Monday, July 26, 2010

Making the Scene

Remembering a few basic essentials about writing scenes can be very helpful when crafting a new story.

Essential 1. Every scene needs a goal.

Essential 2. Scenes start with conflict.

Essential 3. Scenes end with conflict.

Essential 4. Scenes MUST move the story ahead.

Essential 5. Usually it's best to use only one point of view per scene.

Look for these scene essentials in this excerpt from A PARTNER'S PROMISE, my award-winning young peoples' novel. Previous to this scene, Axel, a homeless boy in 1880s New York had been in a fight. He'd been injured and unable to work to earn his food so he stole a loaf of bread. He was arrested.

Axel appeared before a judge later in the afternoon the day he was arrested.

Judge Thomas, a stern-looking man with glasses and a mostly-bald head, studied a paper as Axel stood silently before him.

“This report says you stole a loaf of bread,” Judge Thomas said, peering over the top of his glasses at Axel. “Is that right, boy? Did you steal a loaf of bread?”

“Yes, sir,” Axel said, looking down and placing his hand over his stomach.

“Speak up, boy. I can’t hear what you’re saying!” Judge Thomas shouted.

Axel raised his eyes and looked at the judge. “Yes, sir. I was very hungry.”

“Hungry, were you? That’s no excuse for breaking the law. If you want to eat, you should work for your bread. You young people must learn.” Judge Thomas stared hard at him. “What do you have to say for yourself, Mr. O’Grady?”

“I’m sorry, sir. I do work. I’m a newsie, but another boy beat up my friend and me and took our money. I have been too hurt to work. I ran out of food, and I was so hungry, sir.” Axel prayed Judge Thomas would accept his explanation and give him a chance to pay for the bread when he could work again.

“I’m not your mama, boy. Your problems are your problems, not mine,” Judge Thomas said firmly. “If you steal you go to jail. It’s as simple as that. Besides,” he added, running his gaze over Axel carefully, “if you got yourself beat up, it’s your own fault. You Irish are always causing trouble.”

Axel wanted to cause the narrow-minded judge some trouble right now, but he couldn’t. Instead, he swallowed back his anger and meekly replied, “Please, your honor, sir, please don’t send me to jail. I’ll pay for the bread.”

“I thought you didn’t have any money.”

“I don’t, but I’ll work again soon. I’ll pay for the bread when I can work again.”

“Not good enough,” the judge said, shaking his head. He looked at the papers before him. He rubbed his chin and thought a moment before he went on. “You got any folks?”

Axel shook his head. “My parents are dead.”

Judge Thomas nodded slowly. “I suspected as much,” he said, staring down at Axel over his glasses. He stroked his hand along his jaw and narrowed his focus on Axel. “Have you heard about the trains which take orphans west to be placed out in new homes?”

He not only sold newspapers, he read them too. He’d seen stories about city children finding new homes in the country. “Yes, sir, I know of them.”

The judge took off his glasses. “If you’ll agree to go to the Children’s Home and wait there to be sent west on the next train, I won’t send you to jail.”

Axel felt as though an anvil had fallen on him. Jail or leave New York City. How could he stand either one? No matter which he chose he’d have to leave Nate.

“Well, boy? What will it be?”

He decided there was only one choice he could make, and it wasn’t jail. “I’ll go to the Children’s Home, sir, and take the train west.” He spoke in a firm, decisive voice. He wanted to be sure the judge wouldn’t change his mind and put him back in jail.

“Fine,” the judge said, putting his glasses back on. He wrote something on his papers. When he finished writing he looked up at Axel and pointed his finger. “Don’t you try to run off either. If I see you in this court again you’ll go to jail for sure.” The judge turned Axel over to a police officer and told him to take the boy to the Children’s Home right away.

Scene essentials 1. While the goal is not revealed until late in the scene, it's easy to see Axel's goal is to stay out of jail.

Scene essentials 2. Conflict doesn't rise much higher than that between a judge and an accused person.

Scene essentials 3. Conflict at the end of the scene is even higher than the beginning. Though Axel has achieved his goal, staying out of jail, it has cost him his best friend.

Scene essentials 4. There is no question this scene moves the story ahead. It evokes lots of questions for readers, but the main one is: what will happen to Axel when he must leaves everything familiar and goes to a strange new land?

Scene essentials 5. The entire scene is told through Axel's point of view.

With writing as it is with many other pursuits, it is always important to remember basics.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, July 19, 2010

Free and Hugely Discounted E-Books

Thousands of readers have taken advantage of my offer of CHANGE OF HEART as a free download. (Links to get this book are below.)

During July, all of my books at are 50% off! This includes the entire Heart Junction Series and the highly acclaimed, award-winning contemporary romance STOLEN SON.

