Maureen pic from booksigningGreetings and Happy New Year! Maureen Pratt here with my monthly CAN blog on the craft of writing. Today, I'm going to offer one technique to help you find the right angle and tone for your story. Sometimes, fine-tuning these so that your intent is clear and your storytelling is compelling isn't a matter of vocabulary or sentence structure, or even pacing or flow.

Sometimes, it's how you frame your story that gives it its best final form.

Recently, I took two lovely watercolors to a frame shop. I'd purchased them awhile ago, and never liked the plain frames they'd come in. Each picture was of a stylized bird, wings outstretched, positioned amid some leaves and branches. Some of the colors were vivid – electric blues and bright pinks – and others were more muted – faint corals and fern greens, along with a more muted blue. 

As I tried one color of matting after another, and one frame after another along with the matting, I began to realize that, although the pictures remained the same, the overall effect and, even, the sense of beauty conveyed by the images, changed with each different color and combination. For example, if I were to use the same paler shade of blue as on the birds' undersides, the effect was not as eye-catching as when I tried to use a mat that was more vividly blue. 

The texture of the mats made a difference, too, as did the different shapes and widths of the frame pieces I tried. 

In the end, I settled on contrasting colors and a natural maple frame to set off the birds and draw the eye into the images.

As I left the shop, I realized that we do the same thing with writing. We begin with a story and characters that will populate it. Our stories have bveginnings, middles, and ends, subplots, and through-lines. Themes, too, and a writer's voice to tell the tale.

But even if we have unique characters and a never-before-heard plot, or, in non-fiction, even if we are writing about something no one has ever read about before, how we frame the work will make a difference as to whether we hold the reader's attention, draw him or her deeper into our story, and want to come back for more work by the same author.

The frame is made up of the world of the piece – what is around the characters (a town, a profession, a time period) and how vividly or faintly this world is portrayed.

The frame also has textures – within the time period, for example, how "gritty" will your scene-setting be? (distinct smells in the streets of London in the 17th century, for example, or a passing mention of the aroma of life there?) How much will you play with language to convey sounds, sights, and other "set pieces," such as weather? (for example: "Crack!"  or "Thunder exploded above her.")

The frame has size – How much space will you devote to setting your scene, and will you fashion subplots within it or graze only the surface on your way to your main characters and plot?

While trying to decide how I wanted to frame my pictures, I played with various combinations and also thought about where I would hang them. In our writing work, we can think about whether the book fits in with our current contract, for example, or whether it is the start of a whole new series or direction.

So, play with your frames and matting. Try an approach you've never explored before, even something you don't think will work. 

You might be surprised at what you discover as you experiment with different frames. Why, you might just find a completely new and exciting direction, a new creative canvass within which to paint your story.

Blessings in the New Year,


P.S. My publishing and production experience includes plays, a novella, several non-fiction books, devotionals, a regular blog and a syndicated monthly column. Playing with framing works in each of these categories and, I'm sure, many more.


Maureen Pratt Author PicHello!  Maureen Pratt here with another blog post about the writing art and craft. This time, some thoughts about the English language and how we might mix it up a little to yield fresh "color," insight, and depth to our work.

Two real life events have inspired me to blog about this. One was a conversation I overheard in the post office. It went like this:

Postal Clerk (handing Customer a pane of stamps): Here you go.

Customer: Where? Here I go where?

Postal Clerk: Your stamps, sir. Here you go.

Customer: Where do I go?

Postal Clerk (pointing at pane of stamps): I don't know, sir, but here are your stamps.

Customer: Oh. Thank you.


The other event was a conversation I had with an employee at my local grocery store. It went like this:

Employee: Did you find everything you wanted, ma'am?

Me: Yes, except you didn't have blueberries.

Employee: If you're really craving blueberries, we have frozen.

Me: I know, but they don't go well on cereal.

Employee: Got it. How about strawberries?

Me: I like them, but not on cereal.

Employee: Too bad. Because the strawberries are really transcendent today.

If you smiled at both of these illustrations, I'm right there with you. The first exchange involved someone whose native language was not English and who clearly had trouble with the idiom, "here you go." The second one invovled someone whose native language was English, but who clearly went beyond the norm in word association. (What would it have been like, I wonder, if I had purchased and eaten those "transcendent" strawberries?!)

Although different in context and character, both of these are examples of how creative we can get with English, depending not just on who is speaking, but to whom one is speaking. I don't have to go into a detailed description, for example, to convey the quirky character of someone who would describe strawberries as "transcendent." I also don't have to go into much detail at all to demonstrate how the English language, particularly slang and idioms, can be confusing for the non-native speaker – all it takes is those few lines of dialogue.

When I interview people for my non-fiction work, I keep my ears tuned to those sometimes-subtle, but always telling turns of phrase that can give away someone's background, expertise, or spiritual context. Often, my intervewees are unaware of how they sound, how they put words together, and what phrases they use. But if I can pick up on these, my work can be much tighter and telling than any labored description I might come up with.

In fiction, I use much the same technique. A character who is an engineer, for example, might describe something completely differently from someone who is a musician. The engineer might be more apt to talk in terms of form, fit, and building blocks, whereas the musician might use his or her sense of rhythm, tone, and feeling. The engineer might be a very linear communicator (A + B = C), whereas someone who is more artistically inclined might be non-linear (A + (A-B) – E = ?)

