Sunday, April 23, 2017

The ingredients for a good book

Characters. If the reader cannot relate to your characters she will not continue reading. She may love them or hate them, but the author has to draw the reader into their lives so she keeps reading. If a character is Too Stupid To Live (eg. walking alone into a possible murderer’s house) you will lose the reader right then and there.

These days, female characters are expected to make an effort to solve their own problems. The hero may still come riding up on his white horse to sweep her away, but she should have been endeavoring to solve her own problems, not crying in a corner and wringing her hands.

Plot. There must be a plot. It is through the plot the characters show their development. In an erotic romance the sex may be part of the plot, but there must be something else happening as well—a bad guy to defeat, the world to save, or whatever.

Resolution. Readers hate being left hanging. In a series, the overall plot arc can continue, but there must be some resolution of the main characters, such as a Happy For Now, or them working together toward saving the world. A cliffhanger is only good if the next book will be on the shelves very soon.

Fiction writing is a very tough, competitive world. Give yourself an edge toward success by ensuring your book has engaging characters, an intriguing plot and a professional appearance with a suitable, attractive cover, and that the story is consistent, and the text grammatically clean.

Helen Woodall

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Helen visits historic Chiltern

Chiltern, close to the New South Wales/Victoria border, is an historic goldmining town. There are lots of fascinating old buildings to see:

An old shop, established 1875.

The old police lock-up.

Gilmour's store.

And beautiful Lake Anderson.

Helen Woodall

Sunday, April 9, 2017

How to Write a Great Book Blurb

This is an excellent article on writing a good book blurb. My advice has always been to start with a hook, and not to give too much away. Both those points are covered here, along with several others that make good sense.

Book Daily’s keywords are: Engage, Allure, Honest, Quick, Intrigue.

The entire article is here:

Helen Woodall

Monday, April 3, 2017

How to argue with your editor

As I've said before, the writer’s relationship with their editor should be a professional one. Your editor is neither your mother, nor your best friend. S/he is there to work with you to make your book the best it can be.

Therefore arguing with them about every comma and editing change is not a good idea. If your book is being published by a publishing house, there will be House Style which has to be followed. There will be set, unchangeable rules about things like semi colons and certain word choices. Arguing about these things is simply a waste of time, as the publisher will not suddenly rewrite their style manual for you.

Most publishers follow the Chicago Manual of Style. Again, if there is something you want changed that breaks the rules in CMOS, you can stamp your feet as much as you like, but your change is not going to happen.

Outside of these things though, if you explain to your editor why you want something expressed a certain way, s/he will listen to you. If it’s not possible s/he will tell you why. It may be that your sentence had simply been unclear and s/he’d misunderstood what you were trying to convey.

As long as you remain polite and professional, it’s perfectly fine to argue with your editor. Just understand there are some things out of their power to change.

Helen Woodall

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Naming Your Characters

You may have five friends named Leah. Each one is distinct in your mind—the blonde, the one always laughing, the one at work and so on. But you cannot do that in a book.

Think back to school days when you studied all those King Louis in France. I bet you can scarcely keep track in your mind now of which was which, apart perhaps from the Sun King.

This is what happens to readers when character names in a book are confusing. Sure, it occurs in real life, but in a book it’s a really bad idea to have a Tom and Tim, or two Freds, or even Mr. Holden and Mr. Howden. The readers will get confused and your story will lose its impact while they’re flipping back over the pages trying to get the characters clear in their mind.

And never repeat a name in a different book, unless it is the same character reappearing. A secondary character named Julie, in two different books, when they are totally different people will confuse your readers too.

There are plenty of baby name books out there. Give every character a distinct name that reflects their personality.

Helen Woodall

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Fascinating story about a comma, and a court case

An Oxford comma changed this court case completely.

A group of dairy drivers argued that they deserved overtime pay for certain tasks they had completed. The company said they did not. An appeals court sided with the drivers, saying that the guidelines themselves were made too ambiguous by, you guessed it, a lack of an Oxford comma.

I don’t like the Oxford comma either, but I do agree that readers need to be able to understand the point of what is being written.
And kudos to the drivers for their win.

The story is here:

Read and enjoy.

The Oxford comma may not be as quite dead as has been reported.

Helen Woodall

Sunday, March 12, 2017

21 Harsh But Eye-Opening Writing Tips From Great Authors

For many authors, the hardest thing to face is a truly cruel rejection letter. Yet most of the great writers of our time have tried and failed and failed some more. For example, Vladimir Nabokov received a harsh rejection letter from Knopf upon submitting "Lolita", which would later go on to sell fifty million copies.

In this article, twenty-one famous authors give budding authors their harsh, but useful advice. My personal favorite is #21. Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously. – Lev Grossman

So, authors and aspiring authors, take a big deep breath, then read:

Helen Woodall

Sunday, February 26, 2017

If you're writing fast, it must be bad writing

Back in the old days, creating a book was a long, slow process.

Originally they were written by hand, the labor of a life-time with decorated, painted borders on each page, and embellished capital letters, each of which was like a tiny painting in itself.

Even when printing was invented each letter was a miniscule piece of metal that had to be physically placed in a tray, by hand, to make every word.

Times have changed, but the attitudes of some people have not. They feel that unless a book takes a very long time to write, it can’t be of value. They forget that many famous authors actually wrote their books chapter by chapter to be published in weekly newspapers. Charles Dickens pioneered this with “The Pickwick Papers” but it became the “normal” way most books were written.

In other words the huge time gap was not in the creation process by the author (he was writing a chapter a week, minimum) it was in the length of time actual physical publication took.

