Monday, November 21, 2011

Happy Holiday Season

I'm taking a short leave during the holiday season. I hope, if you haven't already enjoyed my recent posts you'll check them out.

Please join me in the New Year, the first Monday in January, for some fun posts on trivia of all sorts. We'll have a great time!

Merry Christmas!

Happy New Year!

Happy Hanukkah!

May God grant you peace and happiness as you celebrate the birth of His Son, the New Year and Hanukkah.


Fran Shaff
Award-Winning Author

Monday, November 14, 2011

Getting Published, Part 5

I have yet to meet a writer who enjoys marketing. Most of us want only to sit at our computers and create more stories.

However, once our books are published it essential that we let people know the books are available.

There are many ways in this modern age in which we can tell the public about our books. A few Internet options available to us are:

1. Social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc.

2. Yahoo and Google groups and other Internet groups

3. You Tube and sites like it

4. Forums such as Kindlebooks and other reader forums

5. Websites which specialize in catering to readers of your genre

In addition, we can send press releases to local media and any specialty media which would find the topic of our book relevant, solicit book reviews, use any contacts we have which may help the public become aware of our books.

One of the tools many writers have used effectively since the advent of e-books is the offering of a book free of charge. Writers have consistently found that by offering one book as a free download readers who enjoy the book will go on to purchase more books by the same author.

The more exposure your book has the better, but don't nag readers or beg them to read your books. If you're promoting on social networks or forums, talk about things other than your books. Readers enjoy getting to know a little about you. Mention the projects you're working on once in a while or give a link to an excerpt from time to time, but don't sell, sell, sell. That usually just turns off Internet acquaintances.

Best wishes and good luck with your writing career. I hope the direction you've chosen to take works out for you just the way you want it. And thanks for joining me for this series on getting published.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, November 7, 2011

Getting Published, Part 4

Covers and Other Things

We'll pick up this week where we left off last week, talking about covers. If you've chosen to publish your book traditionally, your publisher will provide your book cover. If, however, you're going to publish your book Independently, you'll be responsible for providing an attractive cover.


As I mentioned last week, if you're publishing an e-book, all you really need to make an acceptable cover is good photo editing software. Any program which allows you to work in layers and save your work as a jpeg file should be sufficient for producing e-book covers which will meet your publisher's requirements. You can find cover requirements in the publishers FAQs.

Paperback and Hardcover Books

If you're publishing a paperback or hardcover book, you have several options when it comes to making a cover or dust jacket.

1. Stock Covers

Some publishers available to Independent Authors offer cover templates which include a background photo authors can use, and areas on the cover where the writer can fill in the title, author's name, back cover blurb and other vital information.

2. Book Cover Software

If you want more options for making that perfect cover than what publishers have to offer through their templates, you may want to purchase software designed to let you make your book cover from scratch. With book cover software you can use your own photos and a host of fonts and special design techniques.

3. Hire a Cover Pro

If you'd rather stay out of the cover-making arena you can find a pro to create a cover for you through publishers. Most of them have a list of artists you can use.

In addition to uploading text and cover files to your publisher you will need to create a book page. Most publishers make this very easy. You'll need to create a book blurb which is limited to a certain number of characters, select a category for your book from among the publisher's options, and set a retail price for your book.

Once you've successfully completed all of the above steps, it's a good idea to review the copy of your book the publisher will be issuing to readers. Make sure it is error free. If you're publishing a paperback or hardcover book, you'll want to know that the cover looks as pretty in print as it does in its digital format.

Traditional or Independent Publishing?

Whether you choose to publish your book traditionally or independently you'll find there are advantages and disadvantages to both.

With traditional publishing your responsibilities include preparing a book which is acceptable to both you and your editor (This will include making rewrites the editor requests and approving the print-ready copy.), writing the cover blurb and a few other odds and ends. The publisher will provide the cover, list the book for sale through its distributors and set the retail and wholesale prices.

Independent Publishing requires the writer to do everything as described in this series to get the book to market.

With traditional publishing, the publisher has total control over the release date, the distribution channels, the price and virtually everything throughout the length of the publishing contract.

Independent Publishers release the book when they want, through whichever distribution channels they want and at whatever price they want.

Once your book is published

Whether you publish your book independently or traditionally you will have to do your own book marketing. And that's what we'll talk about next week.

See you then!


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, October 31, 2011

Getting Published, Part 3

Independent Publishing

As promised, this week we'll continue our discussion of Independent Publishing.

Files You'll Need

E-Book Publishing

Each e-publisher available to Independent Authors requires a specific type of file from writers who want to use their services to distribute their books. However, most publishers want authors to begin in Microsoft Word, not the later "docx" version but the older "doc" version.

If you're using the latest version of "Word" or you're using a different word processor, you'll still likely be able to save your file as a "doc" file. Most word processing software offers a variety of file types for saving documents.

Once you have your book saved in "Word" according to your publisher's specifications, you will be able to follow the instructions on how to proceed from there in the publisher's "How to" FAQs.

Read and follow instructions very carefully. If you don't complete your file exactly as instructed, you'll only delay the availability of your book to readers.

Publishers use both mechanical and human reviewers to vet books. If manuscripts vary by even as small an error as using all caps when it's not allowed, adding an extra space between the words in chapter titles, or any small infractions like these, your book may not convert into the format needed to successfully distribute your book to major vendors.

If your book has illustrations, photos, a table of contents, footnotes, or any of a number of other additions besides straight forward text, formatting will be a bit more complicated and will vary from publisher to publisher. Here again, be diligent in following guidelines in order to successfully publish your book.

Hard Copy Publishing

If you're distributing your book in paperback or hardcover you'll need to choose a book size. Places like Lulu and Create Space offer a nice selection of book sizes.

You'll find paperback/hardcover publishers usually want a pdf file for their books. They may make the pdf for you from whatever word processor you use, or they may require a pdf file right from the start.

Hard copy publishers also dictate page counts for the various book sizes. Be sure to heed these requirements, or your book file will not be accepted.

Final Copy Reviews

Whether you're publishing your book in hard copy or e-formats, it is important that you review a copy of the book in all formats. If your publishing with a distributor like Smashwords, and you choose to make your book available in several of the formats they distribute (mobi, pdf, e-pub, etc) look at your book in every format to be sure it's clear and easy to read.

Be sure the layout of your hard copy books looks professional. Covers should be clear and attractive.

Ah, yes, covers. It looks like we'll have to put off a more in depth discussion on those until next week. However, I can give you a bit of info on e-book covers because they are less complicated than covers for paperbacks/hardcovers.

If you've got good photo editing software, that's really all you'll need in order to make a cover for your e-book. Most publishers require only a jpeg file of a specific size and resolution. Details of what they need are in their FAQs.

I look forward to continuing our discussion next week when we'll discuss covers and a few odds and ends. The following week we'll talk about marketing your books.

Hopefully, you'll have a pleasant few days until we meet again.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Getting Published, Part 2

Publishing Your Book

Once your book is written and reworked until you're completely satisfied with it, you're ready to publish it.

In my last post we discussed publishing your book traditionally and independently. Today, we'll expand on that topic.

1. Traditional Publishing. If you choose to publish traditionally, I recommend using the "Writer's Market" published by Writer's Digest Books as a resource in finding a publisher. However, do not restrict your publisher research to this book. While it is extremely helpful in finding a publisher who puts out your kind of book, it is important to check other resources for the right publisher for you.

Magazines like "The Writer" and "Writer's Digest" can be helpful.

Writers' organizations like Epic Authors often list publishers along with descriptions of the types of books they publish. It's also a good idea to do an Internet search for publishers. As with other topics, Internet searches can turn up some very helpful information when you're trying to find a publisher for your book.

2. Independent Publishing. There are many ways to publish your book independently. An Internet search will help you find this type of publisher too.

Let's take a look at the biggest publishers available to Independents first, Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Amazon offers publishing services through their Kindle Direct Publishing program. Barnes and Noble offers the same type of service through their Pubit program. Amazon's publication is for the Kindle, B & N's is for their Nook.

Publishers like Smashwords, Lulu, and Create Space offer publication services in e-formats and/or print formats. With companies like these writers have access to worldwide distribution through many Internet Stores such as B & N, Apple's I-Books, Sony, Powells, Books a Million, etc. instead of just one store as offered by Amazon's KDP and B & N's Pubit.

As you research these companies and others you'll find through your Internet search, you will learn that you can publish your book at more than one place--as long as you hold all the publication rights to whatever format you wish to use to distribute your book.

For example, if you want to publish in Amazon's KDP and B & N's Pubit program AND use Smashwords to distribute to Apple, Sony, Kobo, etc., you can do that, as long as you own the publication rights.

The publishers referred to in this blog post offer authors the opportunity to publish their content absolutely free. They get paid for their services when you sell your books by taking a fee or a percentage of the sales price. Some of them also make money by offering paid publication services to authors such as editorial and cover services or promotional services. The paid services are for the author's convenience. You don't need to use them in order to publish your book with the companies mentioned here.

