Thursday, March 29, 2012

You put that comma where?

Many people get confused about where the punctuation goes when there’s a quote inside a quote— “Yesterday I read Sara Paretsky’s book, ‘Tunnel Vision’,” she said.
One solution would be to put the book title in italics instead of inside quotes. Book titles, longer musical works, paintings, the names of ships, all can be written in italics instead of quotation marks. But let’s assume you want to learn how to get it right, so read on.
The main quote is always completely inside the double quotation marks. So the comma, full stop (period), exclamation point or whatever, is INSIDE the final quotation mark. And while I’m mentioning exclamation points, please note, one is enough. If the person is really excited, indicate that by their words and body language, not by using ten exclamation points.
Any punctuation related to the book title or stuff inside the interior quotation marks is AFTER the quotes. Secondary quotation marks only encompass what is said or referred to, not added punctuation.
“I was talking to John about Sara Paretsky’s book and he said, ‘I’ve read it too’”.
While we’re talking about quotation marks, notice the way they face. They always curve toward the thing they’re talking about. Sometimes Word is unhelpful and you need to fix them yourself. When they’re at the start of a word, indicating a missing letter, they face that invisible letter because that’s what they relate too. In this case Word almost always has them wrong and you have to change them. eg ’tis, ’til, etc. When you have an apostrophe in a regular contraction eg we’re, the apostrophe replaces the “a” (we are) so that’s the way it faces, toward the missing letter. So if you have a speaker who drops their aitches the same rule applies: “’Appy birthday ’Enry.”

Helen Woodall

Helen is available to line edit and/ or content edit fiction and non-fiction. Rates on application.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Choosing appropriate character names

I wrote earlier about naming your characters. You can revisit that post here:

In this post I want to go further and suggest you think about appropriate names.
If your heroine has a hair trigger temper, naming her Serena (peaceful one) is probably a bad move. Always check the meaning of names before using them. That may save you from making a nasty error.
Similarly, if using a foreign name, always make sure of its slang meaning as well as its obvious meaning.  Aja sounds like a nice easy-to-pronounce name, but it also means goat, which may annoy more than the character you’re naming.  And Agasi sounds like the perfect name for a tennis player, but it also means “mountain thrower” which may not fit your character’s temperament at all.
“Twinkle” may sound like a cute name for a star, but it is slang for urinate, which is not a good name for a character you want the reader to relate to, unless it’s used for a pet with continence issues.
And a word to the authors of historical stories. If the name has not been invented yet, or is not known in that country at that time, no, you can’t use it.
Many parents-to-be take the full nine months to decide on a name for their baby. It can be just as difficult for authors to name characters appropriately.

Helen Woodall

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Getting out of the rut. Defeating writer’s block

Most authors have their own method of overcoming writer’s block. Some do something entirely different: cook, clean, go hiking.
Others change projects. They stop work on the paranormal and write on the historical. Or any other genre as long as it’s a different plot and characters from what has them stymied.
Some challenge each other to a word count war, or to write something they’ve never attempted before. Or they begin something ultra short, like a free read, using minor characters from one of their books.
One author, who writes action heroines, said whenever she’s painted into a corner she just gets out her sword and smashes the wall down. Well, whatever works for each author is good.
One different kind of writing challenge is to write a page of the story without using a particular letter or common word. No using letter “o”, or forbidding the word “and”, or “then”. This kind of project forces the author to think out of the box, to try new phrases, new words, and in doing so, often stirs their creative juices.
My advice is to take a day or two off and do other, completely different things. Then to place you butt in the chair, your fingers on the keyboard, and get writing, using whatever challenge works for you. It doesn’t matter if what you write isn’t very good. Once it’s on the page you can fix it up. But first you need to get it written down.
As all authors know, writing can be very hard work. But if you want to succeed, you have to keep on keeping on.

Helen Woodall

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Who’s the Daddy?

Back in the 1960s “who’s the daddy?” stories were a staple of romance. The hero would agonize for most of the book, looking at the baby/child to see if it had his eyes, or his mother’s nose, or his father’s talent for painting, trying to work out if the child was his or not.

The baby’s mother may have been trying to protect him from the consequences of the child’s arrival (typically a heroine), or out of spite denying the child was his (bad gal). Either way, the parentage of the child was a major plot point.

Some authors are still writing this kind of story today. I’m sorry, but it will no longer work. Any hero worthy of the title will manage to take a few strands of the child’s hair and get them DNA tested. All he has to do is pat the child’s head and “accidently” catch a few strands of hair among his fingers. Or offer to brush the child’s hair. Or even get a saliva swab while helping the kid clean their teeth. There’s a million ways he could do it and none of them are difficult. Most of them aren’t even illegal.