The “one book a year” model was also needed for the production process in many of the traditional print publishers last century. Even when the actual physical printing became faster and easier, the publisher had added many more layers and stages the book needed to pass through—cover art, marketing and more.

Some writers assumed that if they could write more than a book a year their work simply couldn’t be good enough. They wrote and rewrote, edited and reedited or lost their self confidence and stopped writing all together.

But if a reader takes a critical approach to a book, they will be unable to know which chapter an author sat down and wrote in a day, and which chapter was agonized over for a month.

Today a self publishing author can line up her cover artist, her editor, her book formatter, and her marketing team, so that the moment she types, “The End”, those people are ready to do their part. The book can be written in a month, edited in a week, and be ready for purchase on a dozen third party sellers forty-eight hours after that.

It is for the reader to decide if a book is what she wants to read or not. The length of time taken from the author typing the final sentence until the book is available for sale is not a guide to the excellence of the writing. Some authors simply are prolific.

Besides, just as Charles Dickens changed a few things between when his books were serialized in the newspapers, and before they were published as books, so, too, the twenty-first century author can make changes and digitally republish their books overnight if a lot of readers don’t like something.

Helen Woodall

Sunday, February 19, 2017

How to Write a Good Blog Post

Web designers Wix, have published a helpful article on writing captivating blogs. To me, the concept is exactly the same as writing a good book. Write what you know. Write what you’re passionate about.

Their first tip involves creating a killer headline. Just as a writer needs to hook a reader with a great first paragraph and first chapter, in the same way the headline of the blog needs to be sufficiently eye-catching to draw a potential reader in.

I won’t give away all their points, but a lot of it should make excellent sense to a writer. Quality is important (proofread your posts!), illustrations help, and so on.

The complete article is here:

Helen Woodall

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Helen is still on Vacation, and it's hot in Bendigo

Ballarat. A lot of the old buildings date back to the 1850s gold rush.

Chewton. Williamstown to Chewton is about 130 kms (81 miles).

Detail in the trunk of the tree I was sitting under in 43C (109F) heat on Thursday.

Have fun

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Helen is on vacation

Traveling around Victoria

Colac Botanic Gardens


Great Ocean Road

Eureka Stockade, Ballarat.

I'm having fun. I hope you are too.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

How to Market your Book

There seems to be almost as many blog articles about how to market a book, as there are about how to write the book.

In my opinion, marketing is just as much a personal choice as writing. In the same way as some authors are plotters, others are pantsers and some a mixture, so too different marketing schemes are suited better to some authors than others. It’s up to each writer to devise a plan that works for them, their lifestyle, their skills, and their book.

Tim Grahl has written a very, very extensive Book Marketing Plan. ( He begins with an 18-point checklist, items like a website, podcasting, social media, paid advertising, bonus content and so on, and then moves onto a detailed discussion of each item.

With such a comprehensive guide, each author should be able to pick out the elements that suit them and will work for them, and devise their own plan.

Helen Woodall

Saturday, January 21, 2017

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

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Pay attention to your choreography

We’ve all watched movies where the six hundred bad guys line up neatly and each fights the good guy one at a time, allowing himself to be defeated. Unfortunately some fight scenes in novels are written a bit like that too. There are three or four bad guys but we read about the good guy, punching/hitting/shooting Bad Guy #1, then Bad Guy #2 and so on.

Real fighting is not like that. The bad guys want to win so they get paid, and they’ll all attack at once, whenever the good guy is off guard, has his back turned, or is busy fighting already.

Choreography is important in romantic scenes too. Sometimes the hero has his hand around the heroine’s waist, gently lifts her chin up to kiss her mouth, and simultaneously undoes her hair from its ponytail. Unless he’s an octopus shapeshifter, he’ll find doing all that at once tricky.

It’s even harder with a ménage scene. Count the number of arms, legs, hands, mouths. Then check to see whether the bodies really can be positioned like that. I know of a popular erotic romance author who has broken the arms and legs off several Barbie dolls while choreographing her love scenes. In love and in war, it’s important to get the choreography right.

Helen Woodall

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Gotta love another front page major Oopsie!!

What is wrong with this picture?

2017 has begun with a splash for the Washington Post Express, but not for the reasons they had hoped for.

Can you see the error? The editors and bosses at the Post didn't, but thousands of Twitter users did.

On Thursday 5 January, the Washington Post Express decided to devote its entire front cover to a story about a women’s rights march taking place the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration as US president. The text is fine. There aren't any spelling mistakes, grammatical errors or typos. But...

Can you see it yet?

The illustration is of women joining together to make a picture. Of the symbol for a male. On a story about women's rights. Once the feedback on the error starting coming in the people at the Express were quick to apologize and say they'd meant to use the female symbol, and they posted the correct image on their Facebook page.

But I'm pretty sure someone who used to work for the company is looking for a new job right about now.

Helen Woodall

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Mark Coker's 2017 Book Industry Predictions

Each year Mark Coker of Smashwords puts together a very carefully thought out blog on the happenings of the previous year in the book world, and his predictions for the new year. He goes to a lot of trouble and thought in preparing this blog, and it is always well worth reading. His predictions are better than average in accuracy, too.

He's entitled this year's blog, "2017 Book Industry Predictions: Intrigue and Angst amid Boundless Opportunity".

I suggest you take a look at it.

Highlights of his predictions include that Indie authors will continue to capture greater ebook market share in 2017, that ebooks will face greater commoditization pressures in 2017, that Kindle Unlimited will continue to harm single copy ebook sales in 2017, and that industry consolidation will hit self-publishing. But as I said before, the entire blog is well worth taking a look at.

Helen Woodall