Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Merry Christmas, News

Merry Christmas!

May God grant you and your loved ones with a wonderful Christmas season.

I have just a couple of bits of news to share with Readers this week.

First off, GoodReads is sponsoring another giveaway of my books. This time people who want to enter the contest have the chance to win one of 5 copies of "Resurrected, Restitution," a paperback containing both of the first 2 full-length novels of my new historical romance "Tender Mysteries Series." A link is posted below.

Secondly, Amazon's Montlake Romance released "Ever so Humble" in paperback and e-book. Until now, this contemporary romance was available only in hardcover. More information about this award-winning book can be found here.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Resurrected, Restitution by Fran Shaff

Resurrected, Restitution

by Fran Shaff

Giveaway ends December 29, 2012.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

God bless all of my Dear Readers,


Fran Shaff's Web Page

Monday, December 3, 2012

Achieving Happiness at Christmastime

The holiday season has arrived. Shopping, Christmas cards, beautiful trees, garlands, lights, Nativity Scenes, warm hearts and generous spirits.

The weeks before and during Christmastide are busy and beautiful.

Although this time of year can be a hectic one, all of the bother is worth the effort when we see others enjoy the fruits of our labors. A look of appreciation when someone receives a gift we've given them, the "mmm" we hear when someone delights in something we've cooked or baked, and, most importantly, the uplifting feelings we experience in our hearts when we sing Christmas carols in church on Christmas morning fill us with a warmth and satisfaction we just don't seem to experience in the same way at any other time of the year.

Difficult times happen throughout the year--including Christmastime. When tragedy has come upon us, we might not feel like allowing ourselves to enjoy this beautiful season. If we give in to those feelings of sadness, however, (and it is often too easy to give in) surely we will miss out on a special time which can otherwise lift our degenerated spirits.

More than ever, Christmastime is the best time to do good things for others, especially when we are going through difficult times ourselves. It's best that we not feel sorry for ourselves but rather reach out and volunteer in our community, bake goodies for our neighbors, help an elderly individual decorate her home, tend to someone else's needs when they are going through a rough time.

It is surprising how quickly our loneliness and deeply sad feelings can be set aside, at least for a while, by doing kind deeds for others, whether we are rewarded with a "thank you" from those we tend to directly or we are happy only in the knowledge that we've helped someone we will never meet face to face.

Remember, Christmas is a time for joy even in the midst of sorrow--even if we are not well enough to participate with our churches and communities--because "Unto us is born a Savior, Christ the Lord." And He is always there to help us through our sad times and celebrate our good times. He really, truly is.

Wishing all of my Readers and Everyone a very Merry Christmas...


Fran's Web Page

Monday, November 19, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving and a Contest

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope God blesses all of you, Dear Readers, with good health and happy family lives.

Other than wishing you well, I do want to let you know that Good Reads is featuring a giveaway of two autographed copies of my book "Heart Junction Series 100 Year Special Edition." This book contains all three books from the "Heart Junction Series," "Laura's Lost Love," "Stephanie's Surprise," and "Mari's Miracle" plus bonus material about life in 1912, 1913, 1914, the years in which the series is set. Please follow the link below to enter at Good Reads to win free copy of this book.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Heart Junction Series 100 Year Special Edition by Fran Shaff

Heart Junction Series 100 Year Special Edition

by Fran Shaff

Giveaway ends December 08, 2012.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my USA friends.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author
Fran's Web Page

Monday, November 12, 2012

Heroines, 100 Years, and Contemporary

I've been Guest Blogging all over lately.

Last Monday I talked about "Strong Heroines" at Fresh Fiction. I love strong heroines in the stories I read, and I presume my readers like them too. My new Tender Mysteries Series features ten strong heroines in ten books, all set in the 1890s. Read my blog at Fresh Fiction here.

On Thursday I visited the Long and Short Reviews blog and talked about "100 Years of Love." This summer my entire three-novel Heart Junction Series, set in early Twentieth Century South Dakota, was released in a special edition collection. While visiting the Long and Short Reviews blog I discussed some of the things which were taking place 100 years ago such as the beginning of the Oreo cookie, the founding of the Girl Scouts, and the opening of two beloved professional baseball stadiums. Read my guest blog at Long and Short Reviews here.

Wednesday, November 14, I'll be at the Romance Junkies Blog writing about being "Completely Contemporary" in today's novels. Things change so quickly from year to year, it's quite a challenge for writers to keep their contemporary novels current, especially when it comes to technology. As of November 14 my Romance Junkies guest blog will be here.

As always, thank you, Readers, for your support on this blog and wherever you find me on the Internet!


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author
Fran's Web Page

Monday, October 29, 2012

New Historical Romance Series

After a flood annihilates a wagon train, eleven female survivors try to build a life in Hope, Nebraska.

My brand new ten-book historical romance "Tender Mysteries Series," based on the above premise, begins in 1895, seven years after the disaster experienced by its starring characters.

The first book "Resurrected" is now available as a FREE download at Barnes and Noble, Kobo Books, and Apple's I-Books for I-Pad. Currently, it is available at Amazon for 99 cents, but, hopefully, it will soon be free there too.

"Resurrected:" July, 1895: An investigation into a series of thefts leads Deborah Willet to an irresistible man and a shocking discovery about another love in her life.

The second book of the "Tender Mysteries Series," "Restitution" is also available at Barnes and Noble and at Amazon. It will be available in the next couple of weeks at other Internet bookstores.

"Restitution:" November, 1895: While Amy McKittrick tries to save the good name of one falsely-accused, special man, she falls in love with another.

Book Three of the series, "Retribution," will be available in late November.

"Retribution:" April, 1896: Susan Willet chooses a dangerous path when she joins forces with a handsome sheriff to find the men who kidnapped her sister Bonnie.

The "Tender Mysteries Series" will also be available in paperback. The first book, a two-pack combination of "Resurrected" and "Retribution" will be available in late November. Each paperback will contain two novels from the series.

More books in the series will be released in 2013 and 2014 in e-book and paperback.

I'd like to thank all of my readers for their support. You've been wonderful. I truly hope you enjoy this new series. I've written it just for you...


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author
Fran's Web Page

Friday, October 19, 2012

On Creativity

Our creativity manifests itself in many ways.

People who work in watercolors doing beautiful landscapes might also enjoy making sculpture out of old tires.

A songwriter could be an excellent glass blower.

We've seen many actors who not only deliver breathtaking performances but also dance and sing.

As for myself, in addition to writing, I enjoy quilting and knitting. I couldn't possibly count the number of afghans I've made, mostly while watching NFL football. (Can't just sit there and do nothing but watch the game.)

My most recently completed quilting project is a red, white and blue star quilt.

I think all of us have a creative side, just as we all have a talent for logic and reason. Fortunately, not all of us have the exact same creative talents, nor do we use our similar creative tendencies in the same ways.

The more creative we are, the more likely we are to look at things in different ways. Scientists make discoveries because they're thinking outside the realm of known facts. Technically creative people find ways to make computer monitors smaller, cell phones with more function, cameras tiny enough to explore the insides of our bodies.

Whenever we face problems which need to be solved, if we rely on our creativity we're likely to find a better solution than if we stick to old ways of doing things.

Just a thought from one creative person to another...


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author
Fran's Web Page

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Beaver Cleaver's Big Drama

Without drama there is no comedy, no comedy worth indulging in, that is.