Simple words can be powerful descriptors. For example, growing up in Illinois, I always called the strip of grass between the street and the sidewalk the "boulevard." In Ohio, it was the "treelawn." In Boston, a drinking fountain was a "bubbler."  Add to these little differences the challenge of regional pronunciations, and it's no wonder that many find English to be an extremely difficult language to master!

As children, we read of pink elephants, flying monkeys, talking bears, and mad hatters. As adults, and as writers, we can call upon that play on reality and language to craft English work that has creative depth and, dare I say it, transcendent description – even when writing of the most mundane of subjects.

Blessings of joy and peace,


Lillian’s brother has one last request
On a cold April night as the Titanic sinks to the ocean floor, Conrad
Bradenton asks his new business partner, Aaron Stone, to fulfill a final wish:
that Aaron return a well-worn book to his family and take care of his sister.
Aaron seeks out Conrad’s family, never imagining the depth of his commitment
until he meets lovely Lillian Bradenton. Hit hard by the despair in her eyes,
Aaron encourages Lillian to restore her hope by bringing a boarded-up bookstore
back to life. Lillian is uncertain whether she can trust this tranger, the last
link to her beloved brother. But she has faith in her brother’s ability to read
people. If Conrad saw something in Aaron, maybe she will in time. Then Aaron is
summoned to London, and Lillian wonders if it is too late to turn hesitant
friendship into undying love.
Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and
embellishing stories since childhood. Today, she is an award-winning
best-selling author, speaker, and virtual assistant who lives with her husband
and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, in Colorado. They have a daughter and
a son, and an Australian shepherd/retriever mix named Roxie. She has sold 14
books so far, and she is represented by Sandra Bishop of the MacGregor Literary
Agency. Three of her novels have won annual reader’s choice awards, and in 2009,
she was voted #1 favorite new author for Barbour’s Heartsong Presents book club.
Read more about her at her web site:
This new release information was uploaded by Cecelia Dowdy. Happy reading!

Maureen Pratt Author PicPeace to you! Maureen Pratt here with my monthly blog about specific aspects of the writing process. Today, I thought I'd highlight some suggestions about immediacy in our writing.

Whether we're writing fiction or non-fiction, we want our prose to carry the feel of immediacy, or a sense of time and place that draws the reader in to the exclusion of all other distractions and detractions. Compelling central plots do this to a certain extent, of course, but to carry someone along for the duration of a book requires some hooks-within-the-hooks. Immediacy boosts action to a more lively level, and it helps root scene and character to-the-minute instead of somewhere, out there, in time. 

For example, let's say you and I just won a shopping spree (here's the plot hook), but the event takes place in the wee hours of the morning on an excruciatingly hot day and the air conditioner in the store is broken (here are distractions from the initial excitement of the primary hook) and we're both just getting over the flu. Feel your enthusiasm waning, even just a little? What if we added a treasure hunt within the spree, perhaps a very valuable diamond ring is hidden somewhere among the merchandise, and we get to keep it if we find it – a hook-within-a-hook that can motivate beyond the heat and discomfort and bring an immediacy and action to something that might otherwise be more descriptive than dramatic.

Immediacy is helped along by avoiding gerunds (pardon the pun!) and connective phrases, and by precision. "We were looking in the shoe department hoping to find…" becomes "In the shoe department, we found…" or "We were running out of time…" becomes "We only had six minutes left…"

In non-fiction, creating immediacy makes facts come alive. This is not the same as fictionalizing a situation or place, but rather is expressed in the way various details are described. For example, perhaps you need to write a piece about your church's Sunday prayer service and potluck. Beyond the "who, what, when and where," paint in the "why." Why does one person always bring a fruit salad? Why does a particular worship song bring tears to a young man's eyes? Why does the assortment of dishes provided always seem to satisfy, even if no one plans it down to the ingredients? The "why" allows for personalities to come forward and details to leap to life in their daily context – immediacy in the making. It also helps build empathy between the reader and story.

Another strong technique for non-fiction is to write about what's going on outside a particular place or event as a backdrop for what is going on inside. I was able to do this in an article I wrote for Saint Anthony Messenger Magazine ( last year, when I contrasted the freeway traffic humming outside a school with the beautiful music of a children's choir within it.

For inspirational non-fiction, such as a devotional or prayer book, immediacy comes from the specific examples you can write about that illustrate the point you are trying to get across. Think Our Lord teaching in parables. So, an essay on coping with pain becomes lessons learned from someone's journey through a dark valley of pain.

To create your own sense of immediacy while you are writing, practice this: Imagine your reader only has sixty seconds to spend on your story. Imagine the seconds ticking by (or place a clock that ticks off the seconds next to your workspace) as you write. Feel the pressure of that time passing, disappearing, and taking away your reader. At the end of the minute, put your work aside for awhile (a few hours, or even a day). Revisit it, and see the difference in what you wrote while under the immediacy of pressure – you might really like it!

The more in-the-moment writing can be, the more powerful, and immediate, the pull for the reader to keep reading, no matter what else is going on in the world around.

Joy and peace,




 Pic for website 2012                                         

Greetings! Maureen Pratt here with my latest CAN blog post about the craft of writing. Today, I thought I'd steer clear of the "big picture" – that is, the major aspects of writing that we so often focus on in our work – plot and character arcs, basic personal attributes, action points. Instead, I thought I'd "sweat the small stuff" and talk about the importance of seeking, seeing and writing about the "fine print," those details that can truly make a huge difference between a piece that is okay from one that is, "Oh! Hey! [That really strikes home/makes this a truly memorable book/article/essay]"

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