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


Monday, May 1, 2017

2017 - May - Nightmares for Authors— Freudian Slips, Miscommunications, or Worse

 Revision is a Process - How to take the frustration out of self-editing is now available at This paperback guidebook contains the 12-steps from the 2015 Writers Cheat Sheet Blog entries as well as more information, examples, secrets, tips, and practical advice on self-editing that can revise and polish a manuscript with less angst.  Details can be found HERE

Onward to this month's blog post —

He that has eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips, betrayal oozes out of him at every pore. —Sigmund Freud

The can't-see-the-forest-for-the-trees syndrome strikes authors all the time. We are so close to our work and the creation of our fiction and fantastic stories that we are not aware of minor miscommunication between our conscious and subconscious brains that result in problems, like Freudian slips.

A Freudian slip is an involuntary word substitution that supposedly reveals something you're repressing, hiding, or simply trying not to talk about. On the plus side, such faux pas are the tools a writer can use to mangle a character's speech and add levity to the story, or at least at that point in the story.

Technically a Freudian slip is a parapraxis, which is 'big word' but it really is a minor, inadvertent memory mistake, one linked to the unconscious mind.

Such slips are even said to reveal the unconscious's secret thoughts, beliefs, wishes, and feelings. A great many Freudian slips seem to have a basis in sex drives or sexual repression. For instance, someone calls his or her spouse by an ex's name. A character, too, can do that and so that's something worth keeping in the draft if your intent is levity, or realism.

Of course, many Freudian slips lead to laughter, after all, laughter breaks the tension of the shock and embarrassment of what you realize you wrote (or said) or how you let your mind wander.

Such slips of the keyboard or pen include writing a scientific explanation between a hero who's smitten by the heroine and explaining, "The orgasm multiplies exponentially." instead of "The organisms . . . "

And while drafting a scene to a medieval romance, I once described the castle's giant fireplace as being sex men wide (instead of six men wide). I'm still trying to live that one down with my critique group.

Have you made any Freudian slips in your writing or stories? Have you found one in print? Please share one in the comments because I would love to collect a few more for my files.

*****June's topic will be Don't Start Where You Started— Start Where the Story Really Begins