Saturday, November 30, 2013

December 2013 - Why write as well as you can?

Why write as well as you can?  Because (you fill in the blank).

In truth, it doesn't matter what your reason or motivation for writing is, what matters more is are you writing as well as you possibly can? But how do you know if your writing stacks up to publication quality or reader satisfaction?

If you're a writer who cannot not write, and writing is important to you, then you have probably sought out people and critique groups, shown them your work, and wondered about, hated, or loved their feedback. I call it feedback— a word with kinder and more helpful overtones than critiques and their harsh criticisms.

Now, writers form or join both in-person and online groups not only for feedback but also for comradery. After all, only another writer understands a writer, their problems with the writing life, and with storytelling— especially how to get the words onto a page that are coherent and immediately understandable.

I must confess to having run the gauntlet of writers' groups as I strove to become a published author. I have experienced everything from the blind leading the blind (all novices who had no clue what fiction is about) to the social-only groups (food, drink, and be merry). And over the years, there have been the smattering of genre specific groups, like RWA (Romance Writers of America) and OWW (Online Writing Workshop), but only one organization has saved my sanity and given me feedback on my work and the industry that has made such a difference in my writing life.

That group is comprised of an eclectic mix of novice to multi-published and award-winning storytellers who represent all facets of writing—fiction, nonfiction, journalists, memoir, poetry, screenwriting, and more. It's a network of people who believe in their organization's creed to help a writer achieve their writing goals. That organization is: Pennwriters (www.Pennwriters.Org).

I'll even confess that I've belonged to Pennwriters for 18 years now and that the members honored me with the 2010 Meritorious Service Award for volunteering my time and talents to the organization.

By now you might think I'm rambling, but the point I want to make is this: if you are serious about knowing how well you write, keep seeking writers who can help you learn, improve, and achieve your writing goals. Yes, you might find a group that is too focused and too brutal in their criticism. Then again you might find the opposite type of group, the "hand holders," who only give praise, not constructive feedback. But you need feedback in order to achieve your publishing dreams, so network among your fellow writers. In this holiday season where New Year's resolutions are pending, why not make your 2014 New Year's resolution to find one group. Just one. And if that one fails to help you, find another, and another and another until you discover "the group" that enables you and your writing. 

Wishing you all the best with your writing endeavors,

Catherine E. McLean
Copyright Material @ 2013
This blog is updated the first of each month

Then enroll in "Revision Boot Camp" - an online workshop, January 13 to 31, 2014. Click here for details, fees, and registration information. Early-bird discount until January 1. Limited enrollment.  Act now!
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Friday, November 1, 2013

NOVEMBER 2013 - Rewriting or Revising, are they the same?

Rewrite means to write from the beginning and make significant changes, or to redo the same theme or idea or story but differently.

Revising means to edit, reorganize, update, improve, refresh, retool, amend, paraphrase, rephrase, or reword.

So, technically rewriting is not revising. Trouble is, writers often use the terms synonymously. Yet, we writer know we must rewrite and revise, cut and paste, trim, and make changes so that the person reading our words can understand the message, or thes tory, we intended for them.

But are we good self-editors? I think that all depends on the individual's mindset, how they learned to write, and, more importantly, if they understand that writing to communicate and writing fiction take a different skill set.

In school, we learned to write and use the English language. We learned and used punctuation and grammar rules. We increased our vocabularies. We learned to report and be factual, unemotional. That's fine for nonfiction, journalism, and the corporate world but not good when it comes to fiction. By my count, there are 144 aspects to writing fiction, and they cannot be learned overnight or in one fell swoop.

You've probably heard me say it a dozen times that these days anyone with a computer thinks they can write The Great American Novel or the next New York Times Best Seller. The reality is that millions do write a novel. However, instead of learning fiction devices and techniques to present a story for a reader, they self-publish and then wonder why their stories don't sell. Or they offer their stories for free. I came across a statistic last month: there are estimated to be 15 Million new titles published/self-published this year online. For readers, finding a good book among them is equal to searching for a needle in a haystack.

