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