Wednesday, February 1, 2017

2017 February -- Eye and Brain Coordination?

... The difference between the almost-right word and the right word is the difference between a lightning-bug and
lightning. — Mark Twain

Eye coordination is the ability of both eyes to work together as a team.
Each eye sees a slightly different image when it gazes at or focuses on something. The brain, through a process called fusion, blends the two eye-images into one three-dimensional picture. 

Proofreading using a tablet, laptop, or computer screen is highly ineffective because those screens are pixels that move, making it doubly difficult to focus on each letter typed onto the screen, let alone an entire manuscript of words. If you must proofread on your computer, here's a tip: change the font to Courier or Courier New and zoom the text up to 125% or 130% view. Why Courier or Courier New? Because that is a non-proportional font which is extremely easy for the eyes to see each letter because the letters are the same size. Proportional fonts, like Times New Roman, cram letters together because an L is not the same width as an M, etc. 

Can you read this—

    For emaxlpe, it deson’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod aepapr, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer are in the rghit pcale. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit pobelrm ... S1M1L4RLY, Y0UR M1ND 15 R34D1NG 7H15 4U70M471C4LLY W17H0U7 3V3N 7H1NK1NG 4B0U7 17.

I'll bet you barely hiccuped skimming through the words
because, you see, your brain is a code cracking machine that logically wants order and so it creates order out of misspelled words.

This code-cracking is also what happens when you've read and proofread your manuscript only to find glitches and typos went unnoticed until an editor or reader spots them.

People will tell you to become a better proofreader
, as if that was all there was to it. Proofreading is an essential in any writer's or author's toolkit. Only gaining mastery of proofreading isn't easy because first you have to recognize it's a skill— one that can be learned.

Secondly, in order to stop the mind from code-cracking and skimming over words, you have to slow down and look at each word, get your eyes to focus, and give your eyes time to look at EVERY word, comprehend its meaning, and then move on to the next word. Which means, the best and most productive way to proofread is going to be with hard copy.

Of course there are tricks
to slowing the eye-mind mangling. They are:

Trick #1 -  begin at the bottom right of the page and read to the left before going UP to the next line and going from right to left (and doing so all the way up to the top of the page).

Trick #2 - Using two rulers or two pieces of white paper, place one tool above and the other under a sentence. This will single out the words and cut down the clutter of letters so the eyes can focus on individual words. Do one sentence at a time and move your tools down the page, sentence by sentence.

Trick #3 - Using your word processing program, find the end of every sentence's punctuation and return carriage three times. This separates the sentences and allows for better focus on the words. This method will also showcase long sentences as well as verifying you have a variety of sentence lengths (which is a good thing).

Try all three methods to find one that works best for you. Yes, these methods take time, but the result will be well worth the effort.

Then keep in mind:

1. Concentration is key - Proofreading requires concentration, patience, and time. Prepare mentally. Ensure that you are not tired, rushed, or distracted. Get rid of distractions and potential interruptions. (Switch off the cell phone, turn off the television, or radio, and stay away from emails.)

2. Run a hard copy and read it out loud. Reading out loud means you can listen and hear errors your eyes miss.

3. Trust no word. Read each word of text, each sentence, and each paragraph slowly and carefully. Take nothing for granted. Watch for small word errors, like an, and, of, form/from, is, it, the. These are easy to miss, but more often then not, those words are actually missing from the text and need to be inserted.

4. Double-check numbers. Are you following AP (Associated Press, journalism style) or the Chicago Manual of Style (which publishers of fiction use)? If writing fiction, and with only a very few exceptions, all numbers are written as words. That's because a reader is reading and creating a movie in their mind.

5. Take regular breaks to avoid fatigue and eye strain. Don't rush. Allow twenty minutes or more of a break to give your eyes a rest.

6. Proofread more than once. Allow a day or more before going back through a short story manuscript that you've just proofread. A surprising number of errors can be found in the second (or third) pass. For novel length, it may take a week or more before the story fades enough to proofread.

7. Have a list of specifics you need to look for. In other words, use a Revision Cheat Sheet. This will help you manage your time and not feel overwhelmed by proofreading. And do look for one type of problem at a time.

8. Trust a good dictionary. The fluidity of the language means new words get added and words that were once hyphenated no longer are.