So, how does an author rise above the masses? They do it with ruthless editing. And, again, we are not talking punctuation and grammar. We're talking about various aspects of great storytelling. To the serious writer, editing means switching from creative mode to self-editing those first rounds of revision and rewriting passages for clarity and vividness. And now, as you might have guessed, I'm going to plug the "Revision Boot Camp" online workshop that will showcase the self-editing process and how to handle it step-by-step instead of en masse. That workshop will be held January 13-31, 2014. Oh, and there is an early-bird discount available until January 1. Registration fees and details are at

This blog is updated the first of each month.
Comments and questions are always welcome.

December 2013 - Why write as well as you can?

@ 2013 Catherine E. McLean
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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

October 2013 - Fear and Confidence


Fright Night.

Being afraid keeps us safe, makes us hyper-alert, cautious.  Yet fear often undermines us, our intent, or embarrasses us. It's what we don't know or refuse to see or listen to that will undo all the best of intentions. Or so it seems. Confidence is knowing. Knowledge is power. Identify the fear and we can confront it, deal with it, and grow as a writer.

So, how about we compile a list of spooks -- writer's fears? As a writer what is your fear? Is it a spooky thing or a monster? Why is it your worst or nagging fear? Is it writer's block? Is it the embarrassment of writing up-close-and-personal about a character or a steamy sex scene? Is it a fear of being criticized, humiliated? Is it __________ (you fill in the blank).

Well, don't sit there, staring at this page. Put your hands onto that keyboard and post your fear-comment with a comment, or do a journal entry for yourself that need not be shared with anyone. But in doing that writing, maybe you'll discover your fear isn't the monster you think it is.

Oh, if you're wondering if I have a writing fear, well, yes, I do. My fear is that because no one leaves a comment on this blog, no one reads my posts. No one hears me. I am alone on the page. Then again, if the comment feature isn't working, would someone please report it to me by clicking here.

***This blog is updated the first of each month. NOVEMBER's topic will be Rewriting or Revising, are they the same?

HATE REVISING YOUR FICTION? Then enroll in "Revision Boot Camp" - an online workshop, January 13 to 31, 2014. Click here for details, fee, and registration information. Early-bird discount until January 1. Limited enrollment.  Act now!

@2013 by Catherine E. McLean  *
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Monday, September 2, 2013

September 2013 - Voice?

I often think that there's too much mystique associated with finding "a writing voice." After all, voice is more than style. By "style" I mean the way a writer uses words, diction, syntax, and rhythms of long and short sentences that makes their work distinctively different from any other writer's.

There's also the adage that a writer must write a million words to find their "voice." Isn't that a lot of wasted trial and error?

In reality, fiction works best when it keeps a reader turning pages, so it really doesn't matter what style or voice is used as long as the reader enjoys the narrative and keeps reading to "the end."

With the best of omniscient-narratives, the words on the page resonate within the reader's mind with a very distinctive "storyteller's voice," one that's worth listening to and which stands out from any other character's voice in the story.

In what's called "deep" Point of View and Viewpoint, the narrative is done by the character who is living the scene or story, and who is a story-person not a puppet-character being manipulated by an author. Character-narrative allows the reader to experience a roller coaster of emotions on an intimate level, up-close and personal, as the drama unfolds.

But here's the secret to writing "in a character-voice" and having that character's words and thoughts be different from every other character in a story: it's the author listening— truly listening—with an inner ear, to how that narrating character actually speaks and thinks with emotional relevance (i.e. feelings or with a highly opinionated mind-set). Thus the words reflect that character-narrator and not the omniscient-author.

Over the years of learning the many devices of writing good fiction, I've come to the conclusion that a loss of, or a lack of, a "voice" is more due to writers striving to write the way they were taught—which is omniscient reporting of events in a factual (unemotional) manner and following the strict rules of grammar, punctuation, and formal, literary writing.

Yes, initially that education enables people to communicate with each other, but such writing doesn't work for fiction. Why? Because readers need to hear the voice of the story's or scene's narrator, which allows emotions to resonate. Those words must also reflect a storyteller or story-person who has genuine feelings and believable opinions based on their education, upbringing, and world-view. In other words, it's not a reader looking at words on a page and reciting them in their own mind-voice.