The word "drama" brings to mind thoughts of serious even gut-wrenching stories, but "drama" is just another word for "conflict," which can also have its share of grim connotations. However, if it's to be funny, comedy must be filled with conflict and drama.

Consider the following plot in the classic "Leave it to Beaver" television show. This storyline, filled with intense drama, is one of the funniest episodes of the entire series.

Setup: Ward (the father) gives seven-year-old Beaver money to get a haircut so he'll look good when he plays an angel in the Christmas pageant. He also cautions the boy to avoid losing the money.

Dramatic Point 1: Beaver loses the money. (He's quite upset because he's been losing money regularly lately.)

Dramatic Point 2: In order to sidestep his father's wrath, Beaver decides to give himself a haircut so Dad won't know he lost the money.

Dramatic Point 3: Beaver has done a poor job giving himself a haircut so his brother Wally gets out the scissors and tries to clean things up.

Dramatic Point 4: Wally has been no more successful in giving his brother a decent haircut than Beaver was so they try to cover up the problem with a stocking hat.

Drama builds as one bad decision leads to another throughout this episode.

Viewers enjoy a hilarious half hour, but the poor characters are really suffering. The boys don’t want their parents to be upset with them, and the parents, upon learning what has happened, face great embarrassment from their “angel” and his horrible haircut in the Christmas pageant.

Conflict moves this comedy from one funny scene to the next.

As a writer, I enjoy composing stories with tons of conflict and drama. Whether the story is as serious as "Stolen Son" or as laugh inducing as "Male Fraud," as far as I'm concerned, the more conflict the better.

As a reader and a television viewer, if a story isn't dramatic, no matter what its genre might be, I won't read it or watch it--unless I'm trying to fall asleep. :-)

Here's hoping all the drama you encounter this week comes from fiction. (Real life is much easier without conflict and drama.)


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author
Fran's Web Page

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Importance of Secrets

Every one of us has a secret, something which we haven't told anyone--not our spouse, not a parent, not a best friend.

Something bad, maybe even horrible, happened to us; we did something which we deeply regret; we intentionally hurt someone; we did something heroic which no one witnessed.

Secrets buried deep within our souls sometimes have a big affect on how we behave, how we see the world, or whether or not we trust other people.

While these furtive facts about ourselves can wreak havoc in our lives, secrets make good fodder for fictional stories.

Soap operas just wouldn't be as intriguing without a baby who could be the result of a clandestine affair.

The Oedipus Rex would be just another story without the protagonist's mother issues.

A murder mystery is much more compelling when the killer eventually confesses he hated the boss he poisoned because he looked just like the stepfather who used to lock him in the mouse-infested feed bin of a lonely country barn.

When developing characters writers delve into the pasts of these fictional people. They ask all kinds of intimate questions of their characters, so to speak.

When they learn Sarah was bullied as a teenager, or Mike saved the life of a little girl and no one knew what he did, or Cecily gave away a daughter to adoptive parents and then learned she could no longer have children, writers understand something very important about their characters. They understand that past secrets influence present behaviors. Once writers are aware of what makes their characters tick, writing plausible stories about the characters' reactions to certain situations becomes a little less challenging.

Whenever we read a book or watch a movie, the story always becomes more interesting when we take time to discover just why a character acts the way she does. We should always spend time getting to know the secrets of the Sarah, Mike or Cecily in the fictional story we're reading or viewing. I guarantee the character creator did.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author
Fran's Web Page

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tough Love Day

Writers, like everyone else, get distracted with events in their personal lives. Just like you, dear readers, we get headaches, suffer from broken hearts, are overwhelmed by family responsibilities, lose people we love and are diagnosed with heart ailments and cancers.

Working while dealing with physical and emotional distractions can often be difficult to do, no matter what profession we work in.

For a fiction writer or anyone else who works alone with his thoughts, setting aside these painful distractions can be a challenge because he has nothing concrete or tangible to help take his mind off his troubles while he's working the way an auto mechanic, a maid, a teacher or a factory worker does. If he takes the day off to give in to or to nurse his sufferings it matters to no one but himself, at least for that day. While patrons of a hotel would definitely miss the performance of the important duties of a maid, if a novel writer didn't work for a day, so what? Right? No one is hurt by his absence from his duties.

This is why it is easy for writers to slip into the bad habit of not writing because "she didn't feel like it" or "he wasn't inspired" or "she just found out she has a serious disease and she needs to feel sorry for herself."

Professional writers write--they write every day, no matter what is going on in their lives.

Police officers work no matter what is going on with their personal lives, so do nurses, janitors, CEOs, dog walkers and everyone else who is physically capable of doing so.

If today is a day a writer would go to work if he were a waiter, an electrician, a priest, a garbage collector or a candy maker, then it's a day he needs to work as a writer.

Setting up a work schedule and sticking to it no matter what is key to a writer reaching her goals.

Throughout my writing years, I've had my share of distractions just like most other people. I've taken care of sick loved ones, supported people dealing with abuse, gone through surgeries and dealt with serious illness, done volunteer work, lost family members and tended to the duties of being a wife and mother. When it comes to keeping up with a writing schedule I have found that adhering to the schedule no matter what is going on not only helps to accomplish goals, it helps with maintaining a sense of normalcy in life when everything around me is dragging me down.

I believe this perseverance can be uplifting if we let it. It can be inspirational and rewarding during our more difficult times. Writers, give yourselves some tough love and make yourself work, no matter how tempting it is to set work aside because things are not going well for the time being. Work and find inspiration and satisfaction in what you do. It'll turn tough love into warm feelings of accomplishment.

Good luck, and God bless everyone who is having a difficult time this week whether you're a writer or not. (God bless those who are having a good week too!)


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author
Fran's Web Page

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tender Mysteries Series

For more than a year now I've been working on my "Tender Mysteries Series."

The novels in this series set in 1890s Nebraska are filled with mystery and romance. In some ways, they also cross the line into what is categorically known as women's fiction.

Each book in the series focuses on one of ten young women who'd been traveling via wagon train in 1888 from the Illinois/Indiana area to the West when a flood destroyed most of their property and many of their loved ones. All of them were children in 1888 ranging from eight to fifteen years of age. By 1895, when the series begins, most of them have grown into womanhood.

The first book in this series, "Resurrected," will be available in the next couple of months as a free download. The second and third books in the series, "Restitution" and "Retribution" will be available as downloads at the same time the first one is. More novels in the series will be released in 2013 and 2014.

The paperback editions will be issued in "2-packs." The first paperback, due for release this autumn, will contain both "Resurrected" and "Restitution," the first two novels in the series. The second paperback, due to be released in 2013, will contain "Retribution" and "Recruited," the third and fourth books in the series.

As most of you know, this isn't my first attempt at writing a series. My "Heart Junction Series" has been quite popular with readers.

However, the scale of the "Tender Mysteries Series" is much grander than my first American historical series which consisted of three books.

The work entailed in writing a series as intense and large-scale as the "Tender Mysteries Series" is mind boggling, but, as I'm seeing the first three books coming into their final stages, I believe this labor-intensive project is well worth the effort.

I'm eagerly looking forward to sharing this series with readers whom I hope find themselves highly entertained by these compelling stories.

