Monday, November 22, 2010

Clear, Concise Writing

Getting ideas, scenes, actions from your brain to your computer isn't easy.

Sometimes I wish I could do a mind meld with my computer the way Mr. Spock in the old Star Trek series used to do with machines and organisms. Perhaps then I wouldn't leave out chunks of information the way I do when I write my first drafts of stories.

Just today I was doing rewrites on a scene, and I realized I'd left out some very important information. Facts which were clear in my brain were nowhere on the page.

Worse yet, the rewrites I was doing weren't my first set of rewrites.

Believe it or not, I'm making a point beyond what I'm literally saying.

Writing fiction is a complicated task, and we writers, no matter how many books, stories, etc. we've written, would do well to never forget just how complicated the job is.

It is imperative we remember to take care of all details which make our stories as clear and concise as they can be for our readers. We owe stories at their best to those who look forward to reading what we write.

I fixed what I saw wrong in my scene today, and I intend to read that scene again later this week. I'll go over it and over it until it is the best it can be.

And for all my hours of hard work, the reader will cover the scene in a matter of minutes.

Hours versus minutes--it's worth it even if it seems a bit too disproportionate because the reader's enjoyment is the purpose of every fiction writer's work.

I hope you enjoy whatever you're reading this week.

To all my American readers, I'd like to extend a very happy Thanksgiving. May God bless you and your families in every way.

And to my non-American readers--May God bless you too whether or not you are celebrating Thanksgiving this week.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning author

Monday, November 15, 2010

Negative Inspiration

What is negative inspiration?

It's what I'm feeling right now.

The hour has come to be productive, to wake my imagination, to stare at the blank page and create a picture, tell a story, delve into the heart of a fictional human being.

But I can't do it. My heart isn't in it at the moment.

I doubt there are any among us who have never faced a day of work without disliking the demands of our job. Yet, despite our occasional aversion to our avocation, we must man-up or woman-up and engage in our responsibilities.

We need to fight our "negative inspiration" and do our job. It is our duty, the work we owe to others and to ourselves.

When a writer is "uninspired" I suggest she take a few minutes to look at her favorite work of literature. Reading a passage from a friendly old book can be extraordinarily inspirational. Once she's read the beautiful prose, she should copy them.


No! not literally copy them. I'm NOT suggesting plagiarism. I'm suggesting the writer take the conflict of the scene, the motivation of the characters or some other aspect of what she's just read and create something new.

Taking time out to work on a "practice scene" will often lead the writer to having the ability to return to the blank page of the story in progress and get some real work completed. This session of "practice" can be inspiring.

No matter what occupation we might face with "negative inspiration" gnawing at our resolve, turning to something satisfying and uplifting and taking a few minutes to indulge in this activity can drive away the negative and replace it with the positive.

Take a moment, smile and remind yourself that you are good at what you do, and you're going to get even better at it. Know too that what you do is important to you, to those you love and even to others whom you may never meet.

That's positively inspiring, isn't it?


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, November 8, 2010

Guest Blogging

Hi, Everyone,

I appeared as a guest blogger at the Avaloners blog a few days ago. "Scenes Which Make us Cry" was my topic.

On Wednesday of this week I'll be a guest at the Romance Junkies blog. Look for a discussion of early Twentieth Century stories there. You'll even find a You Tube post of one of my favorite movies "The Music Man" which, of course, was set in the early Twentieth Century.

To read the post at Avaloners, go to:

To read the post at Romance Junkies go to this link on or after Wednesday, November 10:

I'm sure you'll find both of these posts intriguing and well worth your time, particularly if you're a fan of historical stories.

Be sure to leave a comment at either of the two blogs or this one, if you'd like to.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, November 1, 2010

Intriguing Openings

Ted hadn't noticed the elevator car wasn't there when he stepped into the shaft.


A statement such as this one is likely to get a reader's attention.

A good opening line at the beginning of a book is vital to "hooking" the reader. If she isn't intrigued by the first line, will she read the second, third, fourth?

A writer owes her readers a compelling story. Every scene in a book should begin with a great opening line. The sentence need not convey danger or be as graphic as the line about Ted above, but it should effectively interest the reader, set up a mood, clarify a setting, give information about characters, etc.

The opening ideally intrigues the reader and effectively coaxes him to want to read more. To illustrate what I mean, I'll post a few first lines from several scenes in my dramatic contemporary romance "Stolen Son."

Opening 1. "The knock at the door nearly made her drop a whole handful of fresh bay leaves into simmering pot of tomato sauce."

Lots of information in this opening: She's in the kitchen cooking a tomato sauce (mm, I can smell it!)--we've all done something similar so right away we can identify with our heroine. The INTRIGUING part of this setup comes in the knock at the door. "Who is it?" the reader wants to know, and how is the person on the other side of the door going to change the heroine's life? This opening has a hook; it paints a domestic picture; it tells us a bit about what the heroine enjoys doing.

Opening 2. "Logan sat on the sofa while Rafe took a couple of beers out of the small refrigerator next to his credenza."

This one sentence gives the reader a lot of information: Logan and Rafe are probably buddies since they're having a beer together. The "small refrigerator next to his credenza" implies an office setting. The office has a sofa as well as a stocked fridge so it's a business/casual situation. This scene evokes reader curiosity in addition to illustrating a setting: What are these two men up to? Is it business or personal? INTRIGUING.

Opening 3. "He laid her on the sofa and placed a pillow under her head."

Totally INTRIGUING. Who is she? Is she passed out? Drunk? Sick? Who is she to him? And who is he? Are his motives compassionate or sinister? In addition to the "hook" value to this statement, the reader is grounded in the location of the scene.

Opening 4. "Rafe couldn’t help whistling as he bound up the three steps leading to the entrance of C & W Construction."

This opening line is a perfect illustration of what writers mean when they say they want to "show" something instead of "tell" it. The mood of this scene could have been easily set up by saying "Rafe was really, really happy," but we'd have a pretty lame sentence to read compared to the "whistling" one in that case, wouldn't we? This first liner conveys mood, identifies one character in the scene and the location. INTRIGUING part--just what is this guy so happy about? And how long will his happiness last?

Opening 5. "The joy of spending the night with Christopher was marred by having it take place in the hospital."

Majorly INTRIGUING! Conflict abounds. "Joy" and "in the hospital" are two things one would certainly not usually equate with each other. The statement prompts the reader to wonder: Who is with Christopher? Who is Christopher? Who was hospitalized and why? What is going on here!! In addition to effectively creating reader curiosity, this opening gives location and reveals the unusual, conflicting mood of the person whom we believe will be the star of this scene.

Opening lines are used to intrigue and inform readers. The better they are, the greater the reader enjoys the story.

And entertaining the reader is what writing fiction is all about.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author