So, as you read this essay, did you hear my distinctive voice, or your own?

More importantly, if you didn't hear my voice, why not?

And think about this: if you cannot discern one writer's voice from another's, it stands to reason that you likely cannot tell if your characters are real story people or puppets, right?

*** This blog is updated the first of each month. @2013 by Catherine E. McLean *

*** The topic for October 2013 is "Fear and Confidence."

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Monday, August 5, 2013

August 2013 - The Ending of a Story

As most writers know, stories have a beginning, a middle, and an ending. Yet what few writers realize is that there are four basic types of endings, which are:

1) the protagonist wins or succeeds in solving the story problem or dilemma
    **This is known as the "satisfying" ending. It's an ending most readers want. It's the type of ending that sells more books.

2) the protagonist loses or doesn't solve the story problem or dilemma
    **This is known as the "unsatisfying" ending. It's an ending most readers will dislike.

3) the protagonist neither wins nor loses, and the ending is neither satisfactory or unsatisfactory but inevitable.
    **With this type of story ending, the reader comes to understand that this is the only way this story could possibly end, so the reader is content.

4) the story ends in such a way (like GONE WITH THE WIND) whereby the reader can decide what the final ending might be.
    **This type of story ending frustrates some and delights others.

Yet, the worst ending – and one that should be avoided – is the "deus ex machina" ending. That's an ending where God, Fate, another character (other than the protagonist), saves the day or solves the story problem. Why must the protagonist solve the story problem/dilemma or confront the villain? Because a story is about ONE person's struggle – the protagonist's. No one else's. Yes, there can be other characters, but none rank higher or on an equal level with a protagonist.

And, in order to give a reader the most emotional enjoyment, the story must also have a climax where the protagonist will make a "do or die" decision. One that involves confronting the villainous villain, thwarting an enemy, sacrificing a long-held belief, changing a moral or core value, etc. In the climax, the protagonist not only faces the story problem (and wins, loses, or it's a draw), but  the story's ending is also the culmination of the protagonist's struggle with their own demons, which have been showcased by the plot.

So how does a writer avoid a deus ex machina ending? It's by understanding who the protagonist is down deep in the psyche, at the moral core, at the values of what that protagonist holds dear and why. Plot forces the protagonist to look at who and what they are and decide to risk or sacrifice a belief, a value, a moral, or their own life because the stakes are worth it. This is also a key to a story with a satisfying ending.

But here's a secret to having an ending that works for a story and for a reader: the ending is foreshadowed (often on a microscopic level) in the story's beginning. In other words, knowing the story's true beginning can help a writer find the ending. Likewise, knowing the ending can help pinpoint the story's true beginning.

****This blog is updated the first of the month.  @2013 by Catherine E. McLean *

**** September's topic: Voice
****Want to continue to receive updates to this blog?  Then join me at Twitter --!/CatherineMcLea7

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

July 2013 - Where do you get your story ideas from?