I hope your week is a great one. Mine's been pretty good so far. :-)


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author
Fran's Web Page

Monday, September 3, 2012

Do Overs

Writing a first draft to a new novel is exciting. Juices are flowing, ideas are being realized, people are coming to life just as the writer has imagined them.

First drafts can be thrilling to write; they can be gut wrenching too. It all depends on how well pre-writing work was completed, how energized the writer is, how focused the writer is and on a few other things like having completed adequate research and whether or not the writer still has a good attitude toward the project.

The hardest work in completing a novel comes in succeeding drafts. Second, third, fourth...twelfth drafts are needed to fix plot and character flaws, dress up scenes, perfect conflicts, turning points, dialog, etc.

New writers should know, no matter how much in love they are with their first novel, it's a good idea to set it aside for a few weeks after they've completed it. Once it's mellowed on the computer or in a drawer or closet for a month or two, the writer should take a fresh look at it, as though they're seeing it for the first time. They should be super critical of it, noting what's great about it and what's not so great. Then begin rewrites.

It's always a good idea to let a project set at least a couple of weeks after each rewriting session and come back to it with fresh perspective for the next set of rewrites.

Each time a writer takes up a project to work on rewrites she has the ability to exercise a "Do Over," eventually making the novel the best it can be.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could do "rewrites" or "do overs" in our real lives from time to time?


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author
Fran's Web Page

Monday, August 27, 2012

Writing Real

The most important job a fiction writer has is to create characters that are real.

Plot is worthless if the characters are not people we can believe in, care about, root for, hate, be provoked by or otherwise moved by on an emotional level.

Readers have often commented about the characters in MONTANA MATCHED, "I feel like I know them personally." and "They seem like friends of mine."

The characters in this popular contemporary romance remind readers of people they have actually met. They identify with them, care about them. Readers want things to work out for them.

What makes a character "real?"

Real characters...

1. have human emotions, faults and ambitions.

2. set goals, achieve successes and suffer failures.

3. cry when they lose someone they love.

4. are lonely, depressed, happy, ticked off.

5. pray, steal, lie, cheat, do good deeds without expecting any reward.

Real characters do what WE do and, most importantly, they do and feel the above things NATURALLY in the course of the story.

Creating "real" characters isn't easy, but succeeding at it is worth every gram of effort a writer makes toward that goal--especially when readers say, "I feel like I know them personally." Nothing is more satisfying for a writer than that.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author
Fran's Web Page

Monday, August 20, 2012

Living in a Different Time Period

Have you ever imagined what it might be like to live in a different time period?

As a writer of historical novels, I've had to think deeply about what it might have been like to live in another era. When I'm writing a story set one hundred years or more ago, I try to imagine what my characters would have been seeing around them, how they would have been living on a day to day basis. I want to make my stories real. I want my characters to react to situations in era-appropriate ways. And I want them to speak without Twenty-First Century catch phrases.

If my character is a boy in 1880s New York City (A Partner's Promise), what does he see when he is on the streets? Is there an automobile anywhere? A streetcar? What does an ambulance look like or a fire wagon? Are the street lights gas or electric? What race or ethnic population is most represented on the streets in certain parts of town?

If my character is a young woman in a small town in 1890s Nebraska, how does she support herself? (Tender Mysteries Series, coming November, 2012) What sort of dwelling does she live in? Does she have access to a telephone? What does she do when she is confronted by the difficulties of living in a society dominated by men?

I've always enjoyed reading well written historical fiction because, as a reader, I get to see a totally different perspective on life and survival. People who lived a hundred years and more ago had all of the same problems we have to day plus many, many more. It's fascinating to see how a good author depicts the handling of these problems by his protagonists.

If you haven't indulged in a historical novel recently, treat yourself to the pleasure of reading one. Live in a different time period for just a little while.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author
Fran's Web Page

Monday, July 30, 2012

The First Steps Toward Publication

It's surprising how many people think writers only write when they're inspired.

Frankly, if we waited to work until inspiration hit, we'd probably never finish any projects.

Writing is a job much like any other job. An author sets aside time to work, and, if he is well disciplined, he'll accomplish the task of the day as scheduled.

Eventually, after weeks, months or even years, the writer has completed his book, and he's ready to submit it for publication.

Getting published is another job, separate from writing, yet, it is the goal of most writers.

Today I want to "inspire" folks who want to be published authors to take those first steps toward publication, and here they are:

1. Write.

2. Write everyday. Make time for it no matter how busy you are, no matter how many people tell you you're wasting your time. Write whether you feel like writing or not.

3. Learn more and more about the craft of writing and incorporate the helpful things you learn into your work.

4. Always strive to improve.

5. Most importantly, never--and I mean NEVER--give up, not if you want to be a published author.

Completing your manuscript is job number one for anyone who wants to be published.

Writers don't write only when inspiration hits.

We write everyday.

And we love it! [Most of the time] :-)


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author
Fran's Web Site

Monday, July 23, 2012

Action vs Narration

Eddie delivered a right cross, hitting Kevin in the left cheek.

Kevin retaliated with an uppercut to his opponent's chin.

Eddie's mouth began to bleed. "So that's the way it's gonna be, huh?" He wiped blood from his lips. "You really think she's worth getting yourself beat to a pulp? That's what I'm going to do, you know," he said, shifting his weight from foot to foot, back and forth.

Kevin laughed. "This fight's got nothing to do with Suellen. I'm going to beat the crap out of you just for the fun of it."

Eddie threw another right cross in his brother's direction.

Kevin ducked, shoved his shoulder into Eddie's gut and flattened him. "Maybe next time you'll do as I suggest and just flip a coin to see who gets to take Suellen to the movies."


The above scene is filled with action. Although it lacks a good deal of information (who these brothers are, what they look like, how old they are, etc.), it is definitely more colorful than a simple narration of what happened.

Example: Kevin and Eddie had a fight over who was going to take Suellen to the movies. Kevin won.

The more active fiction is, the more engaging it is. The more engaging it is, the more enjoyable it is--for both the reader and the writer!


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author
Fran's Web Page

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Free E-Books

Maybe some free entertainment can take your mind off the summer heat.

"Change of Heart" is a free historical romance which has been highly rated by reviewers and readers. It was a Number One Bestseller in Historical Romance at the Amazon Kindle "Free Reads" store last fall. Here's the logline:

1880s Nebraska: A woman is stranded in a land she despises with a man she can't resist.

This story is of the "PG" variety--written for adults, but suitable and enjoyed by teens too.

Available at most Internet bookstores. Links to Amazon, Apple's I-Books and BN are below.

Change of Heart at Amazon

Change of Heart at Apple

Change of Heart at B & N

"Crossed Wires" is a short contemporary romantic comedy. Just right for making readers smile. Here's the logline:

Hank Garcia, thinking he's going to Melanie Baker's house to fix an electrical problem, gets the shock of his life.

This story is also the "PG" type, and it's available at most Internet book stores. Links to Amazon, BN and Apple's I-Books are below.

Crossed Wires at Amazon

Crossed Wires at Apple

Crossed Wires at BN

Have a great week, whatever you're reading!


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author
Fran's Web Page

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Why Didn't They...

Why didn't they just...

Sometimes when I'm watching a movie or reading fiction I wonder, why didn't she do...this...or that. For example, I was watching Hitchcock's "The Birds" one night this week and I wondered, why didn't the protagonists pack up the mother and the little girl and head to Mitch's place in San Francisco after the kids were attacked by the birds at the birthday party? Or at least after the mother found her neighbor killed by the birds?

