Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Is this story giving you whiplash?

Princess Perfect knelt beside the pond, carefully ensuring her new white lace dress didn’t get in the dirt. She didn’t want Nanny yelling at her again. “Hello, Mr. Frog. Are you there?”
Mr. Frog was hiding at the bottom of the pond, under his favorite lily pad. He decided to wait until she’d called him three times. Three was always the magic number in fairytales.
“Princess! Princess! Oh there you are.” Nanny was all out of breath. She hated having to walk all the way down here to the pond. And she just knew the Princess’ dress would be dirty and she’d be the one having to wash it then iron all that horrible, fiddly lace.

Have you worked out the problem with the story? (Apart from the fact that it’s terrible.)
Did I hear you say POV? Yes indeed it has POV issues. Head hopping. Headbanging headhopping, in fact, with every paragraph from the point of view of a different character.

This, dear author, is not allowed. Many authors struggle with the need to keep a scene all in the point of view of one character. If the fight scene begins in the POV of the villain and the princess drops a brick on his head rendering him unconscious, the scene has to end then. It can’t continue because he doesn’t know what is happening anymore. The new scene can begin immediately, after a scene break, in the POV of the victorious princess, but the author can’t just switch POVs mid-scene. Even worse is the author who tells the fight scene by switching back and forth between the villain’s POV and the princess’ POV. No, it does not give a “more balanced” view of the fight. It gives the average reader whiplash and a desire to not read the rest of the book.

The trick is to plan whose POV the scene will be in and to make sure that person can see enough of the action to tell the story with clarity, emotion, and immediacy. That way, only the villain will end up with a headache.

Helen Woodall

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

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Why you should rewrite parts of your book

On my blog under the title “Writing Fast” ( I talked about the misconception that a “real” author can only possibly produce one book per year. Some authors simply write faster than others. A book takes as long as it takes, be that a week, a month, a year, or a lifetime.
Now I want to talk about a few reasons why an author should consider rewriting a chunk of the book.

The reason why scenes or paragraphs need to be rewritten, is not because maybe you can do it better next time. That’s why you write another book! It’s to fix a problem – too many POV changes, inconsistencies, sagging middle, lack of tension, info dumps etc.
The reason to add scenes is when there is lack of connectivity between events, or when characters are not developing or act out of character. A character can act however they please, but there always must be a reason for them to act that way. The most shy, scaredy-cat heroine might be as brave as a lion if the villain threatens her best friend for example.

Some authors are linear. They commence writing at chapter one scene one and keep going until they reach the end. Others write scenes as they come to mind and stitch the book together later. There is no right or wrong way. But when a book is written over a long time span, or not in chronological order, the author does need to check that the actions flow and the characters develop along the way. Scenes may need to be moved or rewritten if a character loses a skill they’ve already used in the story, or “forgets” important facts or people.
That’s why it’s good to have a trusted critical friend read the book before sending it to an editor, a publisher, or self publishing it. A fresh eye can see things the author is too close to the story to notice.

Helen Woodall

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

Saturday, August 17, 2013


A flashback is used in a story to tell some backstory that happened either before the book started, or to fill in details (often from a different character’s perspective) to something that has already happened. Too much information can become an infodump, slowing down the story, bogging the reader in details that are either unnecessary, or that could be delivered much better in bite-size, digestible chunks in dialogue.
But a short flashback can be very useful in increasing tension, telling some details or an event the reader needs to know, while holding the reader back from what will happen next in the book.

Flashbacks usually begin with a line break so the reader knows the scene has changed. If they’re not too long, they can often be set in italic font, which clearly shows the reader something is different. In that case they can be written in present tense, as they happened, because the reader is well aware this section or scene is not the main story.

If they are written in normal font, flashbacks are usually written in past perfect tense to show the action is a completed event in the past.

If an author plans to include several flashbacks it’s usually a good idea to decide on the method to be used and write them all in present tense in italic font, or all in past perfect tense in normal font, for internal consistency inside the book.
Happy writing.

Helen Woodall

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

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Grammar Errors Bosses Hate

I was fascinated to see an article in the news entitled, “Grammar mistakes that could cost you the job”. Some days I think it’s only editors and English teachers who care about grammar, but apparently not.
Top of their hate list was spelling the company name incorrectly. (Well duh!) But also considered unforgiveable was using “irregardless” (this is not a word. It’s “regardless”), could of or should of (it’s “have” not “of”), and mixing up a whole long list of homonyms - words that sound alike but have different meanings. (Spell check can’t help you here. Look them up in or any other dictionary).
Next on their list was getting wrong things like I versus me, your/you’re, adverbs and adjectives, it’s/its, than/then, and finally things like split infinitives.
If you’re planning to apply for a new job, or a job promotion, better brush up on your grammar first. It really does matter.
This is the article in full:

Helen Woodall

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

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Is there a synonym for that?

LinkedIn has published a list of the most overused words in its profiles. In Australia that word is “creative”. Guess what? It’s America’s most overused word too.

Here’s the list:
1. Creative
2. Effective
3. Motivated
4. Extensive experience
5. Track record
6. Innovative
7. Responsible
8. Analytical
9. Communication skills
10. Positive

The most overused buzzwords worldwide:
Australia: Creative
Brazil: Experimental
Canada: Creative
Egypt: Multinational
France: Responsible
Germany: Creative
India: Effective
Indonesia: Multinational
Italy: Responsible
Malaysia: Motivated
Netherlands: Creative
New Zealand: Creative
Saudi Arabia: Motivated
Singapore: Creative
South Africa: Motivated
Spain: Specialized
Sweden: Creative
Switzerland: Analytical
United Arab Emirates: Motivated
United Kingdom: Motivated
United States: Creative

Now that might help you write your next job application, but you can also use this information in storytelling as well. That word you keep reading in every second book? Make sure you don’t use it in your book. Find a better, more apt synonym instead.
Happy writing

Helen Woodall

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

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Finally, some grammar rules you can ignore.

I know some of you just spilled your beverages on your keyboard while reading the heading of this blog, but there are actually some grammar rules that can be ignored in fiction writing, and even in technical writing unless it’s for very pedantic publishers.

“Between” must be used only when there are two items. If there are more than two items, use “among”.
The ‘tween” in between means the number two.
Among is clearly better when there are a large number, or an unknown number of items.
The robber band divided the gold among themselves.
But if there are only three for example, most people wouldn’t care whether you wrote,
The three robbers divided the gold among themselves.
The three robbers divided the gold between themselves.

Don’t use “since” when you mean “because”.
“Since” is obviously correct in a phrase like: “Since time immemorial…”
But these days it’s okay to say either, “Since he hates cricket, he’s watching the football.”
Or “Because he hates cricket, he’s watching the football.”

Unquote versus endquote
It used to be that one said, “quote” before beginning a quotation, and “endquote” at the conclusion. For obvious reasons, because the quote had ended. Now it’s quite acceptable to say “quote…unquote”. However if you say “begin quote”, you should then say “endquote” for consistency.

As always, however, when in doubt, follow the rules. The person reading what you wrote might think you are a fraction old-fashioned, but that’s better than having them think you are ill-educated.

Helen Woodall

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