The only kind of “Who’s the daddy?” story I’ll believe these days is a protracted court case while they fight over custody or visiting rights.
All authors, whatever their genre, need to be aware of the advances made by science, and keep their plots relevant. 

Helen Woodall

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The sagging middle

No, not yours, the book’s.
Many authors spend huge amounts of time getting the beginning of their books just right. Everyone knows an author must attract the attention of the reader/editor/publisher/agent with the opening page or they won’t keep reading. Also many writing competitions use the first few chapters as their test, so authors polish, polish, polish the start to get it perfect.
Then authors work hard on the ending to tie up all the plot threads, make sure there’s no loose ends, nothing unfinished, and satisfy the reader with the Happily Ever After. Again, they check and recheck, polishing the ending to make it fulfilling for the reader.
But the middle? Ah, that’s another story.
The author has worked so hard on the start of the book they’re relaxed by the time they reach the middle and relaxing into the story is good. But it’s not so good if the dialogue waffles, the plot meanders off here and there, and the action slows to a crawl. The entire book doesn’t have to be fast paced, but it does need to keep progressing steadily toward the denouement.
Authors, don’t forget the middle. Polish it too. Tighten up saggy storytelling. Delete unnecessary dialogue and description, keep the book moving and you’ll keep your reader happy.

Helen Woodall
Need help? Helen is available to critique and edit your book. Rates on application.

Monday, March 12, 2012

English Pronunciation

This is very clever! Read it aloud and enjoy!

If you can pronounce correctly every word in this poem, you will be speaking English better than 90% of the native English speakers in the world.
 Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it's written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.
Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.
Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation's OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.
Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.
Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Foeffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.
Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.
Face, but preface, not efface.

Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.
Pronunciation (think of Psyche!)
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won't it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It's a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.
Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!!!
 English Pronunciation by G. Nolst Trenité

Friday, March 9, 2012

National Proofreading Day

8 March was apparently National Proofreading Day. I missed it because 8 March here in Australia is International Women’s Day and by the time I found out about National Proofreading Day it was 8 March in the US and 9 March here.
But that is actually a good thing, because I simply read other people’s posts and can give you their cool information here now!

EditMinion is a robotic copy editor that will spot simple grammar errors before you publish or send an email.

Business writing coach Judy Beaver has collected an entire page of proofreading resources to help you with your manuscript.

In addition, Grammar Girl has a great essay filled with practical proofreading habits.

Enjoy the pictures, and please remember to proofread your work.

Helen Woodall

Available for proofreading, line and/or content editing, checking for consistency, plot holes, accuracy, grammar and more.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Great Big Misunderstanding

Never, never, NEVER, have a situation in your book, that could be solved if a couple of characters simply sat down for half an hour over a cup of coffee and talked to each other. The Great Big Misunderstanding is a central plot point of many BAD novels, including romance novels, and is guaranteed to drive huge numbers of readers to throw the book against the nearest wall.
You’ve all seen the movies and read the books. They separate when she sees him kissing a beautiful woman. She never asks him why, or anything like that, she just runs away. In the second last chapter someone finally tells her it was his sister and then they all live happily ever after. No, if she can’t manage to ask him why he’s kissing someone she doesn’t deserve to win him. Is her trust and love really too fragile for her to speak to him?
Characters need to show some spine and gumption. If they can’t face facts there needs to be an overwhelming reason why. It should never be just a plot point to keep them apart until it’s time for the reunion and happily ever after.

Helen Woodall

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Current American traditions did not exist in historical Europe!

I’m excited to see American authors writing historical fiction. I love historical fiction but I do like it to be accurate. Or at least come with a warning that it’s a “wallpaper” story not a researched one. I have no problem with authors making up their own world based on a historical period as long as they freely admit it.
Some eras, such as the Regency and Victorian periods, have been intensely researched. Many books are written about them and authors have no excuse for getting any facts wrong. If the author does make a mistake the editor needs to tell the author to fix it before publication.
The example that started this blog was “Supper”. I have just read yet another Regency-set story where the family sat down to supper. NO THEY DID NOT! The evening meal was called “Dinner” whether it was eaten at 5p.m. (in the country) or 9p.m. (in Town). Dinner was a hot meal with several courses. Supper was a light meal, usually cold food, served at balls and the like after midnight, and children never attended such affairs. Even if a country family ate dinner at five, any supper they had would not have involved the children, who would have been sent to the nursery and would most likely be in bed. A country supper would have been at perhaps 9p.m. and it would have been a hot drink, and maybe a small serve of some cold leftovers, or some biscuits (cookies). But more likely they would have simply had a “nightcap”, an alcoholic drink, with no food, before bed.
Historical authors please, do your research!

Helen Woodall