Questions & Quandaries Blog

Online editor Brian A. Klems has been writing for Writer’s Digest since 2003. He covers the most pressing grammatical, ethical, business and writing-related questions—and often does it with a bit of humor.


Can You Use Someone Else's Character in Your Book?

Q: Can I use a minor yet intriguing character from a famous work as the protagonist of my novel? I know it’s been done with novels like Wide Sargasso Sea, using Mrs. Rochester from Jane Eyre, but would a secondary character from a novel published before 1950 (yet still in print)...

PITCH WORKSHOP: RESURRECTED… AND ENTRY #3

Hey, everyone— So, it’s been a while since we’ve visited or talked about the SCRIPT NOTES PITCH WORKSHOP, but I don’t want to let it fall through the cracks.  In fact, I’d like to revamp it a bit.  Originally, I’d proposed doing it in two or three-week stages: for a certain...

Begging The Question: How To Use It Correctly

Q: I’ve been told that I often misuse the phrase “begs the question” in my writing. Can you explain to me how to use this phrase correctly and give me an example? Thanks. —Anonymous A: “Begging the question” is a phrase that’s commonly misused. In fact, even I misused it once...

Allude vs. Elude

Q: What’s the difference between “allude” and “elude”? Are they interchangeable? —Anonymous A: “Allude” and “elude” are frequently misused in place of each other, even though they’re about as different as broccoli and ice cream. “Allude” means to refer to something in a casual or indirect way. Michelle alluded to my...

Quotes Within Quotes

Q: When should I use single quotes instead of double quotes?—John Batson A: Double quotation marks signify the exact words of someone else speaking in your writing. Single quotation marks come into play when the person you’re quoting quotes someone or something else. Look at this example: “I’m irritated with Dad...

A Few Moments with Diablo Cody

Hey, guys– Happy Fourth of July weekend!  I wanted to point you all to my interview with Diablo Cody, the Academy-Award-winning screenwriter of Juno, which appears in this month’s issue of Writers Digest.  Diablo was one of the most fun interviews I’ve done, and she’s got some terrific insights into screenwriting…...

What's Considered Fair Use and What Isn't?

Q: Is it necessary to ask permission to reprint an article if the reprint is used in a strictly academic setting?—Anonymous A: Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 107 of the U.S. code states that “the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies … for purposes...

What Are First Serial Rights (or FNASR)?

Q: When working out a contract with a magazine, what are first serial rights?—Anonymous A: When you sell first serial rights to a newspaper, magazine or periodical for a piece of work you’ve written, that media outlet has the right to be the first place to publish the article/story/ poem. After...

PITCH WORKSHOP: Entry #2

Hey, screenwriters— Thought we’d take another look at one of the entries in the SCRIPT NOTES ONLINE PITCH WORKSHOP.  Thanks to all of you who have submitted… and please—keep ‘em coming.  I’m happy to hold off on moving to Phase 2 (paragraph descriptions) if more people want to post stuff. Also,...

Are Agents Stealing My Stamps?

Q: Do agents steam off the stamps on self-addressed, stamped envelopes (SASEs) and resell them? The agents demand pages, SASEs, that sort of thing, but—and I know this sounds cynical—many of my queries disappear. In this age, why should we need to use what they call “snail mail” for queries and...

What Should I Charge to Ghostwrite a Book?

Q: A friend approached me about writing her memoir. I don’t know how to charge for it, especially since I have no idea how much material I’ll have to work with and, therefore, how long it might be. Also, I know I want to share credit, on the one in a...

PITCH WORKSHOP: The First Entry!

I am pleased to announce that we have our first entry in the Script Notes Pitch Festival!  A big round of applause—and a thank you—for going first goes to E. Daniels, who posted the first one-sentence pitch Thursday evening. Just as a quick refresher… we’re in Phase One of our Script...

THE SCRIPT NOTES ONLINE PITCH WORKSHOP!

Hey, film and TV writers— I’ve gotten several emails and questions from readers with specific questions about pitching projects they’re working on, asking if there’s some way to use Script Notes to really get down-and-dirty, hands-on advice about shaping their TV and film projects.  After all, whether you’re a newbie just...

Live From LA: Questions from the Writer's Conference

Yesterday was the annual BEA/Writer’s Digest Books Writer’s Conference, and I was fortunate to be a panelist on the popular Ask the Editors session. The organizer, GLA editor Chuck Sambuchino, told me it was for my in-depth knowledge of the submission and editing processes and my familiarity with inexpensive ways to...

Can You Copyright a Pseudonym?

Q: Do I need to get a copyright for a pseudonym, or will a copyright for the book under my chosen pen name be sufficient?—Al de Araujo A: The name H.G. Wells isn’t copyrighted. Neither is Michael Crichton. Why? Under U.S. law you can’t copyright a name, real or fictitious. Copyrights...

Can I Use Song Lyrics in my Manuscript?

Q: What are the legal ramifications of reproducing song lyrics in a manuscript? If permission from each copyright holder is necessary, what’s the best way to secure these permissions? Also, can I use a song title as the title of my book?—June Youngblood A: Song lyrics are copyrighted, which means you...

Mama vs. the Maid

Hey, screenwriters— Saw two movies this last week—Made of Honor and Baby Mama—that I thought made an interesting comparison of romantic comedies.  Neither is particularly brilliant, but I think Baby Mama succeeds more as a romantic comedy, or relationship comedy, and I wanted to look at why. Although there are plenty...

The A's and An's of Grammar

Q: I know “a” goes before words beginning with a consonant and “an” before words that start with a vowel. But it seems like lately it’s become fashionable in print to use “an” with any word beginning with the letter “h.” Try to say “an half an hour”: You’ll wind up...

Why Do Authors Use Pseudonyms?

Q: Why do authors use pseudonyms?—Anonymous A: Authors write under pseudonyms, or pen names, for a variety of reasons. Established authors will do it to cross genres and keep from aggravating their fan bases. Wouldn’t you be a bit ticked off if you bought Stephen King’s next book expecting blood, guts...

What is a Literary Executor?

Q: I was recently approached by one of my relatives (my father’s cousin), who asked if I would be her literary executor. I don’t really know what this means and thought you might be able to shed some light on the subject. Do you know what this might entail?—Anonymous A: Often...

READER QUESTION: How Are TV Writers Paid?

Hey, screenwriters— Today’s question comes from Dan, who comments at the end of Friday’s post in reference to something I had written about writing on TV shows.  I had written… “You might be hired [on a TV show] for 10 weeks… or 6 months… or even just one episode.  It varies...

READER QUESTION: From 9th Grade to Hollywood…

Today’s question(s) comed from Corey Nolter, a 9th grader who’s an aspiring screenwriter working on a research paper about his future career.  Corey asks a ton of questions, so I’m just gonna dive in.  Corey– I hope these answers help… lemme know how the paper turns out… and I expect a...

Are You Using Trademarked Words in Your Writing?

Q: An editor once pointed out that I was using brand names instead of the generic equivalent. How am I to know which words have been trademarked and which aren’t?—Anonymous A: When your character cuts his hand, does he cover it with an adhesive bandage or a Band-Aid? Does his mother...