One final comment.
There are proofreading sites online and most word processing programs have grammar and spell checkers, but if you trust them, you're shooting yourself in the foot. For example, it is:
    a SASE (a self-addressed, stamped envelope)
    a history lesson


    an SASE (an self-addressed, stamped envelope)
    an history lesson
To be a great storyteller means getting the eyes and brain working as a team so every word that you put on the page is the correct one.

 ****Next month's topic is Sensory Delusion

Available Spring 2017- REVISION IS A PROCESS

Available now - TERRIFIC TITLES
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Sunday, January 1, 2017

2017 January - Four Major Bloopers and Blunders to Avoid

    "The only thing you own are the skills in your hands and the knowledge in your mind." – Mac Slavo


    This year the Writers Cheat Sheet blog returns to first-of-the-month topics. We begin the year with discussing four major bloopers and blunders. 

Some people think bloopers and blunders are the same thing, but there is a difference:

      — A blooper is an embarrassing mistake.

      — A blunder is to commit a faux pas or make a serious mistake or be

For a writer, and in addition to the usual typos, grammar glitches, and punctuation pitfalls, blunders also include heavy-handed prose, going off on tangents, pontificating, and other elements that turn readers off.

Unless you're a genius of a writer and storyteller, who turns out a perfect manuscript the first try, most first drafts are riddled with an assortment of bloopers and blunders. What I'm about to address is not the nitpicking stuff but major bloopers and blunders that have to do with basic techniques and devices of great fiction. Devices and techniques that are not taught in schools. A few writers learn fiction techniques and devices by osmosis because they are extremely avid readers. Other writers learn such skills by studying and taking courses on how to write good fiction.

Over the years, I've accumulated a list of sixteen craft blunders and bloopers,
which appear in the manuscripts of contest entries and the work of novices and self-published writers. I have also made this "C.E.McLean-16 Bloopers & Blunders List" into a free Writers Cheat Sheet, which is available HERE

Of those sixteen items, four top my list as chronic.
It's not a matter of reading about the craft skills, it's a matter of understanding and mastering them that will set a work apart from everyone else's in the e-universe and the realms of publishing. The four are:

        1) Point of View (POV) and Viewpoint
        2) Show, Don't Tell
        3) Cause-Effect Sequences
        4) Dialogue (both internal and spoken, plus dialogue mechanics)

Why is POV-Viewpoint number one? Because 90% of the story depends on who is narrating.

Notice I did not say first-person, second-person, or third-person narration. Those are pronouns. Keep in mind that the voice coming up off the page, the voice a reader hears, is the true storyteller of a tale. For example, as you read this post, you hear my voice in your mind. It's one distinct voice. It's not a hodgepodge or a mix of viewpoints. Believe it or not, for readers, the simply told tale works best. Which means a writer must pick and adhere to using an effective narrator to tell the tale.

Next on the list is Show, Don't Tell.
POV-Viewpoint affects all aspects of show-don't-tell. In the majority of reader-favored stories, showing is preferred over telling. Showing allows for high emotions and high drama. It allows for a vividness that helps create a motion picture in the readers mind as the reader reads. It's the difference between writing "dog" and "Doberman."

However, most writers' schooling is about "telling" and "reporting"
which enables them to communicate in the world. It's not about writing quality fiction.

Of course, POV-Viewpoint that shows means
the narrator, that voice coming up and off a page, the voice the reader hears in their mind, is the witness who observers and who draws conclusions based on their background and experiences in life. They will, in their own vocabulary, diction, and syntax, relate the tale with their highly biased and opinionated view of what transpires.

As to number three on my list, Cause-and-Effect Sequences,
that's as hard a subject to grasp as POV-Viewpoint. But there is one "red-flag" word that should be looked for when self-editing a work. That word is "as" and especially when it leads a clause at or near the end of a sentence. Nine times out of ten, that "as" indicates a reversed or skewed cause-effect. For example—

    The icy wind lashed his faced and whipped through his hair as it blew in from the chilly Arctic Sea.
Yes, there's more than just a cause-effect error here.
There's also a pronoun reference error with "it" that adds confusion. Since a pronoun refers back to the last used noun, here "it" refers to "his hair." This means "his hair" blew in from the chilly Arctic Sea.

In the correct sequence of cause-effect, and correcting the pronoun reference error to provide the reader with instant clarity, here are two examples of how the sentence might be re-written, and which eliminates "as" altogether—

    1) The icy wind, blowing in from the frigid Arctic Sea, lashed his face and whipped through his hair.

    2) Blowing in from the frigid Arctic Sea, the icy wind lashed his face and whipped through his hair.

