Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tautologies, oxymorons, and confusables

Tautology (unnecessary repetition) – in actual fact, forward planning, raze to the ground, (raze means to the ground) two twins, (if there were three they would be triplets) adequate enough, very unique (unique means one of a kind)
Oxymoron (contradictory terms) – honest politician, deafening silence, open secret.
It is fine to use tautology or an oxymoron occasionally for emphasis or fun, but constant use of them shows an author too lazy to think outside a box of clichés.
Cement/concrete. Cement is that gray powder stuff. If she is standing on cement she’s up to her ankles in dust.
Lightning/lightening. Without the e it’s what zaps from the sky in a thunderstorm. With the e it’s what happens at dawn as the sky begins to lighten.
Wrack: when things are destroyed, wrack and ruin.  Rack up a lot of debts, racked with pain.

Now it’s your turn to comment.
What topics would you like to see covered on this blog?
Helen Woodall

Friday, January 27, 2012

Head-hopping AKA POV shifts

Head-hopping is when the Point of View from which the story is being told, changes inside a scene.
In a very long scene, one such change may be permitted, but it’s better to stay with the same viewpoint for the entire scene if possible.
Headbanging POV shifts are when the author changes POV back and forth and the reader starts to feel like she’s at a tennis match watching the ball go down the court and back up again. This is not good.
Before writing a scene the author needs to decide what part of the story she is telling here, and who knows what she has to describe. If one character leaves the scene part-way through, they cannot know what happens after they leave, so using them for POV won’t work.
A few authors naturally write in Third Person Omniscient POV. That is, they are like a narrator, who sees everything that happens in the world of the story. But unless you're J.R.R. Tolkien or Jane Austen, it’s much better to stick with convention. One scene, one viewpoint.
However, this doesn’t mean one viewpoint per book. It’s important that all the main characters tell part of their story from their own POV so the reader gets to know them intimately, how they think and react, instead of only seeing them through someone else’s eyes. Especially so in ménage stories, if all the parties are to be equal. It’s hard to believe in a happy ever after if one of the main characters never gets to tell the story from their own POV.

Helen Woodall

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


We’ve all seen them in movies, the watch only half-hidden under the medieval garment, the car in the background of the wild western scene.
But an author who wants her historical novel to be taken seriously works hard to avoid such things.
It’s important to remember that before the Industrial Revolution almost everything was handmade. This meant it took a long time and was therefore expensive. On a winter’s night the family sat in one room, in front of the fire. When you have to gather and chop the wood yourself, you aren’t going to waste it heating several rooms. The men carved furniture or household implements, the women spun wool, carded it and wove it into clothing.
If you didn’t grow it or make it yourself, you needed to sell your crops or your labor to get money to buy whatever you needed. Which translates as, poor people didn’t have them!
Before you send that hero with the broken leg to the doctor to get it set in plaster, check to see if plaster had been invented yet. (About 1835 in Europe, 1850 in Britain.) Want them to play a game of squash? Although precursors had been around since the twelfth century, it really began in Britain among those in jail. If your book is set in America, maybe they should play tennis instead.
Happy researching.
Helen Woodall

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Purple Prose

Please, please, please don’t ever talk about body parts in flowery, magical language. If you can’t bring yourself to use the words commonly used in everyday conversation, write mainstream romance, not erotic romance. One way of identifying purple prose is by your reaction when you read it aloud. Does it make you laugh because it's so ludicrous? Or does it make you shake your head in disgust? If so delete it and try again.

The Australian slang term for tight, brief men’s swimwear is “Budgie Smugglers”. Aussies understand and laugh at the term. Everyone else is totally confused, or finds the term unromantic. Likewise references to bananas, cucumbers, carrots etc are not romantic. A Middle Eastern country recently banned women from touching any of these items in case it gave them inappropriate ideas. Readers of romance all around the world just shook their heads in disbelief. Trust me, there is nothing romantic about a banana unless it’s dipped in chocolate sauce and covered in ice cream.