    When I was a fledgling writer, I attended a workshop at a Barnes & Nobles store where a multi-published author was speaking. From the audience came the question: "Where do you get your story ideas?" The author replied: "If you have to ask that question, you aren't a writer."
    That blunt reply not only silenced the audience but stunned me. Many times in the following years, I heard the question and the answer, albeit rephrased in various ways. Since I never had a problem with coming up with story ideas, it baffled me why so many people asked the question. It was also obvious to me that real writers, published writers, didn't have that problem.
    However, one day when I heard that question again, I had one of those "ah-ha" moments. I realized that the person asking that question–and all the others before her—had lost contact with their writing subconscious, their muse. That usually happens because life, earning a living and paying the bills, family obligations, and a slew of other things can take priority. Thus personal creativity is shoved aside. Now time allowed the opportunity to be creative, to write creatively, but the muse, having been shunned into silence and relegated to a deep dark closet, isn't cooperating.
    I also realized there was a solution. To become creative, or become more creative, means turning on the light of actively seeking "story sparkers"–that is, seeking and recognizing anything that piques curiosity or has a person saying "what if?"
    One caution—ideas can be found only if the conscious and subconscious minds are encouraged to view and actively look at material, or one's environment, with the thought of "could this lead to a story?" So what type of material is a candidate for such scrutiny and thoughts? Just about anything and everything from the daily newspaper to music credits. 
    Keep in mind that it's not usually the front page news that will wake curiosity. Often ideas come from the tiny article in the lower section of an inside page, one with a minimalist headline,  something like "Sheriff arrested." 
    Just by reading those words, "Sheriff arrested," weren't you curious about why the sheriff was arrested? Which means, if you want to be a creative writer or storyteller, you need to recognize when something arouses your curiosity. Then you can either use the facts or extrapolate something from those facts that will become a story. And, guess what, as a bonus you'll be writing about "what you know" (that's because it exits, it's real).   
    Names, too, can trigger curiosity, for instance, Dunwoody Allen. Who names a person Dunwoody? Well, that first name is a combination of the real names of Dunn and Woody. Allen is a real surname. That's right, no need to make up a name when one can be found while reading.
    For me, Dunwoody Allen had such a resonance and spark to it that I filed the name in my Bits & Pieces file (my cache of idea sparkers). Periodically, I go through the entries. Since it's a four inch ring-binder, stuffed full of pages of notes, I won't likely get to all of them in six lifetimes. However, once written, once entered into such a binder, the subconscious can happily work on piecing together a great tale.
    So, if you're struggling to become more creative, or to write more realism into your stories, isn't it time to stop wondering where other people get their story ideas? Isn't it time you took a closer look at the world around you? Isn't it time to become aware of the beauty and incongruity of everyday life and nature?
    Isn't it time you collected your own "story sparker" of things that make you stop and pause and ponder?

THIS "Writer's Cheat Sheet" BLOG IS UPDATED THE FIRST OF EACH MONTH WITH A NEW TOPIC.  @2013 by Catherine E. McLean *
Coming August 2013 - A Story's Ending

***DON'T FORGET THE  Spring-Summer Giveaway
***ANNOUNCING:  "Revision Boot Camp" - an online workshop about revising your fiction, January 13 to 31, 2014  

Thursday, May 30, 2013

June 2013 - The Lead, the Opening, the Hook?

It's estimated that in this day and age, you-the-writer have only eight seconds to catch a reader's attention with your story's opening. In other words, that opening must make the reader curious enough to read each word to get to the end of the sentence, then move on to the second sentence, and then the third sentence, and so on until the reader is engrossed and turning pages.

That’s also why what the writer wrote that triggered the story is not usually the beginning of the actual story for the reader. It’s been said that anywhere from one to six chapters or more often are words that the writer needed to write in order to understand the story that needed told.  Indeed, much of that pre-writing is back story, back history, setting details, and information to understand the setting, characters, and the plot.  It’s only after the first draft that the writer can look over everything and seek the “inciting incident”—that triggering element that actually starts the story rolling for the reader.

Once that inciting incident has been identified, the opening sentences can be examined and honed into a “hook” that leads into the opening paragraph, which leads to an opening page, which leads to an opening chapter which grabs the reader's imagination, interest, and curiosity–effectively hooking them into reading the rest of the story.

Because every story is different, there will be variables with how a story opens, but are there specific openings to avoid? Sure there are, and here are my pick of five elements to avoid using:

1) Avoid descriptive openings about settings or scenery because by “painting sunsets” or painting the stage, nothing is actually happening. In other words, when no person is doing something important, there is no action, no drama, taking place.  The secret to an opening is to present the reader with an interesting protagonist to care about, one who is in an interesting setting, and one who has an interesting problem to contend with or a dilemma to solve.

Here is an example of a descriptive opening that fails: On the horizon, swiftly barreling down the valley between the high peaks, came black thunder clouds.  Pitchforks of lightning flashed from sky to ground but were replaced by a deluge of rain.  The creeks and gullies soon filled with water . . .

