Wednesday, October 30, 2013

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.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

An Impressive Beginning

For a book to succeed in drawing readers into the plot and characters, the beginning needs to be impressive. Polished, entertaining, catchy, something that drags the reader along until she doesn’t even realize she’s halfway through chapter two and her coffee is cold.

Often it’s an action scene. Sometimes it’s a puzzle the character begins to solve. The ways to do it are as varied as the number of books out there. What it isn’t, is long flowery descriptive phrases about people or places. Get the reader racing along with you first, and add a few scenic details briefly along the way incidentally, or as dialogue.

It’s very important that each word in these first scenes is exactly right, because one wrong word (or typo!) can throw the reader out of the story before she’s fully hooked. A reader may hate a word or typo later in the book, but once she’s invested in the story and the characters she’s more likely to keep reading. At the beginning one single error can be enough for a reader to put down that book and choose one of the other hundred in her To Be Read pile.

Helen Woodall

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

Monday, October 21, 2013

30 books you should read before you’re 30

The “Huffington Post” has assembled a list of thirty books they think people need to read before they’re thirty. They say some books simply resonate better with a younger audience, whereas other books are just so good everyone should make the attempt to read them.

While I don’t necessarily agree with every book on this list—as an Australian I’m not too sold on “A People’s History of the United States” for example—I do very much approve of the idea of readers trying a little bit of everything and potentially being surprised to find that things they were forced to read in school and hated, aren’t as bad as they remembered.

Happy reading:

Helen Woodall

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Capitalizing random words doesn't make you look classy. It makes you look like you are in a time warp from the 1700s when it was considered classy. If you want to emphasize something, use italic instead of a capital letter. The simple rule is to only capitalize the first word of a sentence, the pronoun “I”, and proper nouns.

An example of a proper noun is someone’s name or title. Sir Thistleworthy; Annie Applegate; Madam Attorney-General. Place names are also proper nouns: Melbourne, Victoria; the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Also watch out for changing the meaning of what you’re saying by adding capital letters. “I live in the White House”, has a very different meaning from “I live in the white house.” It would be much better to say, “I live in the white house” as your friend is about to enter the green house, or even the greenhouse (It’s never Greenhouse).

Helen Woodall

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

Friday, October 11, 2013

12 letters that didn’t make it into the alphabet

Oh, wow. This is truly fascinating stuff.

Helen Woodall

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

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Does this need a hyphen?

Whether something is one word, two words, or hyphenated, often drives writers crazy. Is it goodbye or good-bye? Fairy tale? Fairytale? Or fairy-tale?

A quick way to check is to go to

It has 18 hits for good-bye and 23 for goodbye. A good rule of thumb is to go with the majority, so in this case, that’s goodbye. However, Merriam Webster is one of the 18 for good-bye and since many companies use Merriam Webster as their dictionary of choice, here, good-bye is an equally good pick.

Fairy tale is even worse. There are 11 hits on fairy tale, 8 on fairy-tale, and 17 on fairytale. And in this case Merriam Webster has it hyphenated, so any of the three is a reasonable choice.

My advice would be 1. Stick with the majority. Or 2. Stick with Merriam Webster. That is, unless you are targeting your book for a certain publisher. In that case always follow their style guide.

Do I hear you asking, “What about compound adjectives? Why is it a red-hot fire, but a brightly lit room?”
Now that one is easy. Words ending in ly are (usually) adverbs. By definition an adverb can never be a compound adjective.

Helen Woodall

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

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Editors edit. Writers write.

I’m surprised I need to blog on this, but apparently some people still don’t understand what an editor does.

A writer writes a book. It is her vision, her story, her words. The editor then edits the book.

There are two main types of editing, content editing and line editing. The content edit comes first. This is where the editor checks there are no plot holes or silly things happening. Maybe one scene waffles along for far too long slowing down the story, or two scenes follow each other leaving out an important link that is clear in the author’s head but missed by the reader.

This is often also where POV changes are noted to be fixed and a scene rewritten without too many POV changes or even in a different character’s POV.

Once the big changes are done there’s a line edit where grammar and minor inconsistencies are fixed. The heroine whose eyes miraculously change from blue to brown. The town that is named Steele, Steale, and Steel, and so on. All the spelling, punctuation and grammar errors are corrected now.

An editor DOES NOT rewrite the fixes. She tells the author what is wrong and the author writes them. The editor might change a comma to a period and reign to rein, but she does not rewrite messy paragraphs or even convoluted sentences. The book is the author’s and the words should all be the author’s.

An author requesting an editor to “rewrite my novel to the suggestions of the publisher” is not looking for an editor. What she needs is a co-author or a ghostwriter. A good ghostwriter will do the fixes in the author’s voice.

Helen Woodall

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