lately that say prologues are amatuerish, 99% of books don't need them …

Literary Readings 
Last night I went to a literary reading to hear an author speak. She is very humorous and an excellent speaker. I haven't read the book but now I may do …

Is This a Strong Story Goal? 
I'm writing genre fiction and I'm thinking that my main character's story goal could be a journey of self-discovery. She realizes that her life is a bit …

Not sure what to call the genre of my story... 
I recently decided to try writing a novel (wish me luck!). The main idea is a girl (college-aged) who is very shy and non-social, has a dreadful past, …

No compensation for articles sent in about your dating experiences 
I am writing a book about senior dating experiences. I have an ad in asking seniors to volunteer their experiences for my book. I have been asked why …

Publishing agent for poetry 
I am a young poet and I am looking for a publishing agent for my first book. Do you know of any good publishing agents located in Toronto, GTA area of …

Using a joke in my writing 
I want to use a joke in my writing that I saw on the internet, but have no idea who originally wrote it so that I can seek permission to use it. How …

Writing about a certain person in my book 
I am writing an autobiography and in this I am mentioning an ex husband, so my question to you is, do I have to have his permission to do so? ANSWER …

Dread of revision 
I've completed a rough first draft of my very first short story, but have become afraid to revise it. It's been sitting, face down, beside my computer …

Click here to write your own.

Finishing what I start 
I have been attempting to write a book since the 8th grade. I love reading and writing books, and i get ideas for stories EVERYWHERE! it seems like everytime …

Participial phrases 
I read your article on cutting back on participial phrases with interest but you seem to have limited your comments to leading participial phrases i.e. …

Writing Problems/ Canadian Publishing 
Hi. I'm 13 years old and I was wondering about my writing, first of all. When I start writing a story, I lose interest pretty fast. So, I've found a way …

World, domestic or electronic rights?  
World, domestic or electronic rights to the Sales Course book that I am writing. Which one is the best to choose as an American citizen writing my book …

Agent in UK or USA? 
QUESTION I'm writing my first novel. It features an American boy who has to leave and go live with his mother and step-father in England. Should …

Dialogue tags 
QUESTION: Thanks so much for all the information on your website! You mentioned that we should try to use as few dialogue tags as possible, but when …

Madame Zee is Whitewashed- Why? 
QUESTION I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Madame Zee . Congratulations on writing a highly entertaining and informative novel. I plan on presenting …

Slice of life 
A few months ago I sent you a story. While you offered some very encouraging comments, which I certainly appreciated, you nevertheless rejected the story …

Order of Scenes and Sequels 
Should I write a sequel at the end of the current scene or use it to start the next scene? ANSWER If you're just beginning, it's best to get into …

Writing my first book 
Looking for someone to help me with my manuscript. Need someone who can go over it and, tell me what needs to be changed. I'm new at this and, my writing …

Antagonist 
Should I have only one antagonist, or can I have multiple antagonists? ANSWER In general, a story needs one protagonist and one antagonist. However …

Descriptive writing 
One comment I hear a lot is that I should be using descriptive writing more than I am. But don't most people skip over description? I often do. ANSWER …

Trouble finding the premise of my half written book 
I'm working on my first novel and it's around 175 pages already and has a few main characters. I enjoy a complicated plot but I have so much going on …

How to organize aaaaall those pages! 
As I write, more of my story is revealed. How do I pick a direction or explore a new direction without getting lost? Also, I'm having trouble keeping …

Do literary magazines edit submissions? 
I was recently directed to this page at The New Yorker . It shows one of Raymond Carver's famous stories - and the changes made by his editor. …

Plotting stories 
I have trouble plotting stories. I like to write and I have ideas that get me started, but after I've been writing for a while, I hit a wall. So I never …

Punctuation in dialog 
Please help. I need advice on the correct puntuation for thought. The following is an example: After ending the phone call with her sister, Carla …

Punctuation with quotation marks 
Do periods go inside or outside quotation marks in dialog? ANSWER In North America, periods and commas always go inside quotation marks. In Britain, …

How to Contact Editors or Writing Magazines 
Is it okay to contact editors of writing magazines by fax? Can I fax or email my stories to them or do I have to use mail? If I use mail, how will I know …

Book marketing ideas 
I've been published by a traditionall publisher, but sales of my novel are slow. Do you have any book marketing ideas that will help me get better exposure …

technical glitch 
I have submitted two stories, and would like to submit two more, but your system isn't working. (I get as far as Press Submit, and nothing happens.) …

Historical Research  
At the back of Madame Zee you say you did a lot of historical research, some of it on the internet. Is there someplace online to look for information about …

Writing Dialogue 
I have trouble writing dialogue, and I don't know if I'm using character thoughts correctly. I was told to put them into dialogue to make the dialogue …

Which Creative Writing Program Do You Recommend 
Pearl: I am a beginning fiction writer and I am interested in getting a creative writing degree to better prepare me for writing novels. What Canadian …

Get Paid More for Writing 
I've been writing travel articles for newspapers and small magazines, and I'd like to get paid more for writing these articles. I don't want to lose the …

Click here to write your own.

Descriptiveness of a story and short story submissions 
I'm a gr. 11 (16 years old) student, and in my English classes, it is always recommended to be descriptive and detailed in all our writing. However, when …

Should I Write Query Letters for Short Stories? 
A writer I know says that I should never send anything to a magazine without writing a query letter first to see if the editor is interested in my idea. …

Pay to enter short story contests? 
What is your opinion of paying for entry to short story contests? Does a writer get any substantive exposure using contests if they are not the winner? …

Creating an effective writer's platform 
If you were to engage in two activities to enhance your platform, what would they be? ANSWER: A "platform" really just means that you have created …

Traditional or Self Publishing for Poetry 
Is traditional publishing or self publishing the best option for poetry publication? Especially when the author is faced with financial hardship. ANSWER: …

Childrens' Book Writing 
Is the Children's Institute Literacy Program based out of Philadelphia, PA a reputable agency to take a writing course? The course cost $500 and program …

Contests and Publication Rights - What is standard practice? 
Pearl, Your site provides an excellent list of short story contests. It is very interesting and shows the variety of contests available. I'm inspired …

MFA or MA needed to teach creative writing 
Do you think I will be more successful acquiring a teaching position with an MA or an MFA degree? I have applied to several MFA programs in the US and …

Writing good dialogue 
My dialogue doesn't sound right and I'm not sure what's wrong with it. Do you have any suggestions? Here's a sample from my horror novel. “Dad, I’m …

Trouble writing a novel 
When I get an idea, I get the story written withing 1000-1500 words. Once I reached 5000, but it was boring to read until I tightened it up to about 1200. …

Advice for writing a novel 
Hello. I am a fourteen year old writer and I am looking for ways to improve my writing. Also, i am looking into maybe getting a novel published in the …

Submitting to more than one agent at a time 
Hi, Pearl. Is it true you can't send a book to more than one agent at a time, that you must wait until officially turned down by one agent before trying …

Where do I sign up for your newsletter? 
I can't find where you have a sign up for a weekly newsletter. Or do I have to add you to "Favorites" which means I will tend to forget to access your …

Copyright question about song lyrics 
QUESTION I've googled this and found conflicting answers. I have quoted some song lyrics in my book, not complete songs obviously, just one or two …

Click here to write your own.




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