Guest post – Helene Young

It’s my pleasure today to welcome Helene Young to my blog as a guest. Helene is a fellow Australian romantic suspense author, a wonderful person, and her fantastic debut novel, Border Watch, is one of the prizes in this week’s Fast Fiction contest here on my blog.

Well-chosen words.

Bron’s Fast Fiction got me thinking about the precise placement of words. I’m a writer who tends to produce too many, which then necessitates culling a large number in the editing process. I had fun attempting my 55-word story for Bron’s comp, but I spent an inordinate amount of time doing it. Heaven help me if I produced a 90,000-word book in the same manner – I’d have dodgy knees and a wheelie-walker by publication date 🙂

Over the last two weeks I’ve indulged in a reading frenzy. I’ve devoured everything, from Lee Childs, to Tara Moss, to Nora Roberts, Linda Howard and on to Katherine Howell. It’s been sensory heaven. All the books were crime/suspense genre. All were very different. Tension was paramount. What struck me was the change in sentence length when the action hotted up. Nary an ‘and’ in sight, minimal adjectives, blunt verbs. The stories rocketed along, dragging the reader with them, not leaving time to breathe.

The arc of the story could be traced by the rhythm of the words. It was an epiphany. In particular, Lee Childs stood out. If I needed any proof that well placed words are powerful he provided it. He summed up his hero, Jack Reacher, in a couple of sentences. I envied every single word. He wrote dialogue that scattered words across the page like Morse code. No tags, no names, but still it was clear who spoke.

I start editing Book 2 this weekend and hopefully some of that sparseness of writing will have rubbed off on me. If not, there’s always an editor waiting with a sharpened pencil and a keen eye.

I’d love to hear how you approach editing. What authors influence your writing? Whose well-chosen words stay with you long after you’ve put the book down?

Thanks, Helene, for these thoughtful words about words! I loved the opening of Border Watch – I remember thinking ‘Wow!’ as I read the first paragraphs. Readers who haven’t yet read Border Watch are in for a treat: there’s an excerpt available at Helene’s website.

And don’t forget that entering the Fast Fiction contest gives you a chance to win it!


High above the crystal-blue waters of North Queensland, Captain Morgan Pentland patrols the vast Australian coastline. When Customs Agent Rafe Daniels joins her crew, she is immediately suspicious. Why is he boarding her plane when she isn’t there? And why is he asking so many questions?

What Morgan doesn’t know is that Rafe has her under surveillance. Critical information about their Border Watch operations is being leaked and she is the main suspect. Morgan’s ex, elite police officer Carl Wiseman, is back on the scene after she finally found the courage to throw him out. Is he trying to regain Morgan’s affections of are his intentions more sinister?

When Morgan and Rafe are shot down in a tragic midair attack, they realise they have to start working together – and quickly. One of Australia’s most loved icons is the next target and they have only nine days to stop it. Will they uncover details of the plot in time, or will the tension that is growing between them jeopardise everything?

10 thoughts on “Guest post – Helene Young

  1. I remember Kim Wilkins recommending James Ellroy as the master of the ‘apt verb’ and so I read a couple of his books to see how he did it. The elegance of apt verbs and strong nouns as opposed to bucket loads of adjectives and adverbs is really something to strive for and I always have my trusty thesaurus by my side.

    The one writer I find is a master of this is Sebastian Faulks. Every word needs to be there and the ones he chooses are invariably perfect for the context. I also think Sarah Waters has an elegance to her style. As a non fiction writer I’ve always admired Robert Hughes. His books The Fatal Shore and The Shock of the New are so clear and lucid in style. He could write about anything and make it interesting.

    I found your description of the air crash in Border Watch to be beautifully handled with just the right words going where they should. Great imagery and tension.

  2. Hi Phillipa, I’ll have to track down work by Sebastian Faulks and James Ellroy. Thanks for the tip off. I also agree with you – That Fatal Shore is a wonderful example of concise writing!

    Glad you enjoyed the crash scene. While I couldn’t fire missiles in the simulator I did manage to crash it so I could feel the same sensations. Thankfully, no trauma counselling was required and no pilots were injured in the attempt:-)

  3. Phillipa, thanks for those recommendations – must add them to my list.

    Helene, in thinking about sparse styles with great effects, one of my favourite books of all time is Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Tristan and Iseult. It was published by Puffin in the 1970s, so in that sense aimed at a young adult audience, but it’s really a timeless, ageless book. She does use a sparse style, but the choice of words, rhythm of her prose, and the way she tells the story and shows the passion and tension between the two lovers make it one of the most emotional books I’ve ever read.

    And I am seriously impressed about crashing in a simulator for research! I found that scene very powerful and gripping – fantastic writing!

  4. Bron, it’s been a long time since I’ve read Tristan and Iseult (probably when I was at school) and I barely remember it – another one for my list!

    Thanks for your kind words 🙂

  5. Wow! This blog is a treasure trove in itself. Such recommendations will see me in a frenzy soon LOL. I too am ‘gernerous’ with my words, Helene. (not to mention I am an ‘ly’ lover. Every book to me now is an education. My education started and continues with Born’s DF, yours and now I am in love with Lisa Heidke. Life is good.

  6. Oh, those ‘ly’ words, Jen… They seem to magically appear (can’t help myself :-D) and then when you delete them you realise they didn’t need to be there after all!

    Great suggestions from Phillip and Bron. My local library must wonder what I’m doing somedays. I’ve very happy to report that everything recommended here is available in Cairns.

    Off to the sim again, but I’m hoping for a crash-free day today!

    Happy writing 🙂

  7. Oh, Helene, I loved reading that post. I had never really thought about the placement of words, I just make sure that when I read a sentence, I like the way it flows. I have Lee Childs sitting next to my bed (the book, not the person, unfortunately!) and I will be starting as sson as I’ve finished writing this. Thanks for making me look at things differently! (Thanks, Bron too!)

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