Sunday, October 1, 2017

October 2017 - It's Not Dialogue But Written Standard Dialogue

Pay attention, please: the reader has only the words on the page to go by to form a movie in their mind and to HEAR the voice of the narrator or character.

Whether writing spoken, internalized, or telepathic dialogue, you are not writing exactly what a character says or thinks but what's been termed "Standard Written Dialogue." That's to avoid such things as: "Ah, you know, George, I—I—think, um, he's dead." Instead you write: "George, I think he's dead." or even "George!
The guy's dead."

Pay attention, please: the rules of grammar and punctuation go out the window when writing dialogue.

Why? Because to follow the formal rules of English nets stilted and unrealistic sounding characters or narrative voice. For example: To whom are you talking? That would suit a character with a lofty attitude and education but not an ordinary Joe. So just simply state: Who are you talking to?

A lot of problems with dialogue can be fixed by paying attention to the punctuation and using ones that convey the meaning, the voice of the speakers (or thinker), and provides the correct rhythm for the voice (the pause of silence). 

As you read the following, LISTEN for how you hear the word when you see it and its punctuation mark—

    Stop . . .    
    Stop (or Stop)


Notice that there is no colon or semicolon among the above. That's because colons and semicolons are symbols that do not instantly convey the rhythm or sound of silence. 

Okay, so it might be correct grammar and proper English to use colons and semicolons, but in fiction, using them actually hinders a reader's enjoyment because it's a rough spot in the text. Those colons and semicolons take the reader out of the story world. On a subconscious level, that grates. Do it enough times and the reader finds your five-star story worth only two stars. 

Need to hone your skills with dialogue mechanics?
For a limited time, I'm offering a one-on-one online course on DIALOGUE MECHANICS. You can find information here.
Of course, if you want to know more about dialogue and dialogue mechanic do's and don'ts, read Sections 9 and 11 of REVISION IS A PROCESS.) 

Your input is needed for 2018's blog topics.

Are you struggling with some aspect of writing fiction? Well, here's your chance to get help. I am opening the 2018 Writers Cheat Sheets monthly blog posts up to your questions. 

You can state your question or state your problem with a comment at this blog site or, if you wish to remain anonymous, email your question to me at 

Deadline is December 5, 2017.

November's blog topic is
Never Assume

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Friday, September 1, 2017

Septemer 2017 - To Trope or Not to Trope

Cliches are what make you understand something. 
--Matthew Vaughn


Is it impossible to write something without using a trope or tropes?

Well, I once read that it is impossible to do that. That's because there are no new story plots.

The definition of a trope
is basically the use of figurative language – via word, phrase, or even an image – for artistic effect like a figure of speech or metaphor. Tropes help convey things quickly to the reader without writing reams to explain.
An example is the stereotyping of certain characters, like Scrooge, the penny-pinching miser, or Jessica, voluptuous blond bombshell in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Yet, tropes are fiction writing tools that can be used as is or be tweaked into something fresher. Thus the old becomes new again.

Are you aware that genre fiction follows tropes? Some time-tested and valued, other's are cliched and to be avoided. For instance, a good trope for a romance is that the ending is one of HEA (Happily Ever After). The not-so-good trope of a science-fiction story would be the overdone, cliched Adam and Eve story.

Tropes are also patterns. Stories have structure which follows a blueprint or pattern. That's a good thing in genre fiction because it guarantees a reader will find the type of story they crave. Plots tropes are what makes genres popular. What is fantasy without a quest or magic? What is sci-fi without science and the extrapolation of the future? What is a mystery if it doesn't have a crime-solver? And a good romance will have a HEA (happily ever after).

The most overused tropes lend themselves to parody, irony, and can even become a bit snarky—or cool or scary what ifs.

Tropes are neither good or bad. But caution is always advised. Once again it's the guideline of "know the rules before you break or tweak them."

I wish you all the best with your writing endeavors,

Catherine E. McLean

 October's topic will be - It's Not Dialogue But Written Standard Dialogue

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

August 2017 - Common English Simplified?

In general, fiction is divided into 'literary fiction' and 'commercial fiction.' Nobody can definitively say what separates one from the other, but that doesn't stop everybody (including me) from trying. Your book probably will be perceived as one or the other, and that will affect how it is read, packaged and marketed. Nancy Kress

Do you know the reading level of the average person?

Do you know the reading level of those you expect to read your fiction or nonfiction?

Do you even care?

Well, you should care.