Next week we'll discuss the types of files you'll need to upload to use Independent Publishing services, book covers and more.

Please don't be overwhelmed by this mass of information or confused by it. Like everything else, if you take Independent Publishing or Traditional Publishing one step at a time, you'll be able to figure it all out and make the best choice for the publication of your book.

Perhaps between now and my next blog post you'd like to check out the companies mentioned here and other companies you find on your Internet search and learn more. It would be great if you could share via comments whatever you learn that would be helpful to this blog's readers. Sound good?

Have a great week!


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, October 17, 2011

Getting Published, Part 1,

Traditionally, few writers were able to see their books in print because a small percentage of books written, maybe five percent or less, were ever published.

Today, however, thanks to the increase in the number of small publishing houses and to the availability of resources for Independent Publishers, many, many more books are being published.

Consequently, your chances of becoming a published author, your chances of becoming a multi-published and a regularly published author are better than ever.

As you may know, I've had books published in hardcover, paperback and e-book formats by traditional publishers. In fact, my very first book MONTANA MATCH was published exactly 10 years ago this month by Avalon Books, New York in hardcover.

However, in the last couple of years I have begun to publish my back list of books Independently, and I've been pleased with the results.

In this series on "Getting Published" I'd like to help you become a published author too whether you're writing your first book, second or your twentieth. So let's begin.

1. Write your book. The very first thing a writer must do in order to be published is to write a book. Easier said than done, right? Believe it or not (and I'm sure you believe it if you've already written a book), writing a good book is much more difficult than publishing it these days.

If you're still in the pre-published stage, here are some tips to help you insure your book is at it's best.

A. Let it set. Once you've finished your first draft, let the manuscript set for at least a month (two months is better) and work on your next project.

B. Critique. After a month or two, go to your manuscript and read it as though someone else had written it. Be critical and site the good and the bad. Be ready to cut, add, rewrite, recheck facts, look for inconsistencies, etc.

C. Let it set again. Once you've finished the second draft, let it set again as you did with the first draft.

D. Share it. Repeat as above with succeeding drafts. When you're satisfied your book is at its best, you may want to share it with a critique group, friends whose opinions you value or a professional editor you trust.

2. Your book is ready. Okay, your book is looking great, and you're ready to share it with the world. Next, it's up to you to decide whether you want to publish the book traditionally or independently.

A. Traditional Publishing. If you've set your sites on having a major publisher distribute your book, you will have to get an agent first. Major publishers generally look only at projects submitted through agents.

If you choose to submit your manuscript to a smaller publishing house, you may be able to submit directly without using an agent. Once you submit your manuscript be prepared to wait three to six months or more. Publishers usually have a backlog of submissions. Oh, and be sure to follow the publisher's guidelines when submitting. If they want a query first, don't send a completed manuscript.

B. Independent Publishing. If you'd rather have full control over your book's content and distribution, then Independent Publishing may be right for you. In the past writers who published their books themselves undertook a very difficult, expensive venture. They had to find a printer they could work with and afford, order a set number of books to be printed and pay for them up front. Then came the daunting task of finding bookstores willing to try to sell their books. Obviously, unless these writers were willing to front a great deal of money their distribution was very limited.

Today, because of Internet companies, Independent Publishers have access to worldwide distribution of hardcover, paperback and e-books at little or no cost to them at all!

Next week we'll discuss publishers who offer free services to authors for e-book, paperback and even hardcover publications.


Fran Shaff

Monday, October 10, 2011

Relax with Classic Love Stories

Classic stories of love have been favorites among readers for hundreds, maybe thousands of years.

I love all kinds of stories of love, that's why I write stories about love.

But my stories aren't only about romantic love. They're about family love. Except for the love of God, is there any more powerful love than that shared within a family?

Love doesn't mean life is all flowers and sunshine. Sometimes families which are filled with love can also be filled with strife, but if true love exists just about anything hurtful and negative can be overcome--at least in fiction this can happen. (Hopefully in real life too, at least some of the time.)

I call my books "Family Novels" because they are about families and because they are suitable for most members of the family. My classic romances are written for adults, but they are suitable for teens. My "YA" books are enjoyed by those aged ten and older. [I, like many other writers, enjoy YA and Middle Reader books. They aren't only for kids. :-)]

In a world where things move quickly, and our lives often leave little time to enjoy the slower pace of relaxing and reading something besides e-mail, text messages and headlines, the moments we take to enjoy classic stories about love are precious ones indeed.

Here's hoping you enjoy whatever it you're reading this week...


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, October 3, 2011

Writing Tip ABCs, Part 8, V to Z

We have finally reached the final post in my Writing Tip ABCs series of blogs.

Thanks for the positive feedback on this project. I'm glad it's been of help to so many of you.

Letters V to Z coming up.


Readers want to live VICARIOUSLY through your characters. They don't get to be super heroes, villains, FBI agents, temptresses, doctors, chamber maids,dog trainers, natives of Venus and Pluto, astronauts, cowboys or ballerinas in their normal lives. While they're reading your book, however, they can do or be anything. Give them a good ride.

The VOICE you use to tell your story depends on your book's genre, the time period it's set in, its setting, the type of writing you want to convey, etc.

Achieving VERISIMILITUDE in your writing is critically important if you want readers to believe your manufactured world, people, premise, etc. are believable.


Heroes and heroines shouldn't WAFFLE when it's time for them to make decisions. Decisiveness even in the face of fear is a trait readers admire in protagonists.

When a violent or erotic scene is required by the plot, authors who intend their book for a PG type of audience may have to WHITEWASH the scene in order to make it less objectionable to sensitive readers.

Choose your WAYS AND MEANS of telling your story carefully. The methods and resources you use should suit your genre and your audience.


A XENOPHOBE can make an interesting archetype, whether he is a hero or a villain. A political drama (or comedy) comes to mind because hardline party members are often contemptuous or even afraid of the competition.


Sidekicks who are YES MEN add comedy (Lex Luther/Otis) or insight (Sherlock Holms/Watson)to stories.

When spinning your YARN be sure to knit your scenes together smoothly.

The use of YOKELS and their vernacular will make a setting which is foreign to readers seem clearer, more believable.


The battles of protagonists against antagonists result in ZERO SUM GAMES. One side wins, the other loses. The best stories allow victories and losses on both sides.

Once your story has reached its ZENITH, resolutions and an ending should follow quickly.

Decide whether readers should see a scene in macro view or if you should ZOOM in on a critical action within a broad situation.

As always, for more Writing Tip ABCs, go to my Twitter page at:

Thanks for sticking with me throughout my Writing Tip ABCs series.

Remember, later this month I'll be starting a blog series on Independent Publishing. You won't want to miss it!


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Writing Tip ABCs, Part 7, S-U

We've got this week's and next week's posts, and then we've reached the end of the Writing Tip ABCs series of posts. Shortly after that, I'll be discussing publishing your books right here on Cavewriter.


Engage the reader's SENSES, and he’ll become more involved in your story. Think about it, when you smell pine, don’t you think of Christmas, a forest, etc? Smells, sounds, locations you convey to your reader affect his involvement in a story.

Every SCENE should have a character goal which he may or may not achieve. Ending the scene with a cliffhanger propels the reader onto the next scene. If we writers succeed in doing this with all of our scenes we’ll lead the reader on a non-stop journey from the first scene to “The End.”

Where a story takes place should always be germane to the plot. Could “Gunfight at the OK Corral” be the same story if the SETTING were in Florida?

Stories usually have multiple TURNING POINTS. For example, the protagonist is going along living his normal life when 1. the inciting incident happens, and she’s got to set some new goals and make plans to meet her goals. 2. After she implements her plans, setback one happens, then setback two and so on. Each time a protagonist experiences a setback and determines she must reevaluate her goals and decide whether or not to make new goals, plans to meet them, etc. the story has likely had a turning point. Necessary turning points in stories include A. the climax, B. the dark moment, C. the resolution in addition to those cited above.

Call it drama, conflict or TENSION. If your story isn’t full of it, it’ll lack reader interest.

A TWIST is the addition of an unexpected event to a story used to heighten drama. Readers love to be surprised by logical TWISTS. Don’t contrive--be sure the twist is plausible. Foreshadowing it obscurely will add even more reader enjoyment.


UNDERDOGS can make great heroes. (Right Rocky?) Readers love to see a disadvantaged protagonist defeat tough odds and soar to victory.

Even in a fantasy world your story should be believable. If your tale is UNBELIEVABLE, illogical within the world you’ve created, readers will be very disappointed. I don’t know about you, but when I see a character in a movie running at top speed when he’s at 20,000 feet above sea level or when I watch one character hit another in the back with a lead pipe and in both situations the runner and the man hit by a pipe have no ill effects from the thin air or the ribs which must have been broken, it really ticks me off. Our heroes should be tough, but no human being can run at 20,000 feet, probably not even with oxygen usage. And no man can take being hit with a lead pipe at full force and not have broken bones. Superman can bounce back from almost anything because he’s Superman, and his “superness” is believable in the world where he exists.