Some might say this omniscient, viewpointless opening sets "the story tone," one of threat, but it doesn't because no ONE person is affected by the storm nor is the storm seen from the POV-Viewpoint of any character with something at stake. Now, try this version:

Glancing at the horizon, Marsha watched the black thunderclouds swiftly barreling down the valley between the high peaks of Iron Ridge. Pitchforks of lightning flashed from sky to ground but were soon obscured with sheets of rain. She had the herbs that could break John’s fever, save his life, but could she make it to their cabin before the gullies flooded?  Five miles.  Only five miles away . . .

3) Avoid describing a character performing an ordinary activity by themselves. The key words here are: a) “ordinary” and b) “by themselves.” First, "mundane" activities include taking a shower, washing dishes, walking the dog, making a cup of tea or coffee.  Such routines are boring to readers.  And when a character is alone, there isn’t anything happening that is dramatic, and that tends to stop the story's forward movement.  Noe: This is not be confused with direct discourse or internalizations by a character/protagonist who is facing some dire decisions, or making a vital decision or action that gives them a goal for the next scene.

4) Avoid lengthy family or character history, back story, or flashbacks as an opening. 

In other words:  Don't tell everything all at once but when it is absolutely necessary for clarity and for the reader to understand at that point in the story. As I mentioned last month, the writer may need such information to write the story itself, but the reader doesn't.

5) Avoid using an attention-getting gimmick as a hook.

Often these are catchy-sounding one-liners.  This type of hook often stands on its own, but it may fail to reflect the tone or mood of the story that follows.  Here is an example: John killed two people and didn't think twice about pulling the trigger.  This is a great opening hook, an attention grabber and the reader wants to read on.  However, if this should be followed by back history like: With four brothers and a sister, he grew up in the little city of Mudville, Pennsylvania, where he had a normal Catholic upbringing . . .  Well, that back history is a letdown and boring—and tends to turn off a reader. 

As always, it will be in revising that the correct starting place for a story can be determined and work begun to rewrite an opening that will hook a reader into the rest of the story.

Next Month - July 2013 - Where do you get your ideas?

@2013 by Catherine E. McLean *

Monday, May 6, 2013

MAY 2013 - So you're writing your first novel? The Prologue Pitfall

Stories begin with an idea. That idea may be a plot premise or a character, a setting, some detail, or anything. However, the bottom line is that an idea spurs the imagination, intrigues, and has the story subconscious thinking and providing more story details.

Among those "ideas" is what a newbie writer considers a prologue. After all, that prologue contains the idea for the story, the idea behind the plot, or leads to defining the characters, right?
Not so right. Most of the data a newbie writes is so they, themselves, can understand the plot, the characters, the setting, (the story world), and more. However, only ten percent of that initial effort will end up in the story itself because the reader does not need all that detail. The reader needs only what is necessary to understand the story at that particular time in the story.

It's often said that the first three to six chapters a newbie writers is all back story and back history that should be ruthlessly axed so the story starts with an interesting character in an interesting setting, facing an interesting problem (dilemma, etc.). And yet, despite realizing where the story begins, nine times out of ten the newbie writer will hold onto that prologue and start their story with it. Well, here is the litmus test for whether to keep or delete that prologue: if anything in that prologue is repeated or included in the story itself, then that prologue is not needed. In other words, if there is any way at all to weave that prologue's elements into the story, do it and the reader will get a more worthwhile story.

But here's a secret: prologues work best for very complicated stories. I did research at two local libraries and discovered that most multi-published authors didn't use a prologue until they had written about six books. Why was that, I wondered. Well, further reading-research proved that the initial stories were simple plots. It was only when the author grew as a storyteller that there was a necessity for including a prologue, because without that prologue the reader would be absolutely clueless about some critical fact. In other words, nowhere else in the story could the crucial information be put but in a prologue.

**** BYLINE MAGAZINE published my original article on "The Purpose of Prologues" and it is available from Rimstone Concepts. This article also lists additional pitfalls, facts, and four other reasons a prologue might be included in a work of fiction. ****


Coming June 2013 - The Lead/Opening/Hook

***Special! Spring-Summer Giveaway 

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Monday, April 1, 2013

2013 - April - Are you a writer or a storyteller?

