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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Writing Tip Wednesday--Repeat Words

This week's "problem" is the bane of almost every writer. For some reason, our brains get stuck on certain words, and we use them over and over and over in a matter of a few paragraphs or pages. Is it a fixable problem? Sort of. Maybe. More so in the editing process than writing usually. (Did you notice my fragments??? I'm going for conversational narrative and emphasis. :))

One way to correct repetition is to make a list of your most frequently overused words and synonyms or phrases to replace them.

Nodding and head shaking are two of the most common repeats. Have your character incline his head or give a curt nod once in a while instead of simply nodding. She can say "no" or scrunch up her face instead of shaking her head.

BTW, nodding always means "yes" and shaking your head always means "no" in this context. "Shaking her head no" and "nodding yes" are redundant.

Does your character have a tendency to stalk wherever he goes? It's a fairly distinctive word, so overuse tends to stand out. Give him long, lumbering strides or a cane that makes a hollow tap on the sidewalk as he walks. Changing the sentence can sometimes eliminate the overused word and add some characterization.

Another way to find those annoying repeats is to reread after a break. They're harder to spot when newly written, much like missing words. You know what the page is supposed to say so you automatically fill in that forgotten "the," "her," or "a." Autocorrect isn't just for cell phones...

My favorite way to find repeat words is to send my story off to one of my critique partners. They're great at catching every pageful of "but"s and "nod"s. :)

And that list? Mine usually changes from one WIP to the next... I guess that's why there's something called editing.

Next up--Crutch Words (Repeat Words' cousin).

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

My New Favorite French Toast

The sexy chef from my nearly finished WIP, Love Served Hot, inspired me to experiment in the kitchen. Here's what I came up with:

Pineapple Upside Down French Toast

1/4 c. margarine
1/2 c. brown sugar
20 oz. can of pineapple tidbits or slices, drained
whole wheat French baguette, cut into 1" thick slices
5 eggs
1 c. milk

Melt the margarine in a medium deep-dish casserole. Add brown sugar and stir well. Evenly top with pineapple. Place sliced bread over pineapple in a single layer. Beat eggs. Add milk and mix thoroughly. Pour over bread and allow to soak in. Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 40 minutes. Invert to serve!

Enjoy!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Writing Tip Wednesday--Fragments

If you look up "fragment" in the dictionary, you find that it's a part that's broken off, detached, or incomplete. In grammar, a fragment is a part of a sentence. It's incomplete. Remember--a complete sentence must have a subject and a verb.

People tend to talk in fragments rather than complete sentences. Fragments can and should be used to write realistic dialogue.

Example:
"Where are you going?"
"To the library." (fragment)
"This late?" (fragment)
"It's open all night during finals week."

The use of fragments in narrative is a gray area. Some editors/agents/publishers don't allow fragments. Some do, if used sparingly and effectively. Others consider fragments part of an author's writing style. If you use fragments, be sure to reread to check flow and clarity. Avoid overuse!

Example:
Callum followed Jane's trail of dried peas into the forest, his heart in his throat as he strained to hear the crack of a brittle twig and the crunch of a dried leaf. She couldn't have gotten too far ahead of him. She'd also have to depend on him to find her way back again since he'd picked up her trail markers. Every last one of them.

Can you spot the fragment?

I've used it at the end of the paragraph for emphasis. Rather than using a fragment, I could've put an em-dash or a comma between "markers" and "every." Both would set that section of the sentence apart, giving it a similar effect.

To use fragments, or not to use fragments? That's a question you'll have to answer yourself.

Next week, I'll be posting about Repeat Words!

Back to writing! I'm getting close to "The End" on Love Served Hot!!!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Writing Tip Wednesday--Contractions

We've all heard of contractions--I'm, you've, she'd, can't, isn't, etc. You use them every day when you're speaking, but do you use them correctly when you're writing?

Rule #1: Use contractions in narrative. They help with flow, tighten the writing, and prevent pulling the reader out of the story with awkward sentences.

Examples:
(with contractions) Callum wasn't in the mood for more of Jane's shenanigans. He'd spent most of the night standing guard outside her quarters to be sure she didn't try to climb through the window. Why didn't she give up her ridiculous escape plans?

(without contractions) Callum was not in the mood for more of Jane's shenanigans. He had spent most of the night standing guard outside her quarters to be sure she did not try to climb through the window. Why did she not give up her ridiculous escape plans?

Rule #2: Use contractions in dialogue (exceptions--emphasis, specific time periods, and dialects. In general, we speak using contractions. Make dialogue realistic by writing it as the character would speak.