Which is best? That will depend on the overall POV-Viewpoint chosen for the entire tale.

And, lastly, number four on the list is Dialogue.
The most prevalent problem with writing dialogue is that the rules of grammar and punctuation do not necessarily apply.

It doesn't matter
if the words are spoken out loud, thought internally, or even heard or voiced telepathically. Why? Because for a reader to believe the dialogue, that dialogue must sound as if it would have been spoken by a real person. 

It's been said a thousand times
that one of the quickest ways to destroy a character's voice and credibility is to adhere to strict rules of grammar and punctuation. That's why writers must master writing Standard Written Dialogue and utilizing the best Dialogue Mechanics to "show" not tell how the words are thought or spoken.

One of my favorite examples of destroying a character's voice comes from a short story I wrote years ago where my starship captain heard "farting" biotubes. A steeped-in-proper-English editor wanted to change farting to the "flatulence." I'd like to hear Captain Kirk of the starship Enterprise say flatulent bio tubes, wouldn't you? Then again flatulence also means "pompously embellished language."

Knowledge is power.
When you learn the techniques and devices of writing quality fiction, you gain the knowledge to write well and tell a story well—and go from being just another writer to becoming a competent—even great—storyteller.

Learn fiction writing techniques and devices and you will own the knowledge. Then you will have the power that enchants readers.

***Next month's topic will be "Eye and Brain Coordination?"

Upcoming online course Feb. 1-27, 2017


Flyer Available HERE

 ****** Free Writers Cheat Sheets available HERE

Available soon - REVISION IS A PROCESS

Available now - TERRIFIC TITLES 


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Saturday, October 1, 2016

Structured Creativity Liberates

 October, November, and December 2016


Imagination and creativity may be the source of tales, but without a logical way to present the story, the reader won't buy the book and the reader won't be able to suspend their disbelief in a fictional or fantastic world.

It's a fact that logic and creativity are at odds with each other. It's also a fact that logic will always trump creativity.

I believe writers should stop the battle between logic and creativity. The two can work together. The two can become a system that works to structure creativity and produce work in a timely fashion, which nets the writer less frustration.

One of the tools of structuring creativity is the development and use of cheat sheets. Such cheat sheets take the form of forms, lists, questions, and reminders. Reminders can be instructions to do this and not to do that. Reminders can be material taken from online or how-to book sources (sort of refreshing both the logical mind and the subconscious).

Ideally, such forms, such cheat sheets, will add just enough structure to avoid countless rewrites, going off on tangents, and ending up with a story that fizzles.

When drafting a story
, most writers put down the first thing that comes to mind, which invariably turns out to not fit the story or scene or character. Once the writer realizes the problem, or has a critique partner point out the problem, the writer quits the tale. Why? Because they don't know how to fix the problem or it's just too much trouble to go back and make changes.

So, if you're finally frustrated
with story ideas that dwindle to oblivion or minor characters taking over the story, or the story hanging a hard left turn into a corner, or you hate rewriting ad infinitum, then consider structuring your creativity.

One example of a cheat sheet that will prevent a secondary character from taking over the story is a "Master Character Work Sheet." This master form will be used solely for the story's protagonist, antagonist, and if you have one, the Second Major Character who is usually the Romantic Lead.

This master sheet can take whatever form you need. It might be a questionnaire or interview sheet or a list of key questions to get at the core of the characters values and morals. Those questions also cover appearance, family history, work history, education, likes and dislikes, and the way the character thinks and acts. No other character in the story gets such scrutiny or attention except the three main characters.

Best of all, you get to know those main characters and how they are alike and opposite. You'll discover what buttons to push to drive them and the plot and the story. You may also discover the theme of the story and realize the inevitable resolution. All of this done before writing that first draft. All of this done without wasting words or rewriting. And when you do write the draft, it will be so much better. And don't forget, there will always be rewrites because only a genius could turn out a perfect manuscript from the get-go.

Someone will say structuring creativity and creating forms is time consuming.
They'd rather write and find out as they go. Okay, then as you finish your day's writing, post what you learned to your character worksheets and other forms or lists. That way you'll prevent contradictions and inaccuracies.

Keep in mind that all story worksheets must be tailored for you because no two minds create alike.

Although I discourage people from using online and forms in how-to books on writing, there is nothing wrong with picking out salient points and questions to form your own work sheets.

Lastly, every producing writer has a process.
The definition of "process" is: a particular course of action intended to achieve a result.

