Thursday, November 29, 2012

Wordiness, repetition

We’ve talked before about words that don’t add anything to a story and can often be omitted without changing the meaning. Words like just, actually, absolutely, that. Often these words are adverbs, which is probably how adverbs came to get a bad reputation, and some authors have a panic attack at using one at all.

We’ve also talked about phrases which are almost repetition. Phrases like “shrugged his shoulders”, “blinked his eyes”, and “stand to your feet”. Since you can’t shrug anything other than your shoulders, or blink anything other than your eyes, or stand to your knees (that’s called kneeling, not standing) you really don’t need to keep saying the extra bit. “He shrugged”, “he stood”, or “he blinked” is fine.

Here are a few phrases that writers often use to begin a sentence with. Again, they’re not needed. Just head straight to the meat of the message, and tell the reader without the preamble.
I'm writing to tell you that.” “I just wanted to let you know.” “All I can say is.” “As a matter of fact.” “In order to.”

Lastly, always remember you can’t modify absolutes. For example, you are either pregnant, or not pregnant. Whether you are one day pregnant or nine months pregnant, you’re pregnant. Not “a little bit pregnant” or “very pregnant”.
The same with “unique”. It means “one of a kind”. So an item can’t be “very unique” or “somewhat unique”. It either is or isn’t unique.

Removing all these wordy features will make your writing much crisper and clearer, and therefore more powerful.

Helen Woodall

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

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Trademark Territory

Recently some authors and bloggers have been threatened by huge, rich companies that they will be hauled through the legal system and be sued for their last cent for using a potentially trademarked name. In one case the word was the author’s own legal given name, provable by her birth certificate. In another case, a woman was dragged into court as her personalized car number plate was deemed to be obscene. Once again it was her own legal birth name. Apparently her name means something naughty in another language. A language which wasn’t the one commonly spoken in the country where she lived and where her car was registered.

These things happen. A wise author thinks about them before making her decisions. Naming a particular beverage that made a person drunk, a particular airline whose plane crashed, a particular furniture or electrical company whose product was faulty, is not a good idea unless you have documented evidence that it has happened. Much better to simply say the character had drunk too much “beer”, and that the “chair” broke, or the “plane” crashed.

However, if it is really important to the story to name names, acknowledging the trademark status of those names is a wise thing to do.

And never assume that just because you made a name up, it’s not already a real name and trademarked somewhere. I clearly recall an author trying to invent a name for a hospital in her book and it took her half a dozen attempts to invent one that hadn’t already been trademarked.

Each country has its own trademark office. For the US the place to look is:

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


A palindrome is a word or sentence that reads the same forward and backward. 

When deciding if something is a palindrome or not, punctuation is considered not to count. So, “Madam, I’m Adam” is allowed.
They can be quite simple—racecar, Hannah, eye, radar—or quite complicated: Go hang a salami. I’m a lasagna hog.
They can even be whole words: Women understand men. Few men understand women.

Possibly the best-known palindrome is, “A man. A plan. A canal. Panama.”

Palindromes were popular in ancient times. There’s even a 2D palindrome still around from Ancient Rome (see the graphic above).

Some people get excited about palindromic dates too. Like February 2, 2020: 02/02/2020.

The Simpsons did an episode on “Rise to vote, sir”. Feel free to have some fun designing your own.

Helen Woodall

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

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The book that can’t wait

An absolutely fascinating concept and a different take on new technology for books.

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Showing instead of telling

This is one of the hardest things for some authors to understand. After years in school of being taught to write long, involved descriptive passages, now there’s an editor/agent/publisher, slashing through their carefully wrought prose demanding they “show, don’t tell”.

Fiction is different from literary writing. In literary writing people want to sit back and picture the scenery described, imagine the inside of the room that’s explained to them, putting each little nick-nack in its assigned place.

In fiction, the reader is turning pages urgently, wanting to know what happens next. Does the villain shoot the hero? Does the heroine escape?

That doesn’t mean we don’t want to know any details about the dungeon where the villain has incarcerated the heroine. It just means the author needs to show the reader instead of telling her.

