Friday, September 1, 2023

2023 - September - Developing Your Writer's Voice

To quote author James N. Frey: Having a strong voice is as important to you as a writer as knowing your craft.

Oddly enough, the beginning writer may strive to have a strong narrative voice but fail because they don't actually hear the voice that's on the page.

Why don't they hear "the narrative voice?" Because they've been taught to put facts down in a coherent manner and to use proper English diction, grammar, and punctuation. Simple but effective communication, but writing fiction is about emotions generated by a voice that resonates in a reader's mind. That voice will not be the reader's own voice but the actual voice of the narrator or multiple narrators.

Somewhere in my writer's journey, I came across the adage that it takes a million words to discover one's voice. Okay, so there are a few authors who have no problem putting a voice onto the page from the get-go. Unfortunately, the majority of writers will struggle writing those million words, and more, to find that unique voice of a narrator or narrating character and not achieve it. In my opinion, the failure lies in an inability to listen to how others speak and how the very words and the word order those speakers use nets their unique voice.

Another problem with voice is that the characters narrating the story may all sound alike because their voices are that of the writer.

I skipped half a million words getting to voice because I was a secretary who took dictation from many different bosses over the years. I not only put shorthand onto a page of what my bosses said, I also had to transcribe my squiggles. Then came the day one of my bosses said, write a letter telling XYZ the shipment will be delayed. Suddenly, I had to create the boss's voice. That turned out not to be a problem because I had listened to his voice for months. 

When I became a writer, I basically took dictation from my characters and that netted me their voices.

Here's a way to improve your ability to write character voices—  turn off the visual picture on your TV movie and listen to the characters talk. Really listen. You could even pick a TV or movie character that is similar to the one in your story and play the movie several times, intently listening to that particular character's speech pattern. 

Next, write a few pages of your story character's dialogue and narration. Then ask your writing group or partner if the voice coming off the page sounds like the character and not your voice. 

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Screenwriting and Playwriting 101 with author Stephen M. T. Greene, on September 16, from 1-4 p.m. at the Cochranton Area Public Library, Cochranton PA. Free and open to the public. Hosted by Shenango Valley Pennwriters-Craftmasters, part of Flyer/information: 
Permission is given to forward and post on social media. Please tell others about this in-person event.

Monday, August 14, 2023

2023 June-July-August ? What happened

 This is August 14 and I just discovered that my posts to this blog for June, July, and August were not published. I'm working to figure out what happened and hope to be posting again for September 1.

There's nothing like computer glitches . . .  (sigh).

Catherine E. McLean

Monday, May 1, 2023

2023 - May - Blueprint to Story


New writers are seldom aware that a developed short story and a novel, no matter the genre, have a basic structure. That basic story blueprint is "The Hero's Journey" which is also considered "The Character's Journey" and "The Writer's Journey."

This basic pattern is what readers enjoy the most. And, yes, this pattern deals with the power of myth in storytelling. Another way of looking at this blueprint is the 3-Act-Play structure. After all, plays came before novels.

The basic story structure, be it called myth-based or 3-Acts has a sequence. The first sequence is the beginning, which is about an interesting character (the protagonist) in an interesting setting (their ordinary world as they know it) and a problem that is either the story's main issue or a scene where a problem is made known and which will lead to the main issue. Keep in mind that a story is about one person's journey, one person facing danger, and only that one person solving the problem at the end of the story.

The second sequence is the "Inciting Incident." This is the point where the protagonist's life will forevermore change because they have come face-to-face with the story problem and must act or there will be consequences. The Inciting Incident is also where the protagonist enters the very scary, unknown new world of dangers and uncertainties.

Next is the middle of the story where, by trial and error, the protagonist tries to solve the problem and fails until they finally understand what it will take to ultimately solve the problem.

Then comes the confrontation, the climax, the do-or-die finale. The protagonist wins, loses, or it's a draw and the problem is solved or resolved.

Some writers ignore story structure thinking that their subconscious, their muse, will create a block-buster novel. In reality, it's important to keep in mind the technical side—the blueprint that underlies a marketable story, a story readers will remember and tell others about.

Here's the thing, a reader doesn't realize there is a structure, but the writer knows it and employs it for the reader's benefit.

If you'd like a recommendation of a book or books on the subject of story structure, let me know in an email to

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Saturday, April 1, 2023

2023 - April - Poetry in your writing?

 April is National Poetry Month. Thirty-one days to investigate and celebrate a type of prose that can enhance fiction and nonfiction. 

With poetry in mind, take a look at this website:

And, in honor of National Poetry Month, I have a challenge for you writers. Go to your WIP (Work in Progress). Find a few long descriptive passages. Turn one or more of them into something succinctly poetic, yet in keeping with the POV-Viewpoint of the narration.

Need an example? How about this improved woodland description from one of my WIPs:

By mid-day, the icy wind lost its breath. The stillness slipped unhindered about the half-naked oaks. My shuffling footsteps now muffled by the feathery, ankle-deep snow . . . 

Poets see things in a different way and condense images into a conciseness that is often envied.

Poetic turns-of-phrases, too, enhance a story. Readers like finding such "little gems."

If you take the challenge, share your findings or share one of your rewrites. You have 31 days to play poet with your words.

Happy Poetry Month!

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Wednesday, March 1, 2023

2023 - March - I not I ?

 Over the years, I've addressed aspects of POV-Viewpoint, which are two different things. POV is the who and Viewpoint is the how of a narrator telling the story. This month, let's look at an aspect of the "I" narrator.

Some writers think using the first person "I" narration is better than the other POV-Viewpoint techniques. Trouble is, new writers inadvertently confuse who the "I" narrator really is because there can be two different "I" personalities on the page.

The first "I" is the writer. The second "I" is the story's narrator. When the writer hits the page, it usually becomes an Author Intrusion—which is to be avoided because readers hate them. There are different types of Author Intrusions. The blatant ones go something like, "little did she know what awaited her tomorrow."

Anther blatant type is to get historic facts wrong, like a writer stating Genghis Khan as a ruler when the story was set years after his death and the correct name should have been Kublai Khan.

The more subtle Author Intrusions are harder to locate. These include characters not acting like they should. An example would be a drugged victim speaking with clarity or a street-wise kid spouting Ivy-league words or using their diction or syntax are those of the writer.

The worst kind of Author Intrusion is the writer turning a character into their personal crusader. Yes, a character can be profoundly prejudicial, bigoted, and on a crusade of their own. When the writer steps in and takes over the narrative from the character to expound on a virtue or vice dear to the author's heart, that's what will turn off the reader.

So, is there a way to spot or avoid Author Intrusions and catch those substitutions of the I of the narrator versus the I of the writer? Here are two:

1) Do not edit as you write. Once a draft is done, let it set, step away from the story and characters. Come back to the draft and listen for the voice of the narrator coming off the page. Does it sound like the character or is it different—like the writer's voice? Of course, all depends on the writer's ability to hear the voices coming off the page and to distinguish their own voice from the characters.

2) Know your characters. Some writers use character sketches, character questionnaires, character worksheet on which to delve deep into their characters back story, their personalities, likes, dislikes, prejudices, their moral fiber, their mannerisms, their speech patterns, their motivations, and more. Other writers draft text and, in the revision process, they self-edit. They may also depend on critique partners or groups and beta readers to spot and fix Author Intrusions.

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