Even though you as a writer do have the UPPER HAND in your story, readers are happier when your story is told well enough to make them feel they have the advantage over your characters at least part of the time.

For more Writing Tip ABCs go to:

Thanks, Everyone.

I'm sorry my post was late this week. I had a birthday to celebrate on Monday and didn't complete all my work--but I did have fun! :-)


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, September 19, 2011

Writing Tip ABCs, Part 6, P-R

We can see the end of the alphabet now from our stop at letters P, Q, R in the Writing Tip ABCs Series of blogs.

In mid October I'll be doing a series on publishing your book independently. Be sure to visit "Cavewriter" then for tips on how to self publish your book in e-format and paperback.

ABCs, Letter P

POINT OF VIEW (commonly known as POV) refers to the PERSPECTIVE in which a story or scene is told. This point of view may be done in first person (I saw), third person (she saw) or omniscient (the story teller sees everything, like God). It is usually best to use one POV per scene. If you want to change POV during a scene make the transition as smooth as possible so you don't disorient readers.

Never make things happen while PLOTTING. Let them happen in a way that suits the personalities of the characters. For example, let's say your main character is "Superman," and he stubs his toe. You want the readers to know Superman is sensitive, so you depict him crying when he stubs his toe. Readers probably won't buy this reaction which could cause them to stop reading. Better to show your superman as sensitive in a more believable way--maybe he could cry when his dog dies.

Forcing things to happen as you want is contriving a PLOT instead of constructing one. A reader knows the difference. Be honest and true to characters.

The PACE or movement of a story depends on the type of story, its intended length and the logical sequence of events necessary to tell the story.

Letter Q

Every story is a QUEST. Without goals and a plan to reach them (the QUEST)there is no story.

Don't overload readers with details. Tossing them into a QUAGMIRE of trivia may frustrate them and encourage them to close your book.

Leaving readers in a QUANDRY at the end of a scene entices them to read on. Leaving them in a QUANDRY at the end of the book might tick them off. If they don't like the way one of your books ends, they may not want to read another.

Letter R

Writers should constantly consider READERS when writing stories. It's a good idea to build characters and stories which will entertain and connect with READERS.

After breathing a sigh of relief once the first draft is complete, authors must face the task of REWRITING. Creating consistency, fixing character development flaws, sequencing scenes and events logically, correcting grammatical problems, deletions and additions are all part of REWRITING a story.

Scenes are either action or REACTION segments in a story. If in scene five the hero tries to solve a problem and is thwarted by the villain, scene six will feature the hero's reaction to his setback.

For more Writing Tip ABCs go to:

Have a great week!


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, September 12, 2011

Writing Tip ABCs, Part 5, M-O

The Writing Tip ABCs Series continues this week with the letters M, N, O.

We might as well get right to it!


Characters must be highly MOTIVATED. Stakes should be high--life or death or at least a state at which life would be greatly changed in a negative way if the hero is unsuccessful in meeting his goals. If the protagonist's motivation isn't high enough, readers won't care what happens to him. In the movie "Firewall" Harrison Ford's family is held hostage while he must rob his own bank. Stakes are high--both his family's lives and his business are at extreme risk.

Writers sometimes choose words with double MEANINGS to add a special flavor to a phrase or sentence. Take a look at this sentence: Annmarie suddenly realized her stock broker, the man who'd just let her in on a lucrative new venture, had an office on the ground floor of the high rise.

METAPHORS enhance literature by making it more powerful in some way. Example: The sunset was a collage of purple, red, yellow, blue and green.


The NEMESIS in every story must be a strong challenger to the protagonist. Think Lex Luther vs Superman but also consider the mild mannered trustee in "Rain Man" who was Charlie Babbit's (Tom Cruse) nemesis. Luther knew how to zap Superman physically, and the trustee had all the legal power over the money which Charlie wanted so badly.

Keeping NOTES on characters, events, important facts (and minor facts too) as you write helps an author maintain continuity in her book.

A character's NAME can say a lot about him/her. Consider an Old West sheriff named Matt versus one named Percy.


The "point of view" character in a scene tries to meet an OBJECTIVE. His antagonist in the scene has his own objective. Watching these two opposites collide makes the scene compelling for the reader.

Though readers will expect a "happily ever after" OUTCOME for most novels, a prudent writer will enhance the HEA with something better than the reader expects.

Be sure to include the OLFACTORY system in your writing. The sense of smell is potent. Using a familiar odor or aroma can make an object, event, location, even a character more real. Tell me, don't these words conjure up some vivid images or pleasant or unpleasant associations? fresh-baked apple cinnamon pie, steaming chilli, a dead skunk on the highway.

For more Writing Tip ABCs go to my Twitter page at:

Have a great week!


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, September 5, 2011

Writing Tip ABCs, Part 4, J-L

Thanks to everyone who's letting me know how much they appreciate my Writing Tip ABCs here and at my Twitter page.

This week we're working on letters J to L.


Get your characters in a JAM immediately. The deeper they’re in trouble the more engaged readers will be.

A JEZEBEL, a wicked scheming woman, makes a terrific antagonist. Readers love to hate this archetype. Of course, like any other villain, don't forget to give this nasty person a redeeming quality or two.

A JILTED man or woman is reluctant to enter into a new romance which makes him/her a great type of character to put into a romantic novel. (Once burnt, twice shy.) A hero left broken hearted by the rejection of a woman he'd loved is going to think more than twice before giving his heart away again. And doesn't this type of situation make the titanic struggle in a romantic novel all the more compelling?

Up next, K.

Readers love KARMA in their stories. They want to see the antagonist punished and the protagonist rewarded.

The KEY holds the answer to the mystery. It’s the object everyone is after. A/k/a the MacGuffin, particularly in screenplays. Think "National Treasure." Everyone was after the Declaration of Independence. Some wanted to learn the code contained within it which would give them riches beyond their wildest dreams. Some wanted to possess it for historical purposes, some wanted the document for historical and treasure purposes. The Declaration of Independence was the KEY and the MacGuffin.

That unexpected twist in a plot is known as the KICKER. Kickers add an extra element of enjoyment for readers (as long as they’re believable).

Lastly, L

Using well known LANDMARKS as a setting or element in a plot can heighten reader involvement and interest because the locations are familiar to them. Maybe they've even visited one of these landmarks. Familiarity always increases a connection between the reader and the story, protagonists, etc. Think Devil’s Tower in “Close Encounters” or early American landmarks featured in “National Treasure” and its sequel, "Book of Secrets" or Mount Rushmore in “North by Northwest.”

Determining the LAYOUT of your plot is crucial. Events should occur in the order best suited to enhance your genre as well as your story.

Don’t neglect the LEGWORK required before you begin to write. Research, develop characters, outline, plan your plot. Writing without completing the legwork makes writing the first draft and succeeding drafts even more difficult. I know many writers like to "write by the seat of their pants," and this is okay, of course. Whatever method suits the particular author is fine. However, even if you're what's known as a "pantster" it's terribly important to know characters thoroughly and to do necessary research completely before a writer begins to write the first draft.

J, K, L completed here now. However, for more J, K, L tips, visit my Twitter page at:



Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Writing Tip ABCs, Part 3, G-I

This week's Writing Tip ABCs proceeds to letters G, H, I.

We might as well get right to the tips!

G is up first.

GESTURES a character makes tells a reader something about him, his mood, his attitude, etc. If a character raises his middle finger toward another character we know he's made a disparaging remark, whether any dialogue is involved or not. If we read that a civilian character has given a proper salute to an army colonel, we could conclude this person has a military background.

All main characters in a story must have GOALS. Story is about characters attempting to achieve goals. If a book stars two protagonists with opposite goals, the story will be more compelling. For example, in my book "Laura's Lost Love," a love story which is set in the early 20th Century, the unmarried heroine's goal is to take in a little girl from the orphan train. The hero is tasked with denying placement of orphan train children with anyone who is not married. Hero and heroine goals are exact opposites.

Sometimes a GLIMPSE into a character's past can tell a reader all she needs to know. There is no need to do a complete psychological study on why a character won't go on picnics when all a writer needs to do is let a thought cross the character's mind. "'You want me to go on a picnic?' Joe asked. 'No thanks.' He hadn't been on a picnic since he was five and his brother Harold hid a handful of ants in his pork and beans." If the reader doesn't need to know the character had nightmares for years or that the experience caused a bed wetting problem why bore him with unnecessary details?

Up next, the letter H.

HEROES in all genres are larger than life, but they aren't perfect. Give them flaws. Make them human.

HEROINES may be demure or kick-butt women, pretty or average looking, but they, like heroes, have inner strength and human flaws.

