Monday, December 1, 2008

Real, but not too Real

As I said in a previous post, characters in stories need to be as real as possible. The more believable they are, the better for the reader.

And stories are all about the entertainment of the reader.

The requirements for setting can be quite different from those for characters.

Naturally, the setting of a story needs to be true to life, believable and historically accurate in order to place a reader securely into its location.

But it is possible for a writer to make a setting too real.


In essense, by using what is too unfamiliar. Even when writing a fantasy a writer must ground the reader in a setting by making him comfortable with a familiarity of his surroundings.

For example, in my fantasy YA novel, LITTLE GREEK GODS, the gods turned into human children interact with other human beings throughout the book. They journey through the countryside and experience things familiar to all people. With the readers being placed comfortably within what is familiar, they are ready to experience the unfamiliar such as the heroes fighting off monsters.

Another way of making a setting too real is by allowing unfamiliar conversation into the story. All areas of the world have a way of speaking that is specific to them. English spoken in England, Australia, Asia and the United States is not exactly the same English. Even within different parts of the US, language varies and so do expressions and coloquialisms. While the use of some native expressions goes a long way to making a setting more real, an overuse of local language will frustrate the reader and encourage him to close the book.

Different eras in history also mean different brands of the English language (or any other language). If one is writing a book to be published in the US which is set in Fourteenth-Century England, readers would be quite frustrated if the author wrote the conversation in a manner that was common speech of that time period. The English of that day was quite different from the English of the Twenty-first Century. The dialog in that Fourteenth-Century novel should sound like it is being spoken by people from centruies ago, but it should not read clumsily as it would if it were picture-perfectly accurate.

When writing historical fiction, it is important to setting to make the language, technology, history, locality, etc. true and accurate while at the same time using discretion and lattitude in such a way that the author keeps the reader comfortable in her surroundings.

Keep it real (but not too real).
View all of Fran Shaff's currently available books at:

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Look at Those Warts!

"Look at those warts!"

Look at those warts? Some statement, huh?

Who would make an exclamation like this? Of whom would the person be speaking? And to whom would the person be speaking?

As can be seen, at least three characters are involved in this exchange.

Let's assume these three people are the three main characters in a story.

But who are these people?

As readers, we get to sit back and enjoy ourselves as writers tell us (in an entertaining way, hopefully) everything we ever wanted to know about the characters they have created.

As writers it is up to us to transform our characters into real people.

A few weeks ago I wrote about creating characters who inspire.

Today I'd like to explain how to make characters real.

So how do we make our characters believable and real? We, as writers, must know every detail about our characters. While the physical characteristics may be easy to develop, it isn't always easy to know what is in the hearts and minds of characters. A good way for a writer to get to know his characters is to interview them. Ask them questions such as: How much education have you had? Where did you go to school? Where have you lived? Do you practice a particular faith? If so, which one? If you're new at this, start with the easy questions like these.

The answers to more profound questions are the ones that are going to get a writer deeper into the heart and head of a character. And the deeper we writers get into the heart and head of a character, the better we know him, the better our chances become of helping our readers to get to know and understand our characters.

Great characters are what make stories memorable. We readers need only to hear the name of a memorable character to remember an entire story we've read--sometimes only the first name such as with Scarlet, Heidi or Heathcliff. What do you think of when you hear names like these: Harry Potter? James T. Kirk? Tom Joad? Felix Unger? (plays count too) Jane Eyre? Mary Poppins? Ebenezer Scrooge? Tom Sawyer?

Each of these characters brings to mind something specific such as magic with Harry Potter and Mary Poppins, poverty with Tom Joad, fastideousness for Felix, tenacity for Captain Kirk, stinginess for Ebenezer and trickery with Tom Sawyer. Yet we all know these characters are much deeper than these first impressions or whatever characteristic you associated with each of these names. If these people weren't real, each in his or her own way, we'd soon forget them and the stories of which they were a part.

To make your characters rich in personality, your antagonists as well as your protagonists, ask them thought-provoking questions like these: If your beloved dog and a stranger were both drowning and you could save only one of them, which one would you save? Were you abused as a child? How would you seek justice if someone kidnapped your wife, husband, child... Do you think abortion is murder? Do you believe in sin, Heaven, Hell.... Do you think the Three Stooges are funny?