Examples:
(normal dialogue) Callum growled and perched his fists on his hips. "You're coming with me whether you like it or not."
(with emphasis) Jane's temper flared. "I will not!"
(time period/dialect) "You will, lass. 'Tis almost dark, and the woods are not safe."

Yes, I threw in a time period/dialect contraction. :) "'Tis" replaces "it's" in some dialects of modern English as well as middle and renaissance English. Do your research on this one! English Through the Ages by William Brohaugh is an excellent resource for word use dates.

Rule #3
: Use contractions in internal dialogue. Internal dialogue is treated the same as spoken dialogue. Follow the same rules!

Examples
:
(normal internal dialogue) She's going to get us both killed.
(with emphasis) I will not ever marry!
(time period/dialect) 'Twill take a miracle to convince the lass I'm trying to protect her.

Contractions may seem like a minor issue, but the little things that need fixing in a manuscript add up and can make the difference between an excellent contest score and a good one or an offer and a rejection. I'm also a fan of fewer edits! :)

Next up--Fragments!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Updates!

I've been writing like crazy on my new foodie contemporary series. Flynn and Lilith are finding out how dark their black moment can be in Love Served Hot. *insert devilish grin here* I'll have this one done and ready to submit soon! In Red Hot Pepper, Drew and Pepper are getting to know each other while they're snowbound in a cabin without electricity. :)

Today I registered for RWA National Conference in July! I'll be heading to Atlanta with The Sextet and a few other IRWA friends for four days of writerly fun!!!

And don't forget that Dirty Dancing is a retro-release at Siren. The e-book version is half price on the Siren website until March 1st!!!

See you in a couple days for Writing Tip Wednesday--Contractions!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Writing Tip Wednesday--Adjectives

If you remember Schoolhouse Rock, you know a noun is a person, place, or thing. Adjectives help describe those people, places, and things. They can come before a noun (car), in the form of a single word (blue), or as an adjective phrase (that had a dent in its fender). The description provides the reader with enough information to visualize the nouns.

Example (*** indicate paragraph indentations):
***Gathering the scattered laundry from the ground, Jane toyed with idea of telling the tyrant laird of the clan to wash his own damned plaids. She might be stranded in his drafty castle, but he had no right to treat her like a common wench.
***A quick check of her pocket made her lips twitch in an anticipatory smile. She'd have plenty of time to escape after she crumbled the few leaves in his stew. "You just wait until the evening meal, Callum MacDougall. You'll be sorry you ever laid eyes on Lady Jane Eastwood."

Here's how the example would read without any adjectives:
***Gathering the laundry from the ground, Jane toyed with telling the laird to wash his plaids. She might be stranded in his castle, but he had no right to treat her like a wench.
***A check made her lips twitch in a smile. She'd have time to escape after she crumbled leaves in his stew. "You just wait until the meal, Callum MacDougall. You'll be sorry you ever laid eyes on Lady Jane Eastwood."

Taking out all the adjectives and adjective phrases makes the scene flat, but can you add too many?

***Gathering the scattered laundry from the ground where she'd laid them to dry, Jane toyed with idea of telling the tyrant laird of MacDougall clan to wash his own damned soiled plaids that he wore as kilts. She might be stranded in his drafty, falling-down castle, but he had no right to treat her like a common serving wench of questionable parentage.
***A quick check of her deep, front skirt pocket made her chapped lips twitch in an anticipatory smile. She'd have plenty of time to escape after she crumbled a few dried foxglove leaves in his rabbit and turnip stew. "You just wait until the poisoned evening meal, Callum MacDougall. You'll be sorry you ever laid your pretty blue eyes on Lady Jane Eastwood."

Hmm, I think we need a shovel to get through that scene. A good rule to remember--Unless a specific noun is vital to the plot, don't over-describe. Moderation again...

Contractions are on the agenda for next week. Write, write, write!

Now I'm off to work on the last few chapters of book one in my foodie contemporary series...or chapter four of book two :)

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Another Retro-Release!

Sharing may have gone back to regular price at Siren, but Dirty Dancing is now available for half price!!!
Enjoy!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Writing Tip Wednesday--Adverbs

Happy New Year!

I'm tackling adverbs from both sides this week. On one hand, writers are told to use adverbs sparingly. Please note the use of the adverb "sparingly" in that sentence :) On the other hand, some critiquers and contest judges get carried away with it, marking every word that could be construed as an adverb. Overkill!

BTW, a lot of adverbs end in -ly, but not all of them. Some adverbs are also other parts of speech in context. Don't assume the word is an adverb without checking how it's used.

In some/many cases, a stronger verb makes the adverb unnecessary.

Examples:

1) Jane walked softly up the stairs to avoid making