I heard a comedian during a routine he was doing question why the characters in the Amityville Horror didn't just leave the house when weird things started happening.

Certainly, these sentiments are common to most of us. That's why the comedian used that material in his show.

Sometimes characters do the things they do because it's in their "nature" to behave as they do. Using "The Birds" again as an example, neither Mitch (who was a criminal lawyer) nor Melanie (who kept company with a "wild" crowd) were the type of people who ran from a fight. Each of them, as we learn during the picture, stood strong and faced challenges rather than running away from them. So, they stayed in Bodega Bay instead of seeking the safety of San Francisco.

I can live with the question "Why didn't they just..." if the answer is as clear cut as it is in "The Birds." I understand characters should behave according to who they are. I WANT them to be true to their nature, even if the actions they take seem ill advised. If they use poor judgement or make mistakes, it only makes them more human.

We readers or movie viewers are only cheated when writers of novels or screenplays "force" characters to do what it is not in their nature to do or when their actions are directed by the writers who are fulfilling an agenda for the story instead of letting characters be who they were created to be.

For example, the author of a book I read earlier this year "forced" two old sweethearts into a reunion leading to marriage without any attempt at resolving the titanic problems which had festered between them for nearly two decades. All of a sudden, each of them forgot the terrible pain they'd caused each other and just decided, hey, let's get married.

This book left me asking, why didn't she just..., but this time the "she" wasn't a character, it was the author. Why didn't she put the hero and heroine in a situation where they needed to rely on each other to make it through a crisis? It would then be logical and believable that they could somehow realize the old feelings they had for each other were even stronger than any of the problems they'd had in the past.

Life's complicated, writing fiction is complicated.

However, reading fiction should be pure pleasure and a complete escape from life's complications. Shouldn't it just?


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author
Fran's Web Page

Monday, June 18, 2012

People Don't Change

My mythology teacher in college always used to say, "There's nothing new under the sun."

What she meant was this: people are the same; life is the same; essentially, we never change. If she weren't right, we wouldn't be able to understand and identify with ancient writings.

Whether we're talking about Roman and Greek mythology, the Bible, or other ancient writings the people of today can identify with the people in myths and in other ancient writings like those of the Bible because we are the same in most ways.

We think, feel, love, hate, pray, get hungry, sleep, wish for a better life, take action to right wrongs, work at professions, love our children and make many of the same mistakes people have made for thousands of years.

In literature the same plots are used over and over again, but we never tire of reading them because we like certain types of stories.

Each mystery novel has a puzzle to be solved. Hints to the solution are peppered throughout the book, and in the end the solution is revealed.

Most good love stories feature a couple who is in conflict in the beginning, and, by the end, after overcoming tremendous obstacles, end up together--unless, of course, it's a Romeo and Juliet type of tragic love story. I guess they did end up together--just not alive and happy.

Soap opera types of dramas often feature secret babies, characters prone to get amnesia, and people thought to be dead turning up alive. Again, nothing new here. I doubt any drama has outdone the plot in the Oedipus Rex, written thousands of years ago by Sophocles. [A baby is left to die, he's rescued and raised by an adoptive parent (unknown to his birth family) and eventually ends up marrying his biological mother.]

Our technology changes; our homes aren't in caves anymore; we drive motorized vehicles instead of animal drawn ones. Yet in the hearts and souls of all of us, though each of us is unique, in many ways we're the same as the first people to live on the planet. We aspire to love and be loved, to be healthy and happy, to indulge in fulfilling work, to ease our own pain and suffering and that of others too.

And what is wrong with that?

Whatever you're reading, whether it was written this year or thousands of years ago, I hope it leaves you with a good feeling and lots of hope.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author
Fran's Web Page

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Readers Benefit from Publishing Changes

The publishing industry is changing rapidly, and we readers are reaping the rewards of those changes.

Now more than ever readers have the chance to read terrific books publishers often rejected for one reason or another.

Publishers have limited space in their yearly publication catalog. They have often needed to reject quality books because there just wasn't enough space in their programs to publish them.

Enter Independent Publishing. With places like Kindle Direct Publishing, Barnes and Noble's Pub-it program and Smashwords, authors now have the ability to put quality books into readers' hands without having to jump through publisher hoops, hoping to have their books published. Authors benefit and so do readers.

Last week I read an article about a reporter who'd dreamed of writing fiction. After years of procrastination, he finally wrote his book. He spent a couple of years traveling the traditional publishing route submitting to publishers, using an agent, etc. He got nowhere. He heard lots of "you've written a nice book, but" yet no one wanted to publish his book.

Then he heard about Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing program. He published the book himself, and it wasn't long before his book started selling. Fortunately for him, his book really took off. Within months it had sold thousands of copies. Readers LOVED his story. If he hadn't made it available to them on his own, they'd have missed out on a terrific read.

This past week it was announced that Amazon has acquired long-time publisher Avalon Books, a traditional New York publisher. Three of my books have been published in hardcover by Avalon Books. My fellow Avalon authors and I are looking forward to working with Amazon as they make distribution of our books more easily accessible to readers.

I've read dozens and dozens of books published by Avalon Books. Believe me, readers should be prepared to be highly entertained when these quality books become available in the more affordable e-formats, audio books and paperbacks.

As I said, changes in the publishing industry have been great for readers, and I think things will only get better.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author
Fran's Web Page

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Work We Do

Fiction writers are one of those kind of people who do what they do because it's in their blood. They can't NOT write. Whether or not they are ever published, they write.

I believe there are a good many professions where the people involved are doing what they do because it is a part of their heart and soul.

People in the medical profession, for example, the ones who work directly with patients, are laboring under conditions many of us would have a hard time dealing with. If their work wasn't a part of who they are, how could they stand the stress of it, the demands of it?

Over the years people have often said to me, how can you put together great stories the way you do? I could never do it.

I could ask a police officer, a soldier and a nurse a similar question. How can you put up with felons or enemy combatants or disgruntled patients? I could never do it.

Fortunately for all of us, God made us different. When we put our talents to good use we can create a pretty good environment in which to exist. Whether we're talking about the blessed farmers who produce the world's food, the courageous soldiers who protect our freedoms, the loving parents who tend to the needs of their children, the inventive entrepreneurs who provide us with wonderful material goods and services, or the much less significant contributors to society such as writers like me, we can all make life better for someone. Sometimes, we make life better for many someones.

Whatever work you do, dear reader, I thank you for the good contributions you make to your family, your religious affiliations, your neighborhood and your country.

God bless you.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author
Fran's Web Page

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Get "Unblocked," Be Creative

Writers, are you blocked? Do you need a new story idea?

Get out your TV listings magazine and read the descriptions of various programs. This is a great way to find the inspiration you need to create a premise of your own.

If you've got a collection of DVDs, checkout the blurbs for the movies or TV programs. Select an intriguing premise, put some of the characters you've created into this situation and see what happens.

Checkout your stash of novels. Page through them until an idea strikes you as a good possibility for a short story or novel premise. Profile a few characters from those stories. Mix and match plots and characters and find something unique which you'd like to develop into a story.

These are great exercises in creativity. You'll find they can be a big help in getting those writing juices going. Before you know it, you're fingers will be flying over that keyboard creating a new project.