If you want to write more fluidly, turn out completed stories that readers will enjoy, then consider how liberating it will be to have forms to keep you on track and which help you create twists and turns in a plot that will wow readers.

For a list of 2017 Topics, go to:
 Click on the logo to get FREE Cheat Sheets for - 

What is Story?

10 Types of Writers

POV-Viewpoint - how hard is it to learn

Also available:  Terrific Titles - the all-inclusive Guide to Creating Story Titles

Friday, July 1, 2016

3 Biggest Mistakes New Writers Make


There are lists published on the Internet and in many how-to write fiction books stating the biggest mistakes new writers make. Some lists deal with storytelling, others craft elements, and others are wish lists by editors and agents on what mistakes they wish novice writers would stop making.

I have my own lists, but in this blog post, I want to address the three things I see as handicapping new writers and the self-published writer. They are:

1) Illusion vs. Reality.
The illusion— just because a writer got A's in English or praised for their writing in school, that qualifies them to write and publish their work without needed input from editors or beta readers or even other, more experienced writers and authors.

The reality is this— becoming a storyteller, not just the average writer, means finding out and learning precisely what the rules and guidelines are for writing fiction that sells.

Here's another reality check— By my last count, there are one hundred and forty-four (144) aspects to writing good fiction and telling a story well. How many do you know? How many have you mastered until they appear naturally a you write?

Another reality—
too many writers would rather write then learn fiction techniques and devices. Yet, here's the thing— talent will take a writer only so far. It is craft that enhances talent and liberates creativity. Best of all, craft can be learned.

Oh, right, the reality—
Learning is not fun, it's hard work. Writing is the fun stuff. Look at it this way: if you wanted to learn to swim, would you go and jump into the deep end of a pool?

Not a good idea you say? Well, you're right. You're more likely to drown then learn to swim. Instead, you would start in the shallow end of the pool with people who know how to swim and who would coach you, or you would take lessons from professionals at the pool's facility. You'd start off learning to float, advance to swim strokes, and if you really liked swimming and were good at it, you would take more lessons to learn breaststrokes and butterfly strokes. In other words, your talent for swimming would be boosted tremendously. Why, you might even be good enough to swim with the big guys in the Olympics.

As a writer, it's the same thing. Don't jump into the pool of writing, floundering, drowning in the sea of millions of other writers publishing on the Internet.

Here's another reality check, a statistic.
A few months ago I came across a statement that 4,500 books are added EACH DAY to the 15 million already out there. How is your book going to stand out? I likely won't unless it is a well told and well written story that appeals to readers.

So, make it your mission to become that special someone who has mastered fiction writing to become a true storyteller. Be that special someone who can grab and hold a reader's attention and take them on a fantastic journey.

2)Failure to understand what a story is and where a story actually starts.
  In a nutshell, a well-told story is about an interesting character in an interesting setting, facing an interesting problem. That interesting character is, of course, the protagonist and by the end of the tale he or she has solved the problem and learned a life-lesson or have achieved something valuable.

Unfortunately, it's not easy to get to the point of a story (the plot's theme). Stories tend to come in bits and pieces, what-ifs, and so on. There's figuring out the setting, who's who in the story, ad infinitum.

Rarely are the first words written down the beginning of the story. In actuality (the reality), ninety-percent of what the writer knows won't go into the story. That's right, only ten percent of all that information a writer has to know to figure out the story ends up being what is necessary for the reader to know to enjoy the story.

However, the story can't be distilled and knitted into a tale worth a reader's hard earned money without the writer's explorations into plot and extrapolations of characters.

Think of it this way—
writing is like looking at an iceberg. Ten percent floats above the sea. The ninety percent below sea level supports the visible. 

Or, you might think of it as the writer writes a snowstorm of words but a storyteller is master of sculpting that snow, compacting it, into brilliant worlds of wonder and awe.

3) Failure to join a writer's group before attempting to publish (be that traditionally, self-publish or independently published) and to understand the quality of fiction writing needed for a story to appeal to readers (including editors and agents).

The reality is that only another writer knows what a writer goes through from the idea that sparks a story to the finished, camera-ready or digital-ready copy. In the current publishing world, it's also necessary that writers market their own work, regardless of who publishes the book.

And again, drawing on the analogy of learning to swim from earlier in this post— it's a lot easier to learn to swim with others who are learning and from those that have already mastered how to swim.