Helen Woodall

Monday, January 16, 2012

Chasing popularity

For authors who are endlessly trying to mould their book to fit the latest fad, switching from genre to genre, theme to theme, in the hope of huge sales, I have just three simple words for you. It doesn’t work.
When male/male romance first became popular, hundred of authors hastily changed their Sam and Samantha book into Sam and Stan. It didn’t work. It was very obvious what had happened and won the author no friends whatsoever. Men react and think differently from women. A tweak here and there doesn’t make the genre fit or a heroine into a gay hero.
Then vampires became the big sellers and the hero suddenly couldn’t go out in daylight without sunglasses. Once again, it didn’t work. Where is the mythos, the world building?
If you want to write a book in the latest fad genre, go ahead, do it. But start by planning your world building, make your characters fit, do all the background work. Only then will you have a chance of your book becoming a success.
Cramming a square book into a round hole never works. Readers are discerning. They know instantly that the author has been lazy. Writing is a tough profession. It takes hard work. So begin with research. Never ever tweak and hope it’ll work. Because it won’t.
Helen Woodall

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Suck it up, Princess #2

It seems like every couple of months an author receives a bad review and vents her feelings all over the blogosphere.
Believe me, I understand that it hurts if your book is given a bad review, especially when the reader gives a reason like, “It was short”, and the promo material said it was 20 pages. Twenty pages is, by definition, short, so why was the reader upset?
But that does not excuse the behavior of the author. Authors, if you receive a bad review you are free to scream, cry, throw things, and eat chocolate. But only with the internet turned off. Never never NEVER express your sadness, disappointment, anger or anything other than pure professionalism, in public. The internet never forgets. That post will be found by every publisher or agent you submit to in future, and will probably ensure your next book is rejected.
A review is one person’s opinion. Every person is entitled to their opinion, even if it is clearly stupid.
An author should always act professionally. DO NOT respond to a bad review. In particular do not respond when you are upset. Even more importantly, do not respond pretending to be someone else. Blogger tracking will reveal your actions and you’ll be in even more trouble than you were already.
Switch the internet off and leave it off until you’ve recovered from the hurt, anger, and other emotions. But still do not reply to the review.
Suck it up, princess. Pull up your big girl panties. Tie a knot and go on. Your writing career is far more important than one bad review.
Helen Woodall

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Kick-ass heroines

These days, a heroine who sits on a silken cushion, weeping gently into a lace handkerchief, her tears sparkling in her eyes, her nose never becoming red, while she waits patiently for chapter after chapter until the hero overcomes all ills and rescues her, is frowned upon.
So are long, run-on sentences like the one above. Both sentences like the above one, and heroines as described therein, used to be the mainstay of romance. No longer.
Today’s heroine is permitted to have red eyes and a nose to rival Rudolph’s if she cries. But more importantly, she is expected to be digging her way out of the dungeon with a spoon, while pretending to sit on her silken cushion. Or even better, slapping her guard upside the head with a brick inside in the cushion and escaping all by herself.
Women are no longer a man’s property, and part of that empowerment means the heroine is expected to be an active leader in the story. The hero is still Alpha, but the heroine is no doormat, or piece of property. She makes him work for everything she permits him to have and is right beside him, as they save the world together.
So answer me this riddle? Why is it so rare to have a female werewolf or vampire who turns the Alpha human male? Why do male vampires and werewolves still turn human heroines?
Helen Woodall

Thursday, January 5, 2012


A huge Australian store put up seven-storey-high banners across Australia that included a misplaced apostrophe. Grammarians may bemoan the level of literacy of the average Australian, but from Myer’s point of view, far too many people saw the gaffe and Twitter exploded with tweets about it.
For writers, and anyone anticipating a career in retail, here is how it works:
Possessives: My dad’s hat. Thomas’ hat. (some older and more traditional publishers still accept Thomas’s hat). The Joneses’ hat.
Plurals: No apostrophe. Cats, hats, the Joneses. (And in this case "gets".)
Plural and possessive: the cats’ hats, the scissors’ blades.
See, easy!
Helen Woodall

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Grammar Guru Speaks

In dialogue, common usage (as distinct from actual bad grammar) is fine. But in narrative, it doesn’t matter whether “everyone says that”, if it’s wrong, authors shouldn’t be using it. The author needs to obey the rules of grammar.
“To boldly go” may be a catchy line in a movie, but split infinitives are incorrect.
Never say “different than”. It’s “different from”.
If you have two daughters you have an older daughter and a younger daughter. You don’t have an oldest (or eldest) daughter until there are three or more of them.
Fewer is if you can count them. Otherwise use less. Fewer chocolates in the box, but less coffee in the pot.
There is no such thing as a half a sudden, so you can’t have “all of a sudden”. The word is “suddenly”.
Outside of/inside of “She licked the inside of her lips” is correct. But she didn’t go “inside of” the house. She simply went “inside the house”.
Subject and verb must agree. A group noun takes a singular verb. “The flock of sheep is grazing”, “the crowd was waiting”.
These are rules. Don’t yell at me if you don’t like them. Look them up yourself in the Chicago Manual of Style: http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/home.html then obey them.
Helen Woodall