You can decide a few thousand words into your new story whether or not it's worth completing, but at least you'll no longer be blocked or devoid of story ideas.

Try it, and see how well it works for you.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author
Fran's Web Page

Monday, May 7, 2012

Fun With Characters

Writers might disagree whether plot or characters come first when they are fleshing out a story, but they probably all agree great characters are essential to great stories.

Think about it--almost every story we remember, we remember because of the terrific characters.

Series in books, movies and television are successful because of compelling characters, in most cases. Whether the characters are vampires, detectives, cowboys, southern belles, knights, aliens or comic figures, there is something so irresistible about them we readers/viewers keep coming back for more because we love the characters a writer has created.

Here is a great example of the importance of character: the Lucy character in "I Love Lucy" was created for television back in the 1950s when TV was in its infancy. Anyone who has ever seen this series knows the story lines are virtually all the same--Lucy pulls a prank or tries to get into show business, Ricky (her husband) gets angry with her, and, in the end, they're as in love as ever, no matter what terrible thing went on between them. It isn't the cliched plots of the stories which have kept this series on television for more than six decades, it's Lucy's character. Thousands of people, maybe millions, truly "Love" Lucy.

One of the most important things a writer should keep in mind while developing his characters is this: a character should generate his or her own stories. For example, in the movie "The Pacifier" Vin Diesel plays the part of a Navy SEAL who's mission puts him in charge of the care of several children from infancy to teens. This man has NO experience with children. He is pure Navy SEAL--and he behaves like the tough guy he routinely needs to be while carrying out his usually dangerous missions.

In other words, the Diesel character stays true to who he is and he "generates his own story" just as a well-developed character should. Whatever situation a character might be in, he must react to his circumstances in a true, honest way. If he doesn't readers (and viewers) will walk away from a writer's stories.

Writers, and readers who just want to have some fun, try this exercise. Select a character or maybe a group of characters you know well, and play the "what if" game with them. Put them in unusual or challenging situations and, staying true to who these people are, let them generate their own stories according to who they are and the situation they are in.


1. What if -- cowboy Clint Eastwood found himself at a quilting bee?

2. What if -- Mickey Mouse was called to be a clergyman?

3. What if -- two or three characters (you choose which ones) from the TV series "Friends" were trapped in a gas station during a tornado with two or three characters from the "Twilight" movie series?

Fans as well as writers should have fun with an exercise like this, but writers might just also find something helpful they can use when developing characters for their next stories.

Have a great week!


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author
Fran's Web Page

Friday, April 27, 2012

Don't Call it Outlining

The term "outlining" can be a major turnoff to many writers faced with beginning a new project. Frequently, we still remember (with a sour stomach) the process teachers made us go through when we started a new chapter in our history books. Roman numerals, upper case letters, lower case letters, numbers, etc.

Putting down on paper exactly what is to appear in a book is an absolute necessity, whether a writer is planning a work of fiction or non-fiction. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways this can be done.

Traditional Outline. If a writer rather enjoys mapping out a plot using roman numerals, upper and lower case letters, numbers, etc. then she should use that method to outline her book.

Chapter Summaries. Using chapter summaries to structure projects is very easy. The writer simply sums up all the action or information which is to occur in each chapter. It's a great way to set up a guide, and brief summaries are very easy to follow when writing the first draft of a book.

Storyboards. Index cards used to storyboard a novel or a work of non-fiction can be very helpful in laying out scenes in fiction or presenting information in non-fiction. Whether the writer tacks the cards to a wall or lays them out on a table, they're easy to see all at once which makes them very handy in determining the order of the action or presentation of information in a book.

Scene Synopsis. One of the best ways to layout the plot of a novel is by using scene synopses. In writing a synopsis for a scene the author jots down the character goal, notes the point of view character, lists the people on stage, summarizes the action, and adds a new goal at the end of the scene. Scene synopses are especially useful to the author who wants to know his story as intricately as possible before writing the first draft.

Chronology. In fiction, a writer would use scene synopses to lay out a plot according to the sequence best suited to the story. In non-fiction, a writer determines the chronology of events in a way that best serves his thesis.

Fiction or non-fiction, a writer needs to have a guide for the layout of her book--an outline. Without properly structuring her book a writer risks being tasked with fixing many problems which could have been remedied before she began the first draft if only she'd have taken the time to outline her book. Having to fix problems after the first draft is completed is a lot more complicated than fixing them before it's begun.

No one ever said everything about writing is fun...


Fran Shaff
Fran's Web Page

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Getting Ideas

The number one question authors are asked is, "Where do you get your ideas?"

Authors know ideas come from everywhere--newspapers, television shows, personal problems, nature videos, friends' dilemmas, magazines, taking a walk through the park, billboards, dreams, books, observing people in the mall, state fairs, traveling. Truly, an idea can strike at any time.

However, not all ideas are worthy ideas--that is, ideas which can be turned into good books.

For example, suppose an author reads a story in a newspaper about a man who comes out of a coma after three months and is able to return to his normal life like nothing happened. This is a terrific news story with lots of human interest, but it isn't a story idea which would translate well into a novel.

However, that doesn't mean this idea should be outright rejected. Instead, an author could expand upon the news story so she could turn the idea into something more promising. Let's give it a try...

What if the man came out of the coma, and he didn't know who he was? Now we have a better story, but it still isn't enough to make the idea worthy of a novel so we'll have to put our imaginations to work and see if we can come up with something more.

What if the amnesiac was a drug dealer who was late delivering a shipment?

What if he was a family man, and his wife didn't know he was involved in anything illegal, and, when the wife claimed him as her husband and he went home with her, convinced he was who she said he was, he thought he must be some Average Joe who worked at a bank (his cover) and had a nice family and a peaceful life?

And what if he got a visit from the woman to whom he was to deliver the drugs, the woman who'd been his lover?

And she threatened his family, his job at the bank and his life if he didn't deliver the drugs--drugs he knew nothing about, only the woman didn't believe he had amnesia? After all, he'd been lying to his wife for years...

And, since readers have to care about this man, what if he believed he was in his heart of hearts the wonderful father and husband his wife said he was, and he chose to be that man, was willing to do whatever it took to redeem himself--but the people from his previous life of criminal activity would in no way let him become the caring family man he wanted to be?

Now we have an idea which can be developed into a novel, but we're still a LONG way from writing the first draft and an even longer way from proving our idea has become something worthy of being read.

Getting ideas for stories is the easy part, probably the easiest part of writing a novel. It's everything that comes after getting an idea that is difficult.


Fran Shaff
Fran's Web Page

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Readers Choice

Have you noticed the increase in the variety of fiction that is available to readers now?

The advent of the e-book has brought readers dozens of new publishers with hundreds of new writers. In addition, authors can now easily publish independently, giving readers even more variety in the books available for them to read.

Electronic publishing has been a good thing for just about everybody. In fact, the only folks who might be hurt by it are the publishing companies who choose to cling to publishing only print editions when readers are clamoring for more electronic books.

As a writer who was first published in hardcover more than ten years ago when e-books were in their infancy, I am terribly excited about the e-book explosion of the past two years.

We writers no longer have to stick to New York publishers' guidelines if we want to publish our books. We can, instead, write our book the way we want to write it.