Instead of:
The dungeon walls were solid stone, dank and slimy. The heroine took great care not to let her delicate skin touch against the hard stone.
Try something like:
The heroine stared at the long red graze on her arm where it had knocked against the solid stone walls of the dungeon as the villain thrust her inside. She tore a strip off her petticoat to wipe the slimy dankness off her pale skin, hoping antibiotics had been invented in this story.

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

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Grammar Guru explains Oxymorons

An oxymoron is a figure of speech that’s designed to link opposites. Some of them are so much a part of everyday speech we don’t even notice how ridiculous the phrase is until we stop and think, like “deafening silence”, “paid volunteer”, “sweet sorrow”.

Think about it for a moment. A volunteer is someone who freely donates their time. Once they’re paid they are a worker. They may be an employee, or a casual worker, or a day laborer. But the one thing they are not, is a volunteer.

Some oxymorons are just people getting lazy about language. “Found missing”. If it’s found, it’s no longer missing. Or do you mean you discovered that it was missing? “Working holiday”. Are you working or are you on holiday? Is this a business trip or a vacation?

Some oxymorons were titles or names given in all seriousness, but because of what has happened since then they’re now considered an oxymoron: military intelligence, civil servant, advanced basic.

Some more examples of lazy language are “exact estimate” or “almost exactly”. Come on people, did you guess, or do you know?

“Plastic glasses” and “freezer burn” are examples of how language has changed over time. Glasses are often no longer made of glass, and it is quite possible to burn food by inaccurate freezing.

Check your writing. Are the words you’re using just common usage or are you being sloppy, lazy or inaccurate?

Or my “only choice”, my “mandatory option”, may be to delete some “pretty ugly” writing when it’s “even odds” you’ll leave your reader “clearly confused”.

Helen Woodall

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

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Can you really do that?

We have reached a very exciting part of the book. The villain has captured the heroine. The hero races to rescue her and begins to fight the villain.

The heroine wrings her hands and bites her lips.
Really? If she’s that much of a helpless baby I’m surprised the hero wants her. Can’t she at least turn on her heels and grab a vase to hit the villain over the head with? No, not the priceless Ming Dynasty vase, but perhaps the ugly one Great Aunt Bertha gave her.

Having made her no longer Too Stupid To Live, let’s improve the clichés around her actions. We’ve removed “wrings her hands” because she’s going to “grab the vase” instead. But bites her lips? Go on try it yourself. Bite both your lips. Come on, have a go.
You can’t can you? You can bite your top lip, OR bite your bottom lip, but you can’t bite both lips at once.

Now let’s fix, “turns on her heels”. Try that. Rush away from the computer and turn on your heels.
It’s not as easy as it sounds is it? And it’s quite a slow action.

That’s the problem with clichés. We’ve read them in stories so often we think they explain the scene. But when you examine them, they actually spoil your scene, taking all the drama out of it.

Now, go away and write some stuff she can really do. And please don’t make her a crybaby or TSTL.

Helen Woodall

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

Friday, November 2, 2012

Alpha or Ass

Most readers love an Alpha hero. A big, strong man with a can-do attitude who puts the heroine and her needs first in his life. He may pick her up and throw her over his shoulder, or lift her onto his horse, and then they ride off into the sunset together.

Some heroes push the boundaries somewhat, telling the heroine what she can and can’t do. This can still be fulfilling, forcing her to see where her thoughts are wrong or where she truly needs help.

But then there are the heroes who are arrogant and idiots, not Alpha at all. These men are not carrying the heroine away for her own good, or to save her from herself, but because it fulfills their own needs to be bossy or macho. They are using her to cover up inadequacies in their own personalities, instead of helping the heroine to grow, develop and understand how much she is loved.

Look at your Alpha hero. Is he dominant or domineering? Is he an Alpha or an ass? If his first priority is himself and his own aggrandizement, not his heroine and her interests, throw him out and tell your heroine to choose another man. One more worthy of her respect.

Helen Woodall

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