HUMOR livens up the most serious of scenes or stories. Remember the scene in "Goldfinger" when James Bond is about to be sawed in half? Bond says to his nemesis who is watching as Bond's life is in jeopardy, "I suppose you expect me to talk." And Goldfinger replies, "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die."

And finally, the letter I.

INTERVIEW characters while fleshing them out in pre-writing creation. Learn everything about them so you'll know exactly how they'll react to the problems they'll face in your story.

Readers love characters who can IMPROVISE. Think James West of "Wild, Wild West," James Bond and MacGyver. A character who creatively improvises in sticky situations adds a new dimension to your story.

An INCITING INCIDENT happens near the beginning of a story. This event causes havoc in the protagonist's life and puts his/her life terribly out of kilter. It is because this event happens that the hero/heroine sets goals which are probably different from the goals he/she had when the story opened. For example, a tornado carries Dorothy's house to Oz. (The inciting incident.) Dorothy sets her goal: she wants to return to Kansas. (Before the inciting incident, Dorothy's goal was to save Toto from Almira Gulch, the nasty lady on the bike.)

If you'd like more Writing Tip ABCs, visit my Twitter page at

Next week we'll take a look at tips starting with J, K, and L.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, August 22, 2011

Writing Tip ABCs, Part 2, D-F

Writing Tip ABCs continues this week featuring letters D, E, F.

Let's get right to it!

Starting with D:

DESCRIPTION can be a tricky little demon to handle. How much is too much, and how much is too little? The goal is to give the reader enough information so she can get a good mental visual of a scene, person, object, etc, but we don't want to bore her, and we don't want to bog down the pace of the story.

It is usually best to filter in description a little at a time. Check out these two examples for comparison so you can see what I mean.

1. Robert wore a gray suit, white shirt and bright red tie. His black hair was heavily oiled and combed back neatly. Though his nails were neatly groomed, his hands were definitely those of a laborer.

2. Robert nervously tugged at the middle button of his gray suit jacket. "Hello," he said to a chunky, older, red-headed woman he passed in the hallway. He noticed none of the other men in the crowded corridor was wearing a tie. Would his bright red tie be too flashy for the interview? It really stood out against his white shirt. "Excuse me," he said to a tall, dark-haired man in his forties, "Could you tell me where I could find Mr. Johnson's office?" As the man gave him directions Robert ran his rough but manicured hand over his neatly arranged, oiled hair.

Description number one is efficient and short. Depending on the circumstance, it may work well in your story.

However, did you notice how active description number two is? Slipping in bits of description, connecting how Robert looks with what he's feeling greatly enhances our narrative. Readers not only see how Robert looks, they experience the anxiety he's having about how his appearance might affect the outcome of his upcoming interview with Mr. Johnson.

One more thing about description--a rule of thumb: give three facts about each character on stage in any given scene. In example two above, did you notice the brief points given to describe the woman and the man with whom Robert interacted in the hallway? The limited information about these people who are passing insignificantly through Robert's life gives us a glimpse into who they are.

Here are three important things to remember about DIALOGUE. 1. Make it sound real. 2. Be sure the dialogue is material to the scene/plot. While we real people say lots of things which are not significant, characters should not. 3. Good dialogue divulges information about characters.

Set reasonable DEADLINES for your writing projects, and be sure to meet them.

On to E:

Readers have buried themselves in your book in order to ESCAPE the hassles and problems in their real lives. Be sure to entertain them thoroughly.

Once the climax has passed END your story quickly. Be sure to tie up any and all loose ends.

EDIT your book meticulously. Your copy should be immaculate.

And finally, F:

Although they are sometimes necessary, FLASHBACKS should rarely be used. They interrupt the story, bog it down. They can frustrate readers too. It is usually better to filter in events of the past here and there so the reader has the needed information without having to be interrupted by something like: "Oh, wait a minute, I've got to tell you what happened to John ten years ago."

Unlike flashbacks, readers tend to enjoy FORESHADOWING. Giving them hints of what may be coming can make them feel more like participants in a story rather than mere observers.

People whose FEELINGS are roused while they're reading a story will be more engaged. Readers enjoy stories in which they can laugh, cry, love and get revenge along with the characters. Give readers what they want, and they'll eagerly read more.

If you'd like more Writing Tip ABCs, visit my Twitter page at:

See you next week with letters G to I.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, August 15, 2011

Writing Tip ABCs, Part 1, A-C

Starting this week, coincidentally beginning with the resurrection of the school year, we're going to be "studying" the ABCs of writing. :-)

Each week I'll focus on tips such as A for "action," B for "back story" and C for "character." We'll work our way through the alphabet as best we can (not sure about Q, X, Z) until we've completed our ABCs.

Let's start at the beginning: A.

ACTION is essential in every story. Action shows the reader what is happening rather than telling him. Action is much more exciting and engaging for the reader than narrative is. Example: Harry thought the joke was funny. (telling; no action) Harry laughed until tears rolled down his cheeks. (showing; lots of action)

ADJECTIVES (and adverbs). Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly. Strong nouns and verbs make for better story telling.

AUDIENCE. Remember who your audience is and write appropriately. Your voice, the words you use, the way you unfold the story should be suitable to your genre readers.

On to B

BEGINNINGS must hook the reader. They must be provocative and engaging. If the reader is bored by the opening lines, paragraphs, pages, why would he continue reading?

BACK STORY. Giving too much back story up front will bore a reader, maybe even irritate her. Filter in back story a little at a time as needed for clarification, characterization or any other reason which is necessary to the plot. Do not give background information just because it interests you. Back story must have an influence on the character or the plot or it is not needed.

BRIDGES. Make transitions from one scene to another, one point of view to another, etc. as clear, smooth and easy to follow as possible.

And, finally, C

CONFLICT. Without conflict there is no story. Who cares if Mary has a crush on John, and he likes her back? However, if Mary is in love with John, and he is married to Mary's sister we have conflict. And when Mary starts to plan how she is going to get rid of her sister so she can have John for herself, we have more conflict--we have a story we can sink our teeth into.

CHARACTERS. As with conflict, we have no story without characters. In the above example, if we were to write Mary's and John's story, we'd need to clearly identify who Mary, her sister and John are. Unless we know these people intimately, we writers would have no idea how they would react in whatever circumstances they meet.

CLICHES do not belong in stories, most of the time. We're writers. We ought to be able to come up with better phrases than "quiet as a mouse," "hard as a rock," or "cool as a cucumber." However, our characters may not be as clever as we are, and, once in a while, our stories may contain people who use cliches rather liberally because that's just who they are.

We've got a good start now on our ABCs. Next week, in part two, we'll cover D-F, including dialogue, editing and flashbacks.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, August 8, 2011

Clouds and Rainbows

When was the last time you "wasted" time staring at clouds or rainbows?

It seems we always have a ton of things to tend to on our "to do" lists, so many things, in fact, that we forget how important it is to take time to stop a while and just relax.

Stare at clouds, sniff fragrant flowers, examine the colors of the rainbow, pull a leaf from a tree and notice its veins, color and texture. Take hold of your child's (or grandchild's) hand, feel her warmth, look into her innocent eyes. Pet your dog, play with your cat, laugh at your pet's silly expressions and activities.

Fill your heart with a sunset, catch a breath of August evening air as it cools from the heat of the day, walk through an orchard or a garden.

It is in relaxation that we are refreshed in mind and spirit. When our spirits are refreshed we feel better, look better and produce better.

In other words, just in case you need an excuse to make yourself take some time off, know your "to do" list will shrink much faster if you relax a while and refresh your spirit because you'll be more productive after a soothing break.

Sound good? I think so.

Have a great week, and don't work too hard.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, August 1, 2011

Reunions and Love

Like many of you, we had a couple of reunions this summer.

I won't mention exactly which year my husband and I graduated from our two high schools, but it was in 19 hundred something, and we just returned from reuniting with our classmates.

I suppose to an outsider the people we went to school with aren't anymore outstanding than those you knew growing up, but to us they are TOP NOTCH. They are real, humble and proud, hard working, loyal, friendly, sweet, strong, God loving and lovers of their country. They aren't perfect, but they are none-the-less wonderful.

While it was sad to know some of our childhood friends couldn't be with us because God had called them home, we understood they were with us in spirit, sharing their humor and their love with us.

Those of our classmates who were able to return to their roots shared warm hugs, heart-felt smiles, a few tears, tremendous joy and a few drinks and eats.

Life is full of so much sorrow and pain at times. Having lived for a number of decades, our former classmates and we understand this well. So do you, even if the number of decades you've lived is no more than two. That is why, when we are fortunate enough to reconnect with people from our past we are gloriously willing to put behind us the sad things from our childhood and rejoice in each others' successes in family, hobbies, love and friendship.

NOTE: [and this comes from a former teacher :-)] The most important part of our education has happened since high school.

In the years since graduation we've learned that loving and holding onto each other is better than anything else life has to offer.