Sol Stein said a writer was someone who could not not write. Trouble is, a 2012 survey found 81% of people say they want to write a novel. Yet, what they don't know is that the secret to writing a good story is becoming a storyteller. A storyteller is not a writer who writes but a writer who is savvy about gaining and holding the attention of a reader so that reader is transported into a story world and remains transfixed until "the end."

How is that accomplished? Again, the secret is realizing that there is a hidden structure to a story. It's like looking at an iceberg—10% is above the water's surface, 90% below. Which means that 90% holds up the beautiful, white, ice that bobs on the top of the ocean's waves.  In other words, in a well-told story,  the reader never sees the writer at work, never sees the underpinnings that support the tale.

To become a storyteller means diving into the art and craft of fiction writing and discovering what devices and techniques need to be employed to tell a story well. Trouble is, I've calculated there are 144 aspects to writing a novel. It's also a fact that those aspects cannot be learned overnight. However, the number one element of craft that has to be mastered first is Point of View (POV) and Viewpoint.  Although the "experts" will use the terms POV and Viewpoint synonymously, they are two separate elements. Here is my succinct and simple definitions:

    POINT OF VIEW is the story's narrator at work relating the story to the reader. POV answers the question: Through whose eyes is the story (or the scene) being observed? A story's narrator can be a character, the author, an omniscient "god" or "fly-on-the-wall," or a "storyteller persona."

    VIEWPOINT is how accurately the story's narrator observes the situation at hand and how they characteristically filter information and sensory perceptions, either consciously or unconsciously as they comment. In other words, the character/narrator's viewpoint is opinionated. That viewpoint may be subjective or objective, or it may fluctuate between the two extremes. It makes them open-minded or closed-minded, ethical or unethical, a coward or a hero. Then add to that all their biases and personal prejudices gathered over a lifetime. Those aspects color and taint their observations about people and that also affects how they deal with the situations they're in.

So, stop thinking about POV-Viewpoint as first person, second person, or third person. Start thinking in terms of whose voice does the reader hear narrating the story. That voice is the key to good


MAY 2013's topic - So you're writing your first novel? The Prologue Pitfall

FOR TITILLATING TITLES  (Or how to generate a great story title) is now available exclusively at Rimstone Concepts! 

***Special! Spring-Summer Giveaway 
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Friday, March 1, 2013

2013 - MARCH --- Clutter

"Writing improves in direct ratio to the number of things we can keep out of it that shouldn't be there." — William Zinsser, ON WRITING WELL

So, what shouldn't be in the writing?
At the top of my list is unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. These two elements can be necessary, but most writers don't realize how frequently they use them and how they clutter a sentence and a story.

Particularly on the most-watched-for list (also known as your Cheat Sheet for Revision) should be words ending in LY. For example: an exceedingly small mouse. Remove "exceedingly" and you get: a small mouse.  Yet, in doing so, another problem is now revealed: the reader cannot "see" in their mind just how small that mouse is. So, for clarity, why not revise to:  a mouse the size of a matchbox? In other words, flagging LY words helps find areas where you can improve the story.

Okay, someone is saying you just added words!  Yes, I did.  I added effective words that painted a clearer picture in the reader's mind.  I've also adhered to the old adage of "show, don't tell."  (And LY words are the worst of the "telling" words that can be used.)

So, is your writing in need of AAR (Adjective-Adverb Rehabilitation)?  Here's a simple exercise to help you determine that. And, if you do this exercise, please leave me a comment about your statistics or conclusions.


Take one short story or one chapter from your novel.

1) count the total number of words in the sample

2) Use your computer's search feature and type in the find box: ly (space). You need to put a space after the LY to prevent the machine from highlighting words like lying, etc. Count only the LY adjectives and adverbs (which means you can skip words like holy and holly, etc. from the count). Only seek out the adjectives and adverbs.

3) Divide the number of adjectives-adverbs into the number of words in the piece and what you get is the ratio of the average number of times the LY words appear. An actual example: 6083 word sample, 49 LY's, equals 1 LY every 125 words. That's not a bad ratio.