Ask dozens of questions of all of your main and support characters, the more the better. Once you've done this, you will know your characters thoroughly.

Knowing your characters will provide you with the information you will need in order to let your characters act naturally when they are confronted with a situation, whether it is major or minor. When characters act naturally, or "in character" they are believable--even in a fantasy world.

So who exclaimed, "Look at those warts!"?

How about you figure it out. If you are so inclined, leave a comment on my blog and tell me who the three characters involved with this statement are. I bet we could come up with dozens of different personalities.

I hope you have a great week. Happy reading, happy writing and happy imagining.

Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Writer

Friday, September 19, 2008

Characters that Inspire

The most important job a fiction writer has is to create characters that are real.

Plot is worthless if the characters are not people we can believe in, care about, root for, hate, be provoked by or otherwise moved by on an emotional level.

When my first book MONTANA MATCH was published people commented about my characters, "I feel like I know them personally." "They seem like friends of mine."

My heroine in EVER SO HUMBLE irked a lot of readers. "I just wanted to take Marisa and shake her," one reader told me.

I wanted to shake her myself. She has an attitude, and sometimes could use a little something to make her see things more clearly. Yet, in the end, Marisa and many of the supporting characters impressed readers and inspired them.

A PARTNER'S PROMISE's protagonist, an eleven-year-old orphan boy, is truly courageous and heroic, but he is every bit a little boy. Readers often comment how inspired they were by this young hero.

The comments I hear most often about my characters is that they are inspiring. I, like most writers, truly enjoy hearing this remark.

So how does a writer create characters that inspire?

The short answer--write from the heart.

The longer answer--consider these three suggestions

1. Choose a character who, at the core of his being, has goodness in his or her heart. Even a character who has done evil or unkind things, has been lazy or has other negative traits, can have true goodness in his or her heart.

2. Allow the goodness within the character to surface when the individual is challenged by the circumstances of his life. Let him choose the high road, no matter what it will cost him.

3. Even if the evil he must overcome during his struggle is something he created himself, even if he faces death by doing the right thing, the character willingly makes his sacrifice for the common good or for the good of another.

In the movie "The Abyss" the female lead is a truly bitchy, arrogant character. No one can stand her. She's mean to her ex-husband, yet, as much as he wants to hate her, he hasn't stopped loving her. At one point in the movie, the hero and heroine are in mortal danger. One of them would be able to survive, but not both of them. Even though the hero insists he be the one to give his life to save his ex-wife's life because he still cares for her, the heroine sacrifices herself in order to save her former husband's life.

You can't hate a woman like that anymore. No matter how bitchy, mean and arrogant this character is, she has now become inspiring because, at the very core of her being, she hid a grain of goodness in her heart and that bit of goodness allowed her to do something great.

There is nothing easy about creating characters that inspire, but succeeding in that realm is worth every gram of effort a writer makes toward that goal.

No one ever said writing is easy. Or, if they did, they probably weren't a writer.

Have a great week!


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Make Dreams Happen

You cannot let people keep you from realizing your dreams.

This may sound simple, but it really isn't. Especially if one of your dreams is to become a published writer.

At times when we share a goal we hope to achieve with someone we know, particularly a lofty goal, they may demean us or express extreme disbelief that we could ever accomplish such a dream.

Being human and often unsure of ourselves, we have a tendency to take what others say to heart. A negative word about our dreams, particularly from a loved one, can cause us to abandon goals, particularly those goals which are particularly challenging.

If I had listened to nay sayers, I'd have never published my first book. I wouldn't now have more than a dozen published books to my credit.

Reaching a dream is usually not easy, but, if it is important to us, we'll face all obstacles until our goal is achieved. Then we'll set higher goals and continue to grow our dreams.

Don't let other people keep you from realizing your dreams, but, most importantly, don't let yourself keep you from achieving that lofty goal.

If want you to be a published writer, never give up. Read, study, learn all you can. And write. Write, write, write.

The awesome feeling you will receive when you hold that first published novel in your hand is only the beginning of many wonderful things to come.

Just you wait and see..............