Guest Post: Ask the Book Doctor

The Book Doctor offers Typography & Dialogue advice for the self-publishing writer…

Q: When I first started on a novel in 1995, publishers wanted italicized words to be underlined instead, even though we had the capability of changing the font on our computers. Is this still the case? Can we now use the appropriate font, or must we inquire from each publisher? I have visions of having two manuscripts, one with and one without italics.

A: It’s always best to check with the publisher, but The Chicago Manual of Style says to use italics. If you do use underlines, tell the publisher your intent that underlined items are to be set in italics in the printed version.

Q: In Write In Style I did not see anywhere you may have addressed this directly, but when writing internal dialogue, I take it from your book that you would never say he told himself or I told myself something. Is that correct?

A: This conclusion might be drawn from the fact that in my book I say “thought to himself” is redundant, because we cannot think to anyone but ourselves. We can, however, tell other people things, just as we can tell ourselves things, so I have no problem with saying he told himself, she told herself, or I told myself.

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What’s your question about writing or publishing? Bobbie Christmas, book doctor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to

Ask the Book Doctor – Dialogue

Q: When I write dialogue, must I make all my characters

speak in contractions? My critique circle members say all

dialogue should use contractions. Aren’t we supposed to

give each character a unique voice? If so, can’t one of my

characters be so prim and proper that she doesn’t speak in



A: The members of your critique group have the right idea—

natural dialogue does usually rely on contractions, but

creative writing gives a writer a great deal of leeway. You

know your characters best, and if one doesn’t use

contractions, so be it. Don’t let anyone–not even members

of your critique circle–cram a singular opinion down your

throat. Listen to the suggestions of others, thank them,

and then do whatever you want. If, however, an acquisitions

editor asks you to change something to make your piece more

marketable, that’s the time to listen and follow.


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