So, how many times do you clutter your words with LYs?   I'd love to know (and add them to my list of ratios).


@2013 by Catherine E. McLean *

CHECK BACK FOR April 2013'S - Storyteller vs Writer

Thursday, January 31, 2013


Purple prose.
Roundaboutation . . .

I often wonder what would happen if every would-be writer stopped trying to grab the brass ring of becoming a famous author and was charged $10,000 for every word they set onto their monitor screens and $25,000 for every word they placed in an e-mail. Would that stop the mega-gazillions of words flooding "the cloud," the Internet, blogs, and people's e-mails?  Not to mention what arrives at editors' and agents' desks.  Such wishful thinking . . .

As I said last month, the secret of good writing is clarity and strength. The second secret of good writing is "simplicity."

Simplicity is taking the time to reread what was written and analyze each word, each piece of punctuation, and each sentence's structure. That's right— just stop the finger from hitting the save or send button and reread. Sounds so simple, doesn't it?

Fact is, few go back and reread what they wrote when it comes to blogs and e-mails. Fewer still will reread their story drafts slowly. That's likely due to familiarity with the story and the words, thus glitches and errors will go "unseen."

However, when a reader gets confused, loses track of what's happening to whom, or misinterprets the passage (because of missing words, punctuation pitfalls, etc.), that reader is likely to become frustrated and negatively emotional (angry). Of course, the person the reader blames (and rightfully so) is none other then the person that strung those words together—the writer.

I can't stress enough that readers are not mind-readers. Readers only have the words on the page to go by. Clarity of thought and logic are no accidents. Simplifying for understanding means a writer must switch hats from "creativity" to "editor." Analyzing every word, every sentence, every paragraph also means adopting the KISS mantra of "keep it simple stupid."

So, the question is: Are you willing to take time to simplify your next blog or e-mail entry, or that drafted chapter, or your story manuscript to become a better writer, a more professional writer? If not, why not?


Coming in MARCH 2013: "Clutter"
Interested in having a "Revision is a Process" Cheat Sheet?  Click Here.

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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

January 2013 - On Writing Well–what does that mean?

    "Good writing has an aliveness that keeps the reader reading from one paragraph to the next, and it's not a question of gimmicks . . . It's a question of using the English language in a way that will achieve the greatest clarity and strength." --William Zinsser/ON WRITING WELL

So, exactly what keeps a reader reading from one paragraph to the next? What is clarity? What is strength?  To be sure, these things have to do with writing an understandable sentence, but for that sentence to be understandable, it must, first of all, have clarity. Take a look at these two sentences:

    1) The door chimed as she entered the shop.

       2)  As she pushed the shop's door open, it grazed the bell-chimes mounted on the lintel.

    Which one of the above instantly provided you with an image in your mind? Answer: #2. Oh, you didn't see anything wrong with #1? Let's look at #1.
    First, the door is chiming. Doors are usually very solid items, so how could it make a sound other than to creak on its hinges? Logically, something else triggered the chime sound, right? But what? The reader is clueless. The reader did not instantly visualize how the "door chimed."
    Secondly, the cause-effect is reversed. How do I know this?  Because of the "red flag" warning word, which is "as." Nine times out of ten when "as" appears in a clause at the end of a sentence, that sentence has a reversed cause-effect sequence. What this means is that the person reading the sentence is forced for an instant to stop and adjust "the movie in their mind" so the passage makes logical sense. After all, isn't it logical that a woman would enter a shop through a door and then a chime might go off announcing the door's opening?
    Let's look at what happened in sentence #2: the cause-effect was logical and straightforward so, with clarity, the reader visualized what actually took place. No stopping or exiting the story world (
not even for a nanosecond) and thus the strength in sentence #2 keeps the reader reading.
    If you've looked at your work and found such "as"-reversed sentences, I'm inviting you to share one of your originals here and your revision to it in order to help others "see" what happened. And, if you want to ask me to comment, I'll give feedback (either here or privately). Just use use the comment feature below. This offer is good only for the month of January 2013.

@2013 by Catherine E. McLean *

FEBRUARY 2013's topic will be: "Simplicity"