Many smaller publishers who specialize in e-books and print on demand seek unusually written stories, different from what big publishing houses deem publishable.

And, of course, there is independent publishing which allows writers to write what they want the way they want and even publish it as they want.

Readers always do the choosing.

They vote for which books and which authors they want to read.

Now more than ever, there is true democracy in the publishing business because no narrow group of publishers is determining what is available for readers to read.

Dozens, perhaps hundreds of small publishers, and thousands of writers are making tens of thousands of books available to readers which they never would have had the chance to read a decade ago, or even five years ago.

And isn't this exciting!

As a reader, I love the variety of books available to me. As a writer, I love the freedom of having a wide-open field as to the kind of books I can publish.

Viva e-books! Long may they live.


Fran Shaff
Fran's Webpage

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Hilda's US State Capital Visits

Hilda, a woman I once knew, prided herself on having visited all the capital cities of the 48 contiguous US states. She explained she'd never visited the capitol buildings themselves because she had a fear of government, technically known as “taxaphobia,” but she had at least entered the cities and patronized a McDonald’s or Pizza Hut located there.

During our discussion of her journeys, she pointed out that two state capitals, Columbia, South Carolina and Columbus, Ohio were named for the Italian explorer who discovered the “New World,” Christopher something or another.

Three capital cities, she noted, are French--Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Des Moines, Iowa and Pierre, South Dakota. However, she added, she found no one who understood French in Des Moines and no one who didn’t refer to Pierre as “Peer” in South Dakota.

Hilda went on to explain that the two Spanish-named capitals of Sacramento, California and Santa Fe, New Mexico are Christian names along with St. Paul, Minnesota.

Helena, Montana and Augusta, Maine are named for women, Hilda told me.

Jackson, Mississippi, Jefferson City, Missouri, Madison, Wisconsin, and Lincoln, Nebraska are named for US presidents, but Denver, Colorado, Hilda pointed out, was named after John Denver, the famous country-rock singer of the 60’s and 70’s.

That Denver remark caught my attention as my mind had begun to drift off during her dissertation.

Colorado’s capital city was named for a man who didn’t even exist when Colorado became a state? What was next? Was she going to tell me Mayberry was the capital of North Carolina?

Hilda said her favorite state capital of all was Chicago, Illinois. She loved Lake Shore Drive, the Museum of Science and Industry, Wrigley Field, the Art Institute, State Street, the Sears Tower and McCormick Place. She said she loved to spend the day meandering through the Lincoln Park Zoo from the hour it opened until the minute it closed.

Hilda’s favorite part of her visit to the Windy City was a cruise on Lake Michigan after sunset. The city was alive with lights flickering, flashing and bouncing off the waves of the Great Lake. She sighed as she reflected on her fond memories.

“That sounds lovely,” I responded to Hilda’s Chicago travelogue, “but I’m afraid the capital of Illinois is Springfield.”

Highly insulted by my correcting her, Hilda’s temper flared. “Have you visited all the state capitals, Mrs. Know-It-All?”

I shook my head. After all I had never even visited my own state capital. I’m taxaphobic too.

“Then don’t try to tell me Chicago is not the capital of Illinois,” Hilda replied smugly. “Chicago is just as much the capital of Illinois as Spokane is the capital of Oregon and Albany is the capital of New Jersey and Montpelier is the capital of New Hampshire and Bangor is the capital of Massachusetts.”

It seemed there was no arguing with a woman as astute as Hilda was. I simply shrugged and issued a smile. “When you’re right," I said, "you’re right.”

I hope your Easter is a wonderful one.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Thursday, March 29, 2012

46 BC, the Year of Confusion and Calendars

Every year seems confusing sometimes, but actually “the year of confusion” refers to 46 BC

Until 46 BC the Romans had been using a lunar calendar containing 354 days. Then apparently one day after Julius Caesar began his rule he looked outside and noticed it was the middle of winter even though the calendar showed it was spring.

As all intelligent leaders do, Caesar called on an expert for help. The mathematician Sosigenes determined the solar year to be 365 1/4 days long, and Caesar set up the calendar we use today, the number and length of months, leap year and so on.

In order to get the seasons to mesh with the calendar dates before the new calendar took effect Julius made some changes in 46 BC. He created a year that was 445 days long and contained three extra months, one after February and two between November and December.

And I always thought leap year babies got a bad deal on birthday celebrations. Understandably, this became the year of confusion.

Eventually it was discovered that Sosigenes was off by 11 minutes and 14 seconds. The solar year is just that much shorter than 365 1/4 days. Big deal, right? Although none of us would notice such a minuscule difference in our own life time, that small error did eventually make a noticeable difference. By 1582 the spring equinox fell on March 11 instead of March 21.

This time it was Pope Gregory XIII under the advice of astronomer Christopher Clavius who matched up the seasons with the calendar. To do this the Pope dropped ten days in October. The day after October 4 became October 15.

No one needed to throw a clock out the window to see time fly that year!

So that the error would not repeat itself Pope Gregory XIII decreed the century years should not contain a leap year unless they were divisible by 400. (Yes, the year 2000 did have 29 days on its February calendar, but the year 3000 will not.)

Countries considered to be Catholic adopted the Gregorian calendar right away and others eventually followed. England, for example, started the Gregorian calendar in 1752 by dropping the 11 days it was off. The Chinese adopted it in 1912, the Russians in 1918 and the Rumanians in 1924. Thus, the same event in history may have occurred on different dates.

And I've always found daylight savings time to be a hassle -- :-)

Happiness and Peace...


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The I's Have It

This week's topic is just for fun. I hope you enjoy it.

This week: "The I's Have It"

The alphabet. In English it is 26 letters long. Other languages have more or less letters, but all letters are vital to us as we attempt written communication. Until recently, I’m afraid I took these symbols of English for granted, as though they were always just there.

It happened on a day I was browsing the encyclopedia. (Oh, yes, I’m quite an intellectual, you know. I once got an A+ on an I. Q. test.) As I paged through volume 9 containing the letter “I” I came across a biography for the ninth letter of the English alphabet.

My immediate reaction was, "What’s to know? It’s a line straight up and down. Big deal. Move a stick in the sand or scratch a mark on a flat rock with a white pebble and there’s an 'I.'” Yet the encyclopedia contained a full page doing “This is your Life” for that seemingly insignificant letter.

Apparently the modern “I” is the result of a marriage between the Greek letter “iota” and the ancient Phoenician and Hebrew letter “yod.” I had never heard the word “yod” before except when I was listening to a man from Boston talk about his yard.

The yod was said to look like a backwards upper case “F,” and it was a “semiconsonant.” It sometimes sounded like the “Y” in “yellow” and sometimes like the “ee” in “see.”

The Greeks took the yod from the Phoenicians, called it “iota,” and by 400 something BC had given the “I” the straight up and down line look we know so well.

The Greeks decided the yod, called the iota should be only a vowel. None of this indecisive semiconsonant stuff for them. The Romans, however, learned the Greek alphabet and changed the iota back to a sometimes vowel and sometimes consonant. Then they went one step further. They actually gave the “J” sound in “jewel” to the letter “I.”

The Romans handed off this alphabet to the western Europeans who continued the Roman tradition of the “I” and “J” sounds in one letter “I” until the seventeenth century when “J” became a separate letter.