Receiving love from and giving love to God, our families, our friends, our countrymen and our classmates--this is the secret to happiness.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, July 25, 2011

Using your Mind and Spirit

A very wise man pointed out centuries ago that in religious practices one must be committed to his beliefs in both mind and spirit.

This commitment of mind and spirit is essential in other walks of life too. Our relationships might benefit from steadfastness, for example. Where would Olympic athletes be without an all consuming focus on perfecting their performances?

When a writer uses her mind and spirit to produce her stories we readers are treated to rich plots and very human characters. We feel everything happening to our characters. We experience love or hate for the characters. When their hearts break, we cry with them. We root for them or against them. We have a stake in their lives and in the outcomes of their actions.

A writer who isn't using both his mind and heart to write his stories is shortchanging his readers and himself.

The next time you read a story, see if you can tell whether or not the writer fully committed himself to his storytelling.

I'll bet you can!


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, July 18, 2011

Rain Man's Characters

Recently I saw "Rain Man" with Tom and Dustin. I hadn't seen it in a few years so I really enjoyed it. Both Cruise and Hoffman are absolutely outstanding in this depiction of brothers who are reunited in adulthood after having been separated in their youths.

As I watched Charlie Babbit's (Cruise) outlook regarding his brother change, I couldn't help but think what a rotten SOB the father in this story was.

His arbitrary decision to isolate his sons from each other robbed these boys of a great love they could have experienced throughout their lives.

And it really ticked me off!

Whether we're watching a movie or reading a book, stories of lost love affect us deeply. All of us have a need to be loved--by our parents, our friends, our children, our siblings. A great love like the one which grew between Charlie Babbit and his brother Raymond (Hoffman) is precious, more valuable than gold, as Charlie realized before the end of the film.

We writers need to keep in mind these powerful emotions which readers seek. As we craft our stories we are guaranteed to hitch up a reader's interest whenever we include strong feelings and actions like greed, hate, sacrifice, lying, telling the truth at all costs, sadness, depression and, most importantly, love. The more in touch with emotions a reader is while she's reading the more completely entertained she'll be.

And providing fine entertainment is the goal of every fiction writer.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, July 11, 2011

Life More Difficult for Kids Today?

When I hear people comment that life is tougher for kids today than it was 30 or 50 or 100 years ago, I have to wonder why someone would say such a thing.

The fact is growing up has always been difficult, and it always will be. However, life in general is, on the whole, much easier for children of the later Twentieth Century and early Twenty-first Century than it was for kids who grew up in the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century.

Children of the past often died in infancy and early childhood. They were struck with diseases which are often curable today.

One of the problems which plagued the children of a hundred years ago was homelessness and the loss of parents. Diseases, unsafe working conditions and other events caused the deaths of their parents and these children were then left to fend for themselves. Many of them were immigrants who had difficulties with new languages and different ways of life.

"A Partner's Promise," one of my historical novels for young people, details life for an 11-year-old boy who was orphaned at 8 and eventually placed on the orphan train after he'd been arrested for stealing a loaf of bread. This books clearly illustrates just how difficult life on the streets could be for a young boy.

"The Trading Game," another of my historical novels for young people, tells the story of a young girl who struggles to take care of herself and her little sister. Here is a snippet from the novel featuring Lacey at one of the worst moments of her life. She's in an alley in New York where she lives with her baby sister.

Gina’s forehead was hot. Her cheeks were fire red. Each breath she took sounded like it was being dragged over rocks.

Lacey held her sister closely and prayed she’d be well again very soon.

A rat nibbled at the garbage sitting near her, and Lacey envied the rodent the food he enjoyed. Hunger tore at her insides. The last time she and Gina had eaten was when they’d visited Salina two days ago. Gina came down with the fever the following night as they’d hovered together in their alley during a rainstorm.

Since then, Lacey could not leave her little sister to earn their daily food. If she did, who would keep the rats away? Who would protect Gina from the bad men who smelled of whiskey? Who would dry her sister’s tears?

Lacey began to cry. Gina needed to eat. She’d never get well if she didn’t eat.

She wiped her cheeks. She couldn’t cry. She had to be strong. Gina needed her. She depended on her.

Gina cried out. Her arms flailed around.

Lacey knew she was having another bad dream. Fevers often brought about bad dreams.

She settled Gina back to a quiet sleep.

She leaned her head against the building supporting her back and closed her eyes. She needed to sleep. Exhaustion consumed her. She promised herself she’d close her eyes for only a few minutes.

As she rested, she held Gina close. Slumber quickly overtook her and held her in its grip until she felt something walking on her leg.

Lacey’s eyes popped open. Two rats were crawling through Gina’s hair and one was nestling inside the skirt on Lacey’s leg.

Lacey sat up and pulled the rats from Gina’s hair. She threw them against the wall of the building on the other side of the alley. She kicked at the rat on her leg, and it scurried away.

She stood, holding Gina tightly.

This misery had to stop! Failure bore down on her. She was not taking care of Gina properly. Neither was she caring for herself properly.

She had to do something, and she had to do it now.

Growing up has never been easy, but conditions such as these (and even worse circumstances) have been a living reality for children for thousands of years.

Let's hug the children in our lives, help them endure whatever hard knocks life sends their way and love them each and every day.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

How Long Does it Take?

Writers and non-writers alike want to know "How long does it take to write a novel?"

Writers may think they're working too slowly, and non-writers who have never attempted to write a novel plainly have no idea how long such a process should take. Thus they ask--how long does it take?

I've got a great answer for this question--that depends...

(Sheesh, I sound like a politician, don't I? Ugh!)

Realistically, determining the length of time it takes to write a novel truly does depend on a number of things such as:

1. The writer's level of experience

2. The intended length of the novel (50K words? 100K words? 300K words?)

3. The amount of research needed to give the book authenticity.

4. The writer's general work habits.

5. The writer's level of commitment.

6. Many more possible factors.

Once or twice a year writers challenge each other with a "write a novel in a month" program. Everyone who enters this program hopes to begin a novel and complete it within a single month. I don't have stats on how many people actually write a book from start to finish in this time period so I don't know how effective it is in attaining its goal. However, I have no doubt this challenge is quite helpful to many writers who may need a little encouragement with jump starting their next project.

Karen Wiesner, a prolific author whom I've had the pleasure of meeting a couple of times, wrote a book a few years ago titled "First Draft in 30 Days: a novel writer's system for building a complete and cohesive manuscript." It was published by Writer's Digest Books. [I have an autographed copy. :-)] This book is a great resource for anyone who'd like to have a little support while pounding out their first or their next book. Writer's will find it full of helpful advice.

Ultimately, it is each individual writer who determines how long it will take to complete her novel. For me, the length of time it has taken me to write a book from start to finish depended on the book. I've completed a first draft in as little as 3 1/2 weeks. On the other hand, at least one book took me a couple of years to write as it continued to evolve.

If you're a writer, best wishes in completing your novel in your own time. If you're a reader like me, let's be happy it takes a lot less time to read a novel than it takes to write one.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Technique and Personal Experience in Writing

If a writer wants to learn more about his craft he will find many, many books and articles available which discuss the techniques of writing.

Personally, I've read dozens of books about writing. Most of them are good. Like many other writers, I have a few favorites. These treasured teachers helped me a great deal in the beginning of my career. One or two of my old friends assist me with every project I write.

Despite the fact that an abundance of good writing books are available to inquisitive writers, it seems we are always looking for more helpful advice from fellow writers and editors. Why? Because writing is a very complicated job. Because writing good books is a difficult job. And because writers are sensitive people who often lose confidence in their abilities and need "coaching" occasionally which will reassure them that they do have the ability to continue to produce quality work--provided they are willing to work hard enough to reach their goals.

However, as important as it is to keep writing skills honed by reading good books and articles on writing, it is an author's heart which enhances the specialness or uniqueness of any literary creation.

Technique, skill and a good command of language are very important to the production of quality writing. Equally important are the one-of-a-kind insights a writer brings to her project. No one has lived the life of a particular individual except that person. No one has seen things the way he sees them. No one has made his identical choices, experienced his life history, related to his particular parents as he has.

So, writers, read, study, learn your craft well, then use what you've learned in books and in life. Let your heart guide your stories as completely as you let your intellect integrate your crafting skills into your next project. The more personal your story, the more enjoyment you'll give your readers.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

E-Book Reading Devices

When e-books first arrived on the scene we read them on our computers or PDAs. Now we can read them on multiple devices.

Recently I downloaded the Adobe Digital Editions software for reading e-pub formatted books on my computer. Terrific clarity, very user friendly.

PDF files have always been nice to read on computers, and they continue to be a top choice for readers.

A few months ago I bought a Kindle. I totally LOVE it. It is a very impressive device. Readers can download books directly from Amazon to their Kindle or they can access books from other retail websites via their computers and then transfer these Mobi files to their Kindle. PDF and other text files are also transferable and readable on the Kindle. I'm sure there is much more a person can do with their Kindle, but I'm still learning.

(Readers, please add info you have about the Kindle and other reading devices to the comments. Thanks!)