You see, too many writers forget that using simple language helps a reader enjoy what they read. The exception, of course, is dialogue. In that case, the words must be in the voice of the speaker.

I believe every writer should, now and then, run their work through the F-K test. F-K stands for the Flesch-Kincaid. The F-K calculates how difficult a passage in English is to understand. The test includes not only the words but also their meaning and the overall meaning of a sentence or a paragraph.

The F-K includes two tests. One is the Flesch Reading Ease. The other is the Flesch–Kincaid Grade Level. Both use word length and sentence length. However, the two weigh different factors. The result is that text with a high score on Reading Ease nets a low score on the Grade Level test. And that's a good thing to keep in mind.

The F-K scale is so useful it comes with word processing programs like WordPerfect and WordPro. For Microsoft Word users, you'll have to check:

When I began writing genre fiction, I was told to strive for a 6th grade level and not exceed 8th-9th grade level. That was wise advice. After all, it's the job of a writer to put words on a page so that the reader instantly grasps imagery, ideas, and meanings.

How about taking the time to test a section of your work? Where does it fall on the F-K scale? Feel free to share your findings with a comment to this blog.

P.S.— For the curious, I use WordPerfect as a word processing program. Here's what this post netted on the Flesch-Kincaid score➡

***Next topic:   September - To Trope or Not To Trope

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Saturday, July 1, 2017

July - The Greatest Pronoun Reference Error

Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar. — E. B. White

It is what it is or is it?

Let's get one thing straight about the use of pronouns when writing fiction:  A pronoun refers back to the LAST USED NOUN.

Pronouns are valuable because they substitute for repeating a noun or name over and over again, but you don't have to go overboard using pronouns. Too many he, she, or it pronouns can pepper pages and at some point, and on a subconscious level, those repetitions will turn a good story into a not-so-good story for the reader.

In your revision process (you do have one, right?), make a special pass to check the pronouns you've put on your pages. What do they actually refer to? Remember, clarity trumps all rules and, therefore, you can repeat a noun-name. Again, it's better to rewrite for clarity then adhere to the strict rules of grammar.

As to the pronoun that causes the greatest problems? That would be the word it. Here are examples where it needs more clarity:

    A)  He saw it hesitate when it turned its head. Although it looked exactly like a bird of paradise, it was not.

There are 5 repetitions of it. If you've been following this blog, you also know there are a couple of other problems with the sentences. I won't elaborate because this post is about pronouns. You can, however, leave a comment if you know what else went wrong in these sentences.

    B) The wound still bleeds. Should I put it out of its misery?

I'd like to see someone put a wound out of its misery, wouldn't you?

    C)     The wind ruffled his hair as it blew in from the ocean.
Personally, I've never seen hair blow in from an ocean. 

As you can see, it is not about what a writer means, it's about using the correct words to clarify and help a reader form an image in their mind. 

***The topic for August is Common English Simplified?


Thursday, June 1, 2017

June 2017 - Don't Start Where You Started

Like many writers, I started by writing short stories. I needed to learn how to write and stories are the most practical way to do this, and less soul-destroying than working your way through a lengthy novel and then discovering it's rubbish. — Kate Atkinson
Where does a story really start? 

You've likely heard that the first three chapters or the first 100 pages of what you initially wrote of a story should be cut because that isn't where the story really started.

Ahem—I disagree with that thinking. You see, those words and pages were actually where the story started FOR YOU—you needed that information in order to write the rest of the story.
Much of that foundation was likely world building information and characterizational skits or vignettes so you, the writer, get to know the lay of the land and the characters. It's like an iceberg, 10% is seen above water, but it's the 90% below the waterline that support it. In essence, only 10% of what the writer learns about all the aspects of their tale will make it into the story because the reader doesn't need all that information.

The real problem comes in trying to decide where the story actually begins. The answer is that a story begins with an interesting character, in an interesting setting, facing an interesting problem or dilemma. Of course, that interesting character is the protagonist. After all, a story depends on one person's struggle with a problem.
The start of a story is also the point where the protagonist's ordinary life takes a nose dive into the abyss of an uncertain future of trials and tribulations, even a face-off with an antagonist that seems overwhelming.

Here's a secret in decoding the start of a story—ask: Where does life for the protagonist change and they can no longer go on as they had been before? This will be the scene where they are confronted by the story problem (or get an inkling of the problem) and must decide to (or be forced to) tackle the problem.

Even the protagonist that decides to shun the problem eventually finds they have to step in because the consequence are too great to ignore.

********July's topic will be  - The Greatest Pronoun Reference Error