Imagine if that change to the “J” had never taken place. Jill would be Iill. Jack would be Iack. Jo, Ioe. And the Olympics would have a iavelin throw.

The letter “I” stands for the element iodine in chemistry. “I” represents the word international in abbreviations such as ITT or IBM. It is said the “I” denotes intelligence in the CIA, and it means investigation in FBI. The “I” can even represent numbers as in III or IV or VII.

Imagine living life with no “I’s.” We would be saying “Me and Al are gong to the bowlng alley” or “Me am studyng my Englsh.” Tragic, indeed, yet the worst thing of all is that without “I’s” we could not “C.”


I hope this brought a smile to you today.

Have a great week!


Fran Shaff, Award Winning Author
Fran's Website

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Take a Break

(Note: Follow up from Miss Matched, Miss Calculated blog. See the page for the "Montana Moonlight Duo": "Miss Matched" and its sequel "Miss Calculated" Here )

Take a Break

It seems I always have a long list of things I'd like to get done. Like many of you, I enjoy working, and I've got projects and hobbies I like to keep busy with too. Consequently, it isn't easy for me to take time off. Maybe taking some time to do nothing or to do something completely different is difficult for you too.

But all of us need to have some down time. We need to sit in the sun and read, or go skiing, play a round of golf, challenge a friend to a game of tennis or get a group of friends together and play a game of hockey, basketball or croquet.

Recreation does for us just what its name implies: it "re-creates" us. It recharges our batteries and refreshes us.

Just as we do the "spring cleaning" in our houses we need to spruce up our minds and our outlooks too. Doing so makes us more productive and puts us in a better state of mind--maybe even a better state of health.

So...........if you've been needing an excuse to take your "spring break" -- even if it's been decades since you've been a student -- here's your motivation.

Take a few days off from your regular routine, and enjoy things you might otherwise overlook. Refresh and recreate and have a particularly good spring.

God bless you.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Miss Matched, Miss Calculated

Exciting news, Readers. In March my "Montana Moonlight Duo" will be available through major e-book retailers.

The "Montana Moonlight Duo" contains two full-length contemporary romances "Miss Matched" and its sequel "Miss Calculated."

One-line blurbs for these two highly-entertaining novels are below.

Miss Matched: A woman's life is drastically changed when she breaches her ethics and falls in love with her client.

Miss Calculated: A graduate student thinks she's figured out everything there is to know about love until a handsome cowboy teaches her a few lessons she'd never learned in school.

Beautiful Montana is the location; the heroes are cowboys; the stories are highly romantic.

The "Montana Moonlight Duo" will have its own page full of more info and excerpts. I'll let you know when it's available.

Take care, dear Readers, and have a wonderful week.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Free E-Books

Get to know a new writer's work by downloading her free e-book.

Check out these books available for free at the links below.

The Beauty and Beast E
By Beate Boeker
A short story

All Jill wants is a calm wellness evening in the secure environment of her bath to recuperate from an exhausting week at work. However, fate intervenes in the form of an attractive neighbor . . .

"The Beauty" At Amazon

Nothing but Trouble
By Lisa Mondello

Stoney Buxton needs to raise cash fast to save the family ranch after a barn fire injured his father and left the family finances in ruin. Re-entering the rodeo circuit seems like the best way to get the money he needs. That is until Melanie Summers shows up at his ranch flashing easy money. T

To everyone else, Melanie's offer seems like the answer to all his prayers. But one look at her long legs and pouting lips and Stoney knows this high society gal is going to be nothing but trouble...for his cowboy heart.

Nothing But Trouble at Amazon

A Bride for Tom
by Ruth Ann Nordin

Tom Larson is having trouble finding a wife, and Jessica Reynolds decides to help him overcome his awkward and clumsy manners so he can attract women. This historical romantic comedy is rated G.

A Bride for Tom at B&N

A Bride for Tom at Amazon

Finding Peace
By Sandra Carey Cody

The life of a disillusioned peace activist takes on new meaning when she takes a day off to visit a small town Folk Festival-all because she couldn't ignore a dog in distress.

Finding Peace at BN

I hope, if you haven't yet enjoyed books by these authors, you'll give them a try!


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

How to Write a Book, Sort of

When we write a book we read (and re-write), re-read (and re-write) and re-read (and re-write) our copy as we work to improve the story. In addition to writing a plot which makes sense and entices readers to continue their reading, we’ve got to keep an eye on many other things involved in the writing of a story.

Here a few things we need to keep in mind:

1. Characters: consistencies in the way they behave (true to their nature, to who they are), in their physical descriptions, their histories as “people,” etc.
2. Settings: where are the characters--country, state, city, house, room, etc.
3. Who: who’s in the scene, where are they, what are they doing, etc.
4. Goals: what are the goals of the POV character in the scene, story, etc.
5. POV: In whose point of view are we writing and why

While these are the main things we writers must keep in mind as we trudge through our story’s plot, we also must be aware of HOW we are saying what we are saying.

How are we:

1. Phrasing our description?
2. Describing our setting?
3. Illustrating our characters through dialogue?
4. Making POV clear to our readers?
5. Using words cleverly to execute our plot?

With all these things working in our heads at the same time as we strive to write a story which can be easily read by our dear readers, it’s no wonder we can miss the little things which tend to bog down a story’s pace such as:

1. Using meaningless intensifiers such as “perhaps” “very” or “always”
2. Using “that” where it isn’t necessary
3. Using extraneous phrases such as “as a matter of fact” “when all is said and done”
4. Using redundant modifiers like “past memories” “important essentials” “tiny little”
5. Using repetitive categories such as “huge in size” and “blue in color”

A good method to use in writing a book is this:

1. Work on plot layout and characters
2. Once your pre-writing work is done (research, plot layout, character identification) write the first draft working mainly on the storyline
3. Second draft should concentrate on fixing weaknesses on plot and character
4. Third draft and succeeding drafts should continue to fix weaknesses
5. Final draft should fix all the edits such as the overuse of intensifiers, “that” type of words, and redundant words and phrases, etc.

Of course, you may already have a better way of doing things, but if you need a little steering or grounding as you struggle to complete your book, I hope these tips help.

Good luck with your current project.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, January 30, 2012

Characters: Wishy-Washy to Tyrants

Characters are the life blood of good novels (and movies). If characters are dull, unresponsive, passive little creatures, readers won't care what happens to them. If readers don't care about characters they won't want to read about them.

Normally, we wouldn't want to use a wishy-washy character as a protagonist. They're too inactive and boring. However, if our wishy-washy nobody gets pushed past a breaking point or challenged by something she absolutely must respond to, she just may be able to reach down inside and become the bold, assertive person she's always wanted to be--and the kind of character readers are eager to care about.

Michael Douglas' character in the movie "Falling Down" comes to mind as an example. He's a nobody who gets pushed too far and turns into a tyrant. If his set of life circumstances hadn't changed him into a more intriguing character, movie viewers wouldn't have cared what happened to him.

I'm not suggesting we need to make our dull characters into psychos or violent antagonists, but, certainly, we can help our lukewarm characters to find the strength they may not even know they possess.

Rocky Balboa, Sylvester Stallone's famous character in the movie "Rocky," is someone who lacks confidence, a nobody fighter who purely by luck is given the chance of a lifetime. While the public thinks of Rocky's "challenge" to fight Apollo Creed as a joke the meek Balboa takes this opportunity very seriously and turns himself into a skilled fighting machine. He reaches down and finds the guts even he may not have known he had and wows everyone with his prowess in the boxing ring. No one is laughing at Balboa anymore by the time he's finished his fight with Apollo Creed.