Use Coupon Code: SWS50 at checkout for the discount. To take a look and to download free previews of my books before you buy, go to:

To download CHANGE OF HEART for free go to the links below. This book is also available for the I-Pad.

Smashwords (where it is the second most downloaded romance)

Barnes and Noble

Kobo Books

Sony e-Store

I hope you're enjoying your summer reading as much as I'm enjoying mine.

Have a great week!


Fran Shaff

Read more:

Monday, July 12, 2010

Dialogue: Real Life vs Literature

Writers strive to make stories real, believable.

However, one thing we readers do not want too real in our fiction is dialogue. We want fictional conversation to be believable and to look real, but we don't want it to reflect what we actually hear in our everyday conversations.

For example, if we have two characters discussing a date which took place the previous evening, we don't want to hear two women discussing the topic the way REAL women might talk.

Let's take a look at a scene using real life conversation (in the first example) versus fictional conversation designed to look real (in the second example).

Scene, a coffee cafe, two girl friends, early 20's sitting at a table and talking:

Girl 1: You and Tony went out, didn't you?

Girl 2: Yeah, you know, he picked me up at 7, around that time, I think, maybe it was later. I don't remember exactly what time he came. I got home late from work and, like, I was rushing around, trying to get ready, looking for my gray skirt. You remember the one I got at Macy's last fall when we went shopping before Thanksgiving?

Girl 1: Oh, the one you got at that great sale? Gees, what was that, like 35% off?

Girl 2: No, it was 50% off.

Girl 1: What a deal! Did Tony like it?

Girl 2: He never said, but he did say I looked nice, so I guess he must have liked it. Anyway....

(20 minutes later)

Girl 1: So you guys went to see "Knight and Day", huh?

Girl 2: Yeah, and I think he got a little emotional at the ending. (sighs) He's sweet, you know, I think. Kinda sweet, anyway.

Girl 1: Kinda sweet?

Girl 2: (shifting uncomfortably) Yeah, he, like, sighed and smiled at the end of the movie and said he liked it, but then when he walked me to the door, he made a grab for me before he even tried to kiss me.

Girl 1: How disgusting! Some guys. You think they're all romantic and sweet, then they go and do a pig thing like that instead of just trying to give a nice little good night kiss the way they should on the first date.

Girl 2: Yeah, I hate that.

Girl 1: (sips her coffee) So, are you going to see him again soon?

Girl 2: I think, you know, like I figured, I shouldn't cut him off completely just because he did one pig thing. He is kinda cute, don't you think?
Okay, lets see if we can "literary up" this little scene--

Scene, a coffee cafe, two girl friends, early 20's sitting at a table and talking:

Girl 1: How did your date with Tony go last night?

Girl 2: Not bad.

Girl 1: Not bad, huh? Sounds good. What did you two do?

Girl 2: We went to see "Knight and Day."

Girl 1: That's a terrific date movie. I saw it last week.

Girl 2: We both loved it. Tony loved all the action, chases, crashes, and I loved the romance. Cameron's character had some really great stunts too, which I enjoyed.

Girl 1: (raising an eyebrow and grinning) What about Tony? Did he have a great stunt or two?

Girl 2: (giggling) Stunts? I guess one thing he did could be called a stunt, and it wasn't a good one.

Girl 1: What'd he do?

Girl 2: (sighing) At the end of the movie, he got really emotional, almost choked up. I thought to myself, gee, this guy is really sweet.

Girl 1: That is sweet. I loved the ending too.

Girl 2: Who wouldn't? It was perfect. However, (shifting and twisting her mouth) mine and Tony's ending wasn't sweet at all, not with the stunt he pulled. When he walked me to the door, he made a grab for me.

Girl 1: Right out of the blue? Before he even kissed you or anything?

Girl 2: Yeah. I almost slapped his face, but I didn't.

Girl 1: (drinks coffee, gives friend a tentative look) So...are you going to see him again.

Girl 2: (shrugging, smiling) Why not? He's kinda cute, don't you think?
See the difference? The "literary" dialogue is definitely believable, seems totally real too, but it isn't real enough to include all the side-tracking, uhs, you knows, likes, ahs, needless details, etc. we often use in our natural, normal conversations.

Dialogue can be tricky. Writing it so it flows smoothly while it engages the reader at the same time isn't easy, but it is doable.

Take care and have a great week!


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, July 5, 2010

Happy Birthday, America

Freedom of expression, a right particularly important to writers, exists in America because men and women who have come before us have fought and died to ensure our rights.

This week, as we remember and celebrate the birth of the United States of Americas, we thank our soldiers and those great writers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution whose ideas, radical as they were at the time, have left us with unprecedented freedoms.

God bless America, and bless our citizens with the gumption we need to continue to protect our freedoms here in the United States and all over the world wherever people long for liberty.

Happy Independence Day, my fellow Americans. God bless you, one and all.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author