Sunday, November 27, 2011

Naming Your Characters

You may have five friends named Leah. Each one is distinct in your mind—the blonde, the one always laughing, the one at work and so on. But you cannot do that in a book.
Think back to school days when you studied all those King Louis in France. I bet you can scarcely keep track in your mind now of which was which, apart perhaps from the Sun King.
This is what happens to readers when character names in a book are confusing. Sure, it occurs in real life, but in a book it’s a really bad idea to have a Tom and Tim, or two Freds, or even Mr. Holden and Mr. Howden. The readers will get confused and your story will lose its impact while they’re flipping back over the pages trying to get the characters clear in their mind.
And never repeat a name in a different book, unless it is the same character reappearing. A secondary character named Julie, in two different books, when they are totally different people will confuse your readers too.
There are plenty of baby name books out there. Give every character a distinct name.

Helen Woodall

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Consistency within a series

Authors don't always plan to write a series, but a secondary character demands their own story, or more ideas keep coming, or the world is so engaging readers request more stories, and a series is born.
The author may have forgotten the placeholder name she used for some minor character, or the hair color of a child, or insignificant details of the world. Unfortunately the readers will not have forgotten and the author will be in trouble if facts have changed between book one and book three, unless there is an excellent reason which is explained in the book.
I recommend keeping a series "bible". This may be as simple as a spreadsheet with character names and defining characteristics on it, or as complicated as a book with every detail included. That's up to the author.
What is essential, however, is that Tim does not become Tom, a blue flower does not miraculously turn red, and the poisonous snakes that terrorised the villagers in book one do not suddenly disappear from the series without a convincing explanation.

Helen Woodall

Saturday, November 19, 2011


The thing that stuck with me most from the Bourne movie that released a couple of years ago, was that Neal spelled his name NEAL at the start of the movie (seen in a text message) and NEIL at the end of the movie (seen on a sheaf of paperwork). Writers, that is a complete and total no-no. You should know how your characters spell their names, any place names and so on.
Another common error is the heroine who is wearing stilettos at the start of the scene and runners to get away from the bad guy. Unless she was carrying the runners earlier, you can’t do that! Picture your scene before you start writing and dress her accordingly, or even have her throw away the shoes and run barefoot.
Consistency is very important. Readers do notice errors.
Writing is a very tough, competitive world. Give yourself an edge toward success by having Helen edit your book and advise you on how to submit it. Rates on application.
Helen Woodall Freelance Editor.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A line in the sand

The most difficult thing for a new writer to figure out is where to draw the line in the sand. You know that line. The one where you take your stand about what you will—or will not—change in your book.
In the five years since I was offered my first contract, I’ve had eight editors at four publishers. They’ve ranged from the excellent to the truly awful. In an ideal world, your editor will do all he/she can to make your book a success. Most editors fall in that category. However…there are some who are not.
Signs that you might want to discuss a change of editor with your publisher:
1)      If your editor is ever denigrating of you as a person. If your editor tells you that you’re dumber than a box of rocks, it might be time to move on. Publishing is a business and all communications should be business-like.
2)      If your editor fails to respond to polite, business-like email after five days. I once had an editor quit in the middle of editing my book. The first I knew about it was when a totally strange woman emailed me about how thrilled she was to be working with me.
3)      If your editor ever tells you “because I said so” when you ask why something has to be changed. Any editor worth her salt should be able to provide a valid reason—even if it’s simply because the offending material doesn’t meet the publisher’s guidelines.
Now the caution. Be very sure, very sure the reason you’ve drawn your line in the sand is worth the possible cost. If you truly cannot come to an agreement, you may lose your contract. A few things are absolutely worth taking that stand. Most are not.
Anny Cook

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Read the instructions!

Every year students do poorly in exams because although they wrote an excellent essay, they did not answer the question. Authors often fall into the same trap.
Once you have chosen the publisher you plan to submit your book to, read their submission guidelines. Keep reading them until you are sure you understand them. Then do as they say.
Double spacing or one point five? Header and footer? Margins? Insert page break for a new chapter? Chapter heading in words not numerals?
If the publisher sees you cannot follow submission guidelines they will be inclined to think you won’t follow editing instructions either. And reject your book.
If they ask for formatting you cannot understand get a technologically savvy friend to help you. Don’t just assume it won’t matter. It will matter.
Writing is a very tough, competitive world. Give yourself an edge toward success by having Helen edit your book and advise you on how to submit it. Rates on application.
Helen Woodall Freelance Editor.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Editors from hell: A writer's true story

Editors from hell…

Oh yeah…I've got a story about one. First up let me say that I know I need editing. Only a dipstick writer thinks they don’t. My editor from hell story? Let’s call her Susie-Lou Finkleheimer-Wong.  My apologies to any Finkleheimer-Wongs out there. Anyway, Susie-Lou knew bugger all about editing. She was – probably still is – a writer. It’s always a bloody awful sign when you are stuck with a writer-editor-know-it-all. So this chick started out all over-the-top gushy and friendly and my spidey-sense was immediately on alert. She wanted us to be friends and be all happy-faced and I think if you start a professional relationship like that – and editors and writers have to be professional or they’re screwed and phrases like ‘bitch-hell-spawn’ or ‘anal psycho cow-faced twat’ are not conducive professional, business etiquette – then you’re screwed. 

The first edits I got back were fascinating. All the words Susie-Lou hated like ‘that’, ’was’, ‘and’, ‘as’ and ‘the’ had all been changed to bold red capitalized text and I was instructed by the psychotic Bride of Chucky to change every single one of them and use ‘different words’. Uh-huh. I indicated the stupidity of this request and may have inferred she was on hallucinogenic drugs. Several dozen unproductive emails back and forward resulted in her becoming scarily like a drunk Mrs Brady and me emailing the publisher and demanding that I required an editor who did not have her brains in her left armpit. I got another editor.

The moral of the story. It is your story. You wrote it. Accept advice that makes sense and avoid Finkleheimer-Wongs. 

Amarinda Jones

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Your Eighth Grade English Teacher wasn’t necessarily right.

Let me unpack that a little. If she told you to spell accommodation with two cs and two ms she was right. But if she drummed into you that commas were essential in lists of items, the rules have changed. If you’re shopping for peas, beans and squash, the Oxford comma, which used to be placed after the second last item and before the ‘and’, is now a thing of the past. Don’t add one there. If the list is confusing without one—say you needed to buy peas, macaroni and cheese—rearrange the list. Buy macaroni, peas and cheese.
Languages are living entities, frequently changing. New words come into use, old ones become obsolete. Authors keen to make a good impression on editors and agents, make sure they keep up with the changes.

Writing is a very tough, competitive world. Give yourself an edge toward success by having Helen edit your book. Rates on application.