If Balboa would, instead, have done nothing to prepare for the fight and merely walked around bragging about what a good fighter he must be simply because Creed had chosen him as an opponent, who would have cared what happened to Rocky?

But people did care about Rocky--they cared so much, how many movies made up the series? :-) Way to go Stallone!

In my #1 bestselling historical romance "Change of Heart" (set in 1850s Nebraska) which you can download for free at major Internet bookstores, the protagonist is a librarian from Chicago who's just lost her job. Worse yet, she gets news her dear sweet sister and her husband were killed in the wilds of the Nebraska territory. Marietta had been so frightened of going to Nebraska, she never once in five years visited her sister, even though she missed her terribly. When her five-year-old nephew is orphaned, she is compelled to face her fears and go to Nebraska to collect the boy.

So meek Marietta endures the hardships of travel in the 1850s and makes her trek to the horrible, wild frontier to fulfill the wishes of her beloved late sister.

Her worse fears are realized when she becomes trapped on the frontier. She has no choice but to endure her terrible circumstances. But meek Marietta doesn't give in to her fears. Instead, scared as she is, she finds courage she never knew she had, and she does what she needs to do to take care of herself and her nephew.

Marietta grows in a very believable way from a wishy-washy woman who could barely manage her own life to a strong-willed, courageous woman who is finally able to make a clear choice of just how she wants to live her life.

Protagonists must be strong, distinct characters who are up to meeting the challenges of the inciting incident in a story--even if they appear weak or dull (like Marietta or Rocky) before the inciting incident occurs.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, January 23, 2012

Working on Multiple Projects

Some writers work on only one project at a time, others work on multiple projects simultaneously.

I'm the kind of writer who has to have lots of things going on at once. I'm the same way with my hobbies. For example, I have several quilts in various stages of construction, and I've got three afghans I'm knitting too. I like to work on whatever I'm inspired to do on a particular day.

Well, not really.

It's okay to pick and choose a project when it comes to hobbies like quilting and knitting, but things are not as malleable when it comes to a person's job.

Where writing is concerned, I choose a plan of action and stick to it. Usually. Our work, like other things in life, is subject to change for various reasons, but I've found I can be most productive by scheduling my writing and sticking to it as strictly as possible.

While it certainly is easier to work when inspiration hits, a writer who wants to accomplish anything needs to work every day--literally, EVERY day.

Those of you who have been writing for a few years know well what I'm talking about. We can't slack off. Once we do, it's very difficult to get back in the groove and be productive again.

However, working constantly can sometimes drain a person's energy. So, if you're beginning to lose heart, if you're feeling overwhelmed by your current work in progress, don't stop writing. Instead, turn to another project and work on it for a while.

Sometimes the change of scene or the break you need can be met with starting work on something different instead of stopping work altogether.

If you haven't yet tried working on multiple projects, give it a chance. It might just up your inspiration and cure your malaise.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, January 16, 2012

Refining Your Writing

Lately, I've been doing some "refinement" exercises by pulling out manuscripts I'd written ten years ago and refining the passages. This exercise is great for honing your editing skills.

Check out the following paragraph's as written them in their edited form years ago.


Steven went from Natalie’s room to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. He poured and sat at the table of the empty room, grateful for a moment alone without his talkative housekeeper freely giving his opinions. He took a long sip of the strong black brew. Natalie Harris was one beautiful woman. He hadn’t expected her to be so attractive. He’d envisioned a fifty-something busy body that would drive him to distraction.

Steven took another sip of steaming coffee. Miss Harris would definitely drive him to distraction, but not for the reason he’d imagined.


Now read the same selection, expanded and refined. Take note of the improvements.


Steven went from Natalie’s room to the kitchen. He poured himself a cup of coffee and sat at the table. He was grateful his talkative housekeeper wasn’t there. He wasn’t in the mood to listen to a litany of opinions Sally Ann might impose on him--about Natalie, the cattle, the hired hands, the moon, the sun, the stars, but mostly about Natalie.

He took a long sip of the strong black brew and sighed.

Natalie Harris was one beautiful woman. He hadn’t expected a her to be so attractive. He’d envisioned a fifty-something busy body who would drive him to distraction.

Steven took another sip of steaming coffee. Miss Harris would definitely drive him to distraction, but not for the reason he’d imagined.


See how much better the second set of paragraphs flow? The sentences are better defined, and the selection is split into more paragraphs which make it clearer and sets a better pace.

Did you notice the added information? This extra content does a better job of grounding the reader and of explaining a little more about the characters.

Compare sample 1 (the original text) below with sample 2 (the refinement) which follows it.

Sample 1: "He poured and sat at the table of the empty room, grateful for a moment alone without his talkative housekeeper freely giving his opinions."

Sample 2: "He poured himself a cup of coffee and sat at the table. He was grateful his talkative housekeeper wasn’t there. He wasn’t in the mood to listen to the litany of opinions Sally Ann might impose on him--about Natalie, the cattle, the hired hands, the moon, the sun, the stars, but mostly about Natalie."

A. Sample 2 reads much better than sample 1 does.

B. Sample 2 defines more clearly just how "talkative" his housekeeper is.

C. Sample 2 names his housekeeper.

Pulling out manuscripts you may or may not have published years ago and going over them with a fresh outlook and years more experience in writing under your belt can be very enlightening.

Practice your editing skills on your old writings, and you'll find this exercise will greatly improve your editing abilities as you work on your current projects.

Good luck!


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Sunday, January 8, 2012

"Setting" up the New Year

Happy New Year!

I hope all of you had a wonderful holiday season. Ours was quiet but very nice. We were able to be with family and friends, and the weather was great for traveling.

I've been working on some new stories which will be released this year. More on that in the months to come.

This week I'd like to mention a few things about settings for your stories.

Generally, when we think of "setting" we're talking about the geographic location of a story. My book "Montana Match" and its sequel "Montana Magic," for example, are obviously set in Montana. More precisely, they're set on a ranch in Montana.

In some cases a story can take place only in a specific geographic location. If an author is telling a story about the Alamo, for example, the story must be set in Texas. In other cases, it might be possible to set a story in a number of locations and still have an effective story.

The most important setting for my two "Montana" books is the ranch setting. I determined my story had to take place on a ranch. Next I decided the ranch had to be in the West. I suppose I could have chosen Wyoming instead of Montana, but I didn't because Montana, to me and I think to many readers, projects a more grandiose picture which is what I needed as a backdrop to these two novels.

As a matter of connotation, Montana, like Texas, conjures up pictures of people who are fiercely independent, landscapes which are vast beyond imagination and states of mind so hopeful they imply anything is possible.

My point? Setting has as much to do with connotation as it does with geographic location. Because of the image projected by Montana, I chose it as the setting for my ranch in "Montana Match" and "Montana Magic."

When choosing the setting for your book, consider the geographic location and what the land, the county, the city, even the house and the room in the house connote to the reader as well as what they denote. The implications of the setting can have a very positive reinforcing effect on the plot and characters of your story.

Again, Happy New Year. God bless you in every way, and good luck with all your writing pursuits this year.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author