Saturday, April 1, 2017

2017 - April - Break the rules?

     Spelling, grammar, and punctuation are a kind of magic; their purpose is to be invisible. If the sleight of hand works, we will not notice a comma or a quotation mark but will translate each instantly into a pause or an awareness of voice . . .  Janet Burroway (Writing Fiction)

Do You Really Need to Know What's 
Behind 'The Rule' Before You Break or Tweak It?

This is the cardinal rule:  When writing fiction, nothing must stop the reader and take them out of the enjoyment of the story. 

That's also what creates the magic in reading something written by a storyteller.

Interestingly enough, the fastest way to break the magic spell and jerk a reader out of a story is to use semicolons, colons, brackets, and adhere to the use of proper and formal grammar and punctuation.

Most of the newly self-published or independently-published writers don't realize the rules for grammar and punctuation, the rules for sentence structures, and all the other "rules" for writing they were taught do not necessarily apply to writing fiction.

Why is that?

It's because of the narrative voice coming off the page
. Be that voice one of the omniscient storyteller or an actual character, that voice will have a distinct vocabulary, diction, and syntax. More importantly, that narrative voice will be highly opinionated. To impose strict rules of grammar and punctuation stilts that voice so it sound unnatural. In other words, the narrative voice has to sound true for not only spoken dialogue but also for internalizations and telepathic conversations.

This tweaking and breaking of the rules particularly applies to the deep third person POV-Viewpoint and the I-persona of the first person POV-Viewpoint. These two are where one specific voice narrates everything for the duration of the story or a scene.

I'm all for creating the magic that keeps a reader engrossed in the story, are you?

*********Next month's topic will be Nightmares for Authors— Freudian Slips, Miscommunications, or Worse

NOW OFFERING - One on one fiction writing courses like these -


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

2017 - March - Sensory Illusion or Delusion?

Not creating delusions is enlightenment. Bodhidharma
Read more at:
Not creating delusions is enlightenment. Bodhidharma
Read more at:

Not creating delusions is enlightenment. - Bodhidharma
Not creating delusions is enlightenment. Bodhidharma
Read more at:

So you're thinking about writing a book or are writing one. Did you know that 81% of the population thinks they have an idea for a book? As I post this, the world population total has ticked past 7,487,760,700. I was going to do the math for the 81%, but my calculator didn't have enough slots for entering a billion. So here's another figure for you—as of the fall of 2016, in the U.S. there were 4,500 books a day being added to the already 15 million out there. 

With so many books being written and self- or independently-published, how hard can it be to write a book?

The answer
could depend on whether you are an optimist or a pessimist. 

It also depends on how well the left and right halves of your brain communicate. Most of the time they are at war with each other. You see, the left brain is logic and the right brain is creativity. It's also a fact that logic will always trump creativity. So, technically, neither side can write a book without the mutual cooperation of the other.

Over the years, I've concluded that most writers believe in the mysticism of their creative selves, their Muse. That it produces the magic that is a story.

Hogwash. There is no mysticism, no muse, but there is the imagination. The imagination is part and parcel of the subconscious left brain where creativity, insight, intuition, feelings, and, most importantly, non-verbal communication dwells. In other words, the imagination doesn't talk, it delivers feelings, imagery, etc., up to the conscious, logical brain. It's up to the logical mind to translate. Logic is how we
make sense of everything we perceive. And that's why Logic will always trump Creativity.

And therein is created another problem. Should creativity actually produce a completed novel, logic will point out the fallacies, the unbelievableness, and grammar and syntax errors. That means countless rewrites and revision, all of which can become so overwhelming that a writer sets the work aside and moves on to another story. After all, imagineering a story is always more fun.

But the downside soon rears its head. Logic says there are problems with the tale, with the characters, with just about everything and if that tale gets published without great editing, what reader will give it a good-read rating?

The creative self might say
that if everyone's turning out novels, writing a book must be easy. Yet logic whispers that writing a good book, one readers will give five-star ratings to or ones that makes best-seller status, will not be easy at all. The truth lies in the logic
talent will take you only so far, that knowledge and practice of the art and craft of fiction writing enhances and liberates creativity. Best of all, craft can be learned, resulting in a story worth a reader's purchase and enjoyment. 

So, which of your two brain halves thinks writing a novel is an illusion (considered magical by naive observers) or delusion (an erroneous belief that is held in the face of evidence to the contrary)? 

The truth lies in the logic.

****Next month's topic is What's Behind the Rules?

I wonder how many reading this will get the pun of my closing line. A simple "got it" comment would be nice.



This is a 1-on-1 writing course for fiction writers who want help creating a good pitch for their book. This is not an essay or lecture or cookie-cutter formula. THIS IS A STEP-BY-STEP course with worksheets and real time feedback from the instructor. If you need a tag line (log line, elevator pitch), back cover copy-blurb, a mini-synopsis for a query letter, or the descriptive summary of your tale, go  HERE
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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