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