In addition to joining a writer's group, a writer can teach themselves about the various aspects of a novel or short story. However, to test that knowledge or to figure out the full impact of an aspect, it helps to know people who have successfully used it, understand the pros and cons of it, and why and how to tweak the "guidelines" or "rules" because there is a valid reason to do so.

Another reality check— a writer should be a voracious reader. This helps avoid cliched or tropes that are unsalable.

In addition, reading helps learn things by osmosis. That is, by reading good storytelling, the subconscious mind better understands the underpinnings of a story or a character's arc (even if the conscious mind doesn't).

Another aspect is to fully understand that words have weight, connotation, denotation, and a sound. There are even degrees, like pique is not the same thing as wrath (the two are extremes of anger). Same for love, hate, etc. In other words, a storyteller is a wordsmith.

Some reading this will keep their blinders on because the fantasy of writing and creating is what gives them a life-high. Reality burst such bubbles. And yet, reality is the key to success. Learning can be fun. And nothing beats the fireworks-burst of joy when readers crave your stories.

NEXT UPDATE TO THIS BLOG: October 1 —  Structured Creativity Liberates
 Click on the logo to get FREE Cheat Sheets for - 

What is Story?

10 Types of Writers

POV-Viewpoint - how hard is it to learn

Also available:  Terrific Titles - the all-inclusive Guide to Creating Story Titles

Friday, April 1, 2016

Said is dead... Really?

Another list of synonyms and words to substitute for "said" came in my email box recently. From time to time, I copy such lists and file them in my "verb" binder because they remind me not to follow such rhetoric.

However, before I hit the delete button on this latest list for said substitutes, I realized the words came from a list being used in grade school. Students who are given such lists are being encouraged to broaden their verb vocabularies, which is a good thing. Only what is good for the student isn't necessarily good when writing fiction.

Okay, so technically said is a verb, but it can also be an adjective. More importantly, when writing fiction, said is part of a speech tag that shows who's talking. The trouble with most substitutes for said is that they constitute "telling" not "showing." When writing fiction, showing is better than telling. For example, if a person wrote: "You did it," John said, pointing his finger at Matt. This is a basic bit of dialogue with a speech tag that has a beat (or stage business).

Yet, what really shows the accusation is the dialogue itself, "You did it" coupled with the stage business (or beat) of "pointing his finger at Matt." Then again, this can be shown even better as: John pointed his finger at Matt. "You did it!"

On the other hand, if you follow the rhetoric of swapping words, like "accused" for said, you get: "You did it, Matt," John accused. This is not only awkward but also blatant telling. Sadly, I see too much of this in newbie writers' manuscripts and in self- and independently-published novels.

Other things I noticed on the list of said substitutes were such words as barked, bawled, bleated, and bubbled. You can't bark and talk at the same time. That's a physical impossibility. Okay, so commands can be "barked out" by someone giving orders. For example: The sergeant barked out, "Give me twenty!" Every recruit dropped to the ground and did twenty pushups.

Out of curiosity, I checked a more lengthy list (four pages) that was in my file. I wondered how many were "telling" verbs, and how many could safely be swapped when writing fiction. Here's what I discovered:

    Total words on the list: 397
    Number of words that worked as listed when swapped out for said: 8 (hollered, yelled, shouted, whispered, muttered, mumbled, replied, and answered).
    Number of words that worked if "out" was added to them: 35  

(examples: barked out, cried out, blurted out, hissed out, and wheezed out).
    That left a balance of 354 synonyms for said.

Some of those remaining synonyms were rather odd words that should be avoided, like: bossed, preached, professed, empathized, acquiesced, ad-libbed, advocated, foretold, granted, decreed, nagged, itemized, and resumed. (They are "telling" not "showing.")

There were also some baffling words on the list. One was exclaimed, which is so cliched because if there is an exclamation point, the reader knows the words are exclaimed. Then there was whistled. I would like to hear dialogue whistled, wouldn't you?

Of course, if pages of fiction are peppered with saids, something should be done to not only eliminate as many saids as possible but to also convert most of those "telling" words into beats or stage business.

However, if you've drafted a story using synonym substitutes for said, perhaps you should resurrect a few saids. After all, to most readers, said is as invisible as the word "the."

For the remaining synonyms you've used for said, consider those red-flag words of warning to revise and show instead of tell.
 Click on the logo to get FREE Cheat Sheets for
What is Story?
10 Types of Writers
POV-Viewpoint - how hard is it to learn

Also available:  Terrific Titles - the all-inclusive Guide to Creating Story Titles

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