Amazon reported this week that they are now selling more Kindle books than print books at

Barnes and Noble has the Nook reading device. I have heard nothing but good comments about this reader. People seem to love their Nooks as much as Kindle users love their reading devices.

Sony's reader is also quite popular. Again, I've heard nothing but satisfaction from readers of the Sony device.

Don't forget the I-Pad. Users of this fairly new device seem to love it, and Apple's I-Books are selling well.

In addition to the above devices many phones are also capable of carrying e-books. I have no personal experience with reading e-books on these devices. Since they are growing in popularity, though, I would guess people are enjoying newspapers, books and magazines on these slick devices too.

If you've been hesitant about getting an e-book reading device because you aren't sure you'd enjoying reading on it as much as you like reading hard copies of books, I want you to know that I am one reader who finds my Kindle books easier to read than paperbacks. The font size is adjustable, and they are less glaring than paperbacks when I'm reading in the sunshine. In fact, the Kindle doesn't glare at all in sunshine. Do indeed check out the reading device you think would best suit you and find out how terrific it can be. You'll be so glad you did.

Then begin to enjoy your summer reading.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

More Free Reads

Last week I posted links to sites which feature free e-books. This week I want to expand on that a bit.

Special sites and major distributors aren't the only places on the Internet where you'll find free stories to read. Many publishers also have free books/shorts for their readers. Sites dedicated to promoting certain genres also provide links to places where readers can download free reads.

Some publishers and genre sites where free reads can be found include:

The Wild Rose Press:

Romance Junkies:

Wings ePress:

Coffee Time Romance:

The Long and Short of It:

Romance Divas:

Read Free Romance Stories:

White Rose Publishing:

Lillibridge Press:

Check your favorite publisher's home page or your favorite genre website and see if free stories are available. Chances are, you'll find something you'll enjoy.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, June 6, 2011

Free E-Books

Many authors are now releasing e-books free of charge. It's our way of introducing our work to prospective readers.

As a reader I love to "test the waters" with an author unfamiliar to me. If I like what I read, I'm likely to download other books from the author, free or not.

As a writer, I find offering a free download of my historical romance "Change of Heart" has induced many new readers to download my other books and stories or to buy them in paperback.

The availability of free books is a win/win situation for readers and writers.

Amazon, B&N, Sony, Kobo Books, I-Books and many more sites have free e-books available which include public domain books and newer stories from contemporary authors.

Other sites which specialize in offering free reads include Bibliotastic, ObookO, Get Free Books, Feedbooks and many more.

Check out this location for a list of places where free reads are available:

Each location has its own formats available. Some may have only PDF, others may also have Mobi (for Kindle), html or e-pub.

Get out your reading device and enjoy summer reading at hot free price!


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Friday, May 27, 2011

Fiction Writing Mistakes and Solutions

A few of the mistakes we fiction writers sometimes make are listed below. It's always helpful for us to have a refresher in things we need to watch for as we continue to produce new work or revise old projects. I hope you find these things of use to you.

And, to my U.S. friends, have a happy Memorial Day.

Fiction writing mistakes and solutions:

1. Over-describing anything. Use of fewer, more powerfully descriptive words is better. A paragraph of descriptive prose can get boring.

2. Using real people. Instead of using actual people in stories, create vivid, compelling "bigger than life" but believable characters.

3. "Head hopping" or using multiple POVs in a scene. Generally it's best to choose one point of view per scene and stick with it throughout the scene. If a change of POV during a scene is necessary, make the transition smooth and obvious so the reader feels neither confused nor jolted by the change.

4. Choosing the wrong POV. The point of view in a scene belongs to the character whose goals are most at risk.

5. Undefined goals. All major characters need goals. These goals should be clearly defined. Without goals, characters are merely wandering through the pages with no purpose. Readers need to be connected to characters and their goals.

6. Poorly defined reasons for actions. A character's plan of action for reaching a goal should be clearly defined--not that all the details need to be obvious. Keeping a little mystery in the reasons for a character's actions can enrich the plot, but if readers don't understand what the character intends to do and why, they may become frustrated.

7. Long, boring transitions. Transitions between scenes should be crisp. Fill in as needed and move to next scene.

8. Giving TMI. Research your subject thoroughly, but don't attempt to convey EVERYTHING you learned to readers. Too much information can bog down the pace of the story or, worse yet, bore readers.

9. Lecturing readers. Don't lecture, no matter how passionate you are about a subject. Characters shouldn't lecture either, no matter how passionate they are about a subject.

10. Sensory deprivation. Blandness is a no-no. Enrich scenes by letting readers see, feel, taste, smell and touch their literary environment through the senses of the characters.

11. Digressing. Stick to what is important to the storyline/character definition. Don't wander off on tangents. Such a practice weakens the story and makes it unappealing.

12. Inactive scenes. Scenes should move. Dialogue, action/reaction, tension, conflict, complications, cliffhangers should all work to keep a scene moving ahead.

Have a great rest of May, and I'll see you again in June!


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, May 16, 2011

Step by Step Guide to Completing a Novel, Part 2

When we left off last week, our guide had gone as far as completing the first draft of your novel.

So what comes next?

After having completed the first draft of a novel and having let it set for a few weeks we dig out that lovely manuscript and begin rewrites.

11. (continued numeration from previous post) In reevaluating and rewriting your novel it will be necessary to such things as the following:

A. Critique every scene--Does it have a goal, action and reaction, a cliff hanger?

B. Delete unnecessary scenes--if they don't move the story forward, they don't belong in your novel.

C. Find character inconsistencies in such things as appearance, behavior or personalities. Do characters stay true to who they are? Do they grow? Are they stagnant and unreal?

D. Decide if scenes are in the proper order.

E. Notice whether or not all subplots are adequately resolved and all questions raised are answered.

NOTE: Rewriting a novel includes much more than the above. These are just a few examples given to clarify what is meant by "rewrites."

12. Once your novel is rewritten to your satisfaction (this may take several tries, several weeks or even several years) it is then ready for edits. In edits you go over everything with a fine-toothed comb, taking note of such things as:

A. Sentence structure.

B. Errors in grammar.

C. Errors the spellchecker may have missed such as using "their" when you really mean "they're," using the word "anxious" when you really mean "eager," "infer" when you mean "imply," etc.

D. Look for overuse of certain words such as "then" and "that."

E. Fix repetitions of the same word over and over.

NOTE: Editing a novel includes much more than these few examples, but you get the idea by what's noted here what the difference is between rewrites and edits.

Once your novel is complete you can decide what you'd like to do with it. You can query publishers whom you'd like to publish it or agents whom you'd like to represent it. You can publish it yourself, share it with a select few people or just file it away and check its completion off your bucket list.

One more thing--here a few helpful hints for reaching your writing goals.

1. Write your first draft with your heart and succeeding drafts with your head.

2. While writing your first draft, don't let yourself get distracted by going off on tangents which drastically change your storyline. It'll make your rewrites even more difficult.

3. Don't let other people's negative attitudes or lack of support for your writing hinder your enthusiasm toward completing your project.

4. If you decide to submit your novel to a publisher for consideration, don't be discouraged if you are initially rejected--with a form letter. Most writers experience rejection, even those who have gone on to earn both fame and fortune as a novelist.

5. if you're sincere in wanting to reach writing goals, never, never give up.

Best of luck on your quest to become a novelist!


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Step by Step Guide to Completing a Novel, Part 1

"You should write a book," "I've got a great idea for a novel," "I've always wanted to write a book."

When people talk to me about writing I often hear from them that they've always wanted to write a book. Or they tell me they've got great ideas for stories. Or maybe someone has always told them they should write a book.

My response is always, "If you'd like to write a book, you should do it." In fact, if we have something we'd really like to do, perhaps a task on our "Bucket List," we should do it.

Often times, however, the new writer doesn't know where to begin. This week and next week this blog will set forth a step by step guide to completing a novel. Whether the writer wants to publish the book or just do it for the enjoyment and sense of fulfillment he'll feel from the accomplishment, this guide will help him reach his goal.

Step by Step Guide to Completing a Novel, Part 1

1. Commit yourself to accomplishing the goal.

2. Study every book you can about the writing craft.

3. While reading and studying craft books, write everyday.

4. Use ideas gleaned from your study of writing books to help you prepare to write your first draft.

5. Complete as much research as you feel is necessary before you begin to write your book, but don't include everything you've learned in your book. TMI for the reader.

6. Fully develop your main characters, and develop minor characters as much as necessary.

7. Write an outline, synopsis or chapter summary so you have a guide for your storyline.

8. Keeping your research, character sketches and outline close at hand, begin writing your first draft.

9. Write every day whether you are inspired to do so or not. If you look upon completing a novel in the same way you regard any other job in your life, your chances of success are greatly increased.

10. Once you've completed your first draft, set it aside for at least several weeks.

Part two of this guide will appear here next week (the week of May 15). Hope to see you here again then. :-)

Have a great week!


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, April 25, 2011

Character, Inanimates and Animals

When we think of characters in stories, we think of people--Tom Joad, Ashley Wilkes, Dorothy Gale, Little Bo Peep, Luke Skywalker.

However, characters can also be things or animals.

If a thing or an animal is given human traits it becomes a character in a story.

Remember the scene in the movie "Backdraft" where the De Nero character explains to the Baldwin character as they watch a flame make its way up a wall that fire "thinks" and "moves" in an intellectual way? In this scene, the fire is a character because it is behaving in a human manner--thinking and moving with intent.

Helen Hunt's character in "Twister" believes a tornado behaves like a thinking entity. "You've never seen it come after you," she says at one point to the Bill Paxton character. He replies, "Is that what you think it did?"

Though it is completely irrational to believe a twister or a fire can think or behave in any way other than what its physical properties will allow, giving human characteristics to inanimate objects can increase the intensity in a story line, just as it did in "Backdraft" and "Twister"--as though those favorite movies weren't intense enough without the use of anthropomorphism.

Authors frequently use animals as characters in their stories. Pets can add humor to plot lines, provide a friend to a lonely protagonist or behave in a heroic way.

And don't we love it when we see a favorite animal behave as though he has reasoned a solution to a problem, fallen in love with someone or something or behaved in some other way unique to human beings? We must, because stories featuring animals as lead characters can be found in many books and movies.

When plotting a story, it's a good idea for writers to consider all possible characters who might add something positive or negative to their fictional tales--even inanimate objects and animals.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, April 18, 2011

"Male Fraud," an Excerpt

Just for fun this week--an excerpt from "Male Fraud" my April romantic comedy release. I hope it puts a smile on your face.


Terry Fiscus wants to be a trainer for the pro football Chicago Cyclones. Coach Dan Barringer doesn't believe a woman belongs in a men's locker room. Terry really, REALLY wants this job so she disguises herself as a man, and Dan hires her. When Dan meets Terry outside of work and gets to know her as the lovely "Teresa" he falls in love, and so does Terry. As Terry tries to manage her double life things get extremely complicated and side-splittingly funny.

(For more information, excerpts and a video, go to: )


Setup: Terry is on the job as trainer for the Chicago Cyclones, disguised as a man.

As she policed her area of the locker room Terry realized the first week of training camp had gone by with lightning speed. She’d worked hard to keep her players as healthy as possible, and things had gone well most of the time.

The only thing giving her more trouble than she’d thought it would was getting used to the smells, sights and sounds in the locker room. Especially the sights!

Seeing naked men by the dozens was a completely new adjustment for her. At Nebraska, the players knew she was a woman, and most of them would cover up if she was in the locker room. Now that Terry was one of the guys, she rarely saw a towel wrapped around a waist in modesty.

More than once the old story about the size of a man’s feet and his--

“Fiscus!” She looked at the coach who was standing in the doorway to his office. “When you have a minute, I want to see you.”

“Sure thing, Coach.” She was getting used to using her fake deep voice, though it didn’t sound as gruff anymore since her cold had gone away.

The coach went back into his office, but Terry kept looking his way.

There was one other thing which had been giving her trouble since she started her new job. Coach Barringer.

Not that he’d been hard on her or anything, no harder than she’d expected anyway. The trouble she was having with the coach was entirely her own fault.

She found him terribly attractive. Whether he was a Neanderthal or not, she couldn’t help being practically giddy over him. Consequently, she’d avoided Dan as much as possible.

She’d learned rather quickly that one glance from him could melt her quite completely, and she couldn’t afford to liquefy around him.

At least not until she told him she was a woman.

She finished cleaning up her area and went to face Coach Barringer.

She knocked on his open door.

“Come in.” His voice was stern, commanding.

He was looking at a pad full of x’s and o’s when Terry entered his domain. Considering the crush she had on him, she blushed a little at the symbols for hugs and kisses which Dan was using to diagram offensive and defensive team members in plays he was designing.

This was the first time Terry had been alone with Dan in his office. All her meetings with him before this one had included other trainers, and they’d taken place in the conference room.

Dan looked up and pointed to a chair. “Take a load off, Fiscus. I’ll be with you in a minute.” He looked again at his pad of intricate plays, and made a few changes.

She seated herself in the black tweed armchair the coach had pointed to and waited for him to speak. The longer she waited the more intrigued she became with the handsome coach and his thick dark hair, angular jaw and broad, strong build.

His shoulders looked like they could hold the weight of the Sears Tower.

When minutes passed without him initiating the conversation, she decided to start it herself. “Is there a problem you wanted to discuss with me?” Considering the way she felt about him, being alone with him put her ill at ease. She wanted this meeting over with as soon as possible.

He looked at her with those bone-melting blue eyes of his and leaned back in his black leather, swivel chair. He tapped the pencil in one hand against the index finger of the other.....
Read more excerpts and watch the "Male Fraud" video at:

Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, April 11, 2011

Got a Great Idea for a Book?

Pretty much every time I've done a book signing at least one person (usually more) comes up to me and says, "I've got a great idea for a book..."

Each person then proceeds to tell me a bit about his idea. In turn, I encourage him to take the time to develop his idea. After all, I think there is a writer in all of us. We all communicate, therefore, we can all write.

Whether a person is keeping a diary, attempting to put together a short story, or covering a news story for his hometown paper, he's communicating via written word. He's transcribing thoughts or opinions or facts onto his computer, notebook or other writing device. He's writing!

No one knows until she tries whether or not she has the ability to persevere in developing that novel idea into a wonderful book.

So, if a person really, REALLY, wants to see that sparkling idea come to life in a mass of compelling words, she should begin writing today.

I truly do hope that those who've talked with me at past book signings about their ideas for books and those who will talk to me about ideas at future book signings will go on to write wonderful stories, for their sakes and for the sakes of us readers too!


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, April 4, 2011

6 Steps to Writing a Book Synopsis

Synopsis writing is often dreaded by novelists.

Here are a few suggestions which should help make this difficult task a little easier.

1. Making an enumerated list of what's going on in a story from beginning to end helps a writer see his complete story in a nutshell.

2. From that list the writer should identify major scenes or points in the plot. These plot points, the ones the story needs to survive, should be included in the synopsis.

3. Identifying important facts about the characters is crucial. What they look like doesn't matter so much in a synopsis, but essential facts such as their objectives, motivation, determination, etc. are critical in fleshing out who these people are and what they want. Story relies heavily on characters. As with identifying plot points, it can help to make an enumerated list of facts about the characters and choose from them which aspects of these fictional people must be illustrated in the synopsis.

Once this preliminary work is completed, the writer is ready to put the synopsis together.

4. The opening. Grab the editor's attention with a good opening hook. Here's an example of an attention-getting hook which I could use for my book "Stolen Son."

A year after his wife dies, Rafe Wallace discovers his five-year-old adopted son was kidnapped when he was a baby--by Rafe's wife--and the adoption is illegal.

5. The middle. Here the author writes a novel-like story in a few pages giving the main plot points and character information as gathered from the pre-writing exercises suggested above.

It is of the utmost importance the writer makes it clear in the body of the synopsis just what the essential conflict is between the main characters.

In "Stolen Son" Rafe devises a plan to get to know the birth mother of his son so he can find out what kind of person she is. He knows he must set things right, but he won't risk bringing the birth mother into his son's life if she's a "bad" person.

The conflict: He falls in love with her, and he knows he'll lose her when he tells her the truth about her kidnapped son. Once he reveals the truth, how do they work together in their son's best interest, and how do they handle the strong feelings they have for each other--the good and the bad?

"Stolen Son" is quite dramatic. Therefore, conflict should be peppered throughout a synopsis written for this book in order to convey the intensity of the plot.

6. The conclusion of the synopsis must include the ending of the story. Answer all the questions raised in your plot description. A writer must not "leave the editor hanging" thinking this will encourage her to want to read the book. She needs to know the complete story in order to decide if she'd be interested in reading the book and considering adding it to her publisher's collection.

These six steps are an overview of synopsis construction. It is important to keep in mind there are many details which are essential to making a synopsis flow smoothly and pique an editor's interest. Some quick points:

A. Use present tense in telling the story.

B. Use third person for the synopsis even if the book is written in first person.

C. Keep the synopsis as short as possible while still telling the complete story.

D. Using dialogue in a synopsis isn't usually a good idea unless the writer feels a brief bit of dialogue is essential in illustrating a character trait or plot point.

E. Choosing strong, descriptive verbs and nouns and eliminating adjectives and adverbs as much as possible will give the synopsis more punch with fewer words.

I wish I could say this lesson is "Synopsis Writing Made Easy," but, in the 10 plus years I've been writing, I've always been in the group of writers who think writing synopses is one of the hardest parts of being an author.

Good luck with whatever you're writing this week!


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, March 28, 2011

News and Tips

I haven't updated my latest news here for a while so I'm going to do that before I post a few writing tips.

It is exciting to see that "Married While Intoxicated" (romantic comedy) is the # 1 BESTSELLER in short humor at, and it is the # 4 Bestseller in short romance there.

Blurb: Ever do anything ill advised while under the influence? Melinda and Matthew did.

See the video for "Married While Intoxicated" at:

"Married While Intoxicated" is available at major Internet E-Book Stores.

"Male Fraud," a romantic comedy novella is in the release stage. It is currently available at Amazon Kindle and is coming soon to B&N, Sony Books, I-Books, Kobo Books and more.

Blurb: Terry Fiscus disguises herself as a man in order to get a job as trainer for the pro football Chicago Cyclones. When Coach Dan Barringer meets Terry outside of work and gets to know her as the lovely "Teresa" he falls in love, and so does she. As Terry tries to manage her double life things get complicated and very funny.

See the video at:

"Male Fraud" has just started its own page at Facebook. I'd appreciate readers stopping by to "Like" it.

Here's the link:

This week's writing tips:

1. When rejection or unfair criticism rear their ugly heads, writers should take a moment to get out a piece of work which they believe they've written really well. They should read it and know their only defeat comes when they allow rejection or unfair criticism to stop them from writing. There isn't a writer alive, no matter how successful they are in every sense of the word, who hasn't been rejected, given a bad review or had their work otherwise disparaged.

2. It's a good idea for writers to make time everyday to write even if it's only a few minutes.

3. Writers need to take a little time to celebrate accomplishments before getting back to work, no matter how many deadlines are looming.

I hope everyone has a wonderful week, full of spring sunshine.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, March 21, 2011

Rewrites and Edits Step by Step

Completing a first draft to a novel is a huge relief. By the time an author has reached this milestone, she's spent quite a bit of effort on research, character and plot development and tons of little things which go into completing a novel. She may have spent weeks, months or even years on her first draft.

Unfortunately, the relief of first draft completion is often short lived because the savvy author knows rewrites and edits to a manuscript can take as long as it took to put together the first draft.

In order to minimize the time necessary to make a manuscript just right, it sometimes helps to follow a few organizational steps which can make rewrites and edits a bit less overwhelming.

1. Let the manuscript set for at least a month. Two months would be even better. Putting time between the completion of the first draft and the beginning of first rewrites can give an author better perspective toward his project.

2. When picking up the manuscript to give it a good read through, it can be helpful for the author to look at it as though it were the work of someone else. The more objective and critical he is of the book, the better he'll do in finding flaws and areas which need further work.

3. To keep things as simple as possible it helps to examine scenes one at a time. Does each scene have a goal? Does each scene drive the plot forward? Does each scene end in a way which compels the reader to want to read more?

4. It is important to notice the way characters behave in each and every scene. Are they being true to whom they are?

5. Do turning points, the dark moment and the climax come at appropriate points in the plot?

These are a few suggestions which may help in the initial read through and rewrites.

Later, after the rewrites of plot/character are finished, come the edits. Here the writer notices such things as:

1. Character inconsistencies (Joe's blue eyes on p. 25 and green ones on p. 152).

2. Poorly written sentences or paragraphs.

3. Redundancies--overusing a word.

4. Repetition of circumstances, words, phrases.

5. Any overlooked English errors (their for they're, two for too, etc)

It's a good idea to let time lapse between rewrites and edits so the author can maintain a high level of objectivity each time she reviews her project.

Completing a first draft does have its moment of bliss, but it is soon followed by the reality of the hard work it takes to get a novel into first-rate condition.

And nothing short of our best book is owed to our readers.

Happy spring!


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Sunday, March 13, 2011

New Ideas and Inspiration

Sometimes we need to relax a little in order to get our creative juices going.

For a couple of weeks I've been looking for something new and different, something very creative, maybe even unique. I want a writing project which is totally outside of my typical writing projects, a task which is fun and humorous.

Though I knew what I wanted, I didn't know EXACTLY what I wanted. So I let the essence of what I sought simmer in the back of my mind.

All of a sudden, upon awaking recently, the idea I'd been seeking came to me. I grabbed a pen and paper and began to flesh it out.

It's funny how many times inspiration comes upon awaking, while relaxing in the sunshine or while sitting quietly for a moment or two. It seems when we clear our minds of responsibilities and "to do" lists inspiration likes to sneak in and get us thinking about something exciting and new.

I guess I'd recommend doing a little sleeping or relaxing if a person is blocked while looking for inspiration. At times we just need some recharging to get the creative juices flowing again.

Have a great week, and a happy St. Patrick's Day.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, March 7, 2011

6 Steps to Creating an Internet Video

Making a book trailer or any video for You Tube, your website, etc doesn't have to be a daunting task. If we break down the steps needed to complete a video, it makes the job much easier. I'll use the making of my book trailer "Married While Intoxicated" as an example while going through these steps to help illustrate each point.

NOTE: If you have Windows Vista or Windows 7 your system probably came with Windows Movie Maker, so you already have the software you need to make videos on your computer.

1. Know what the video is about.

In my example, I basically wanted to deliver information about my Short Romantic Comedy "Married While Intoxicated" in a video format.

2. Write your script. Use words efficiently to keep your video as short as our attention spans are.

Here's my script for MWI: "Ever do something ill advised while under the influence?
Melinda and Matthew did. 1 snowstorm, 2 stranded people who have 2 much 2 drink get 'Married While Intoxicated.' Funny...Fun...Familiar? Get Married While Intoxicated. You'll be glad you did."

3. Choose the photos you want to use in a way which helps to create the mood you want to convey or in a way which helps to illustrate your script. Use photos and videos you own or have the rights to use.

4. Apply special effects and transitions which appeal to your viewer. Remember, this is a moving picture so things should move. Effects and transitions help to give motion to still shots.

5. When you've completed your video story, add music which plays well with your graphics and which conveys the mood of your story or video. Again, only use music for which you have the rights.

6. Upload your video to the Internet when you've completed it.

Take a look at "Married While Intoxicated" and see the end result to following these 6 simple steps.

Did you notice the humor and light tone in the video? Since "Married While Intoxicated" is a romantic comedy I wanted the video to be light and fun.

Notice I used lots of pleasant snow/frost photos to keep the "stranded in a snowstorm" aspect part of the story but in a pleasant, light way.

Near the end of the video I included information important to readers who may want to purchase the story--its cost, the format in which it's available and where interested readers may buy it.

Finally, the music, effects and transitions pleasantly blend with the humorous, light photos and text of the video.

And there we have it--one video trailer which informs and entertains.

Follow these six steps to make your next video composition a little easier.



Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, February 28, 2011

Character Creation--Putting it all together

Even with a framework for character creation in fiction it isn't easy to build compelling fictional characters. Having a guide definitely makes the job less challenging, though.

Summarizing the character creation posts of the last few weeks:

1. To nudge inspiration, begin your character creation exercises by writing a description of a real or fictional person and embellish where necessary. (See post on 1/17/11 at

2. Show rather than tell facts about a person. "George was stupid." vs "The teacher explained four times the process of opening a jar of peanut butter, but George still did not understand the procedure." (See post on 1/24/11 at cavewriter.)

3. Compare and contrast to fully illustrate a character fact. "He moved as fluidly as Michael Jordon executing a perfect layup." instead of "He was graceful." (See post on 1/31/11 at cavewriter.)

4. Choices characters make give readers insight into their hearts. Read the post on 2/7/11 at to see how three different people react to a bus accident.

5. Whether or not a character lives up to his belief system can tell readers volumes about who he is. The preacher and the pregnancy illustration of this in the Cavewriter post on 2/14/11 shows exactly what I mean.

6. The hearts of characters are clearly illustrated by the way they treat others. Remember the example shown in last week's post at Cavewriter regarding Melanie and Belle from "Gone with the Wind?"

These six helpful ideas in character creation should go a long way in aiding writers struggling with characters as they hammer out their stories.

These points may also inspire fresh questions in the minds of writers such as "Do I use all of these ways of building characters in all of my works of fiction?" "When do I use them?" "Do I use them on all of my characters?"

Naturally, the writer is the creator when it comes to his or her stories. When, how or if writers use these techniques is totally up to them. I would suggest, however, that it might be most effective to use the type of character illustration which best suits the scene being written.

I'd also suggest interspersing these techniques throughout the story, using the most appropriate technique for each part of the story.

One more suggestion--as writers flesh out their characters before they write a word of their stories, it might be a good idea to consider answering questions about each of the character's belief systems, life choices they've made prior to the beginning of the story, how they'd treat another person given a certain situation, and things of this nature. It's very helpful to know the characters' hearts as well as their overall personalities, their connections to other people and the way they look.

Remember, the better a writer knows her characters, the more believable they become to readers when they react in ways true to who they are as they face the challenges presented to them in the plot of the story.

Still sound complicated? As I said, character creation isn't easy, but all the work necessary in building believable characters is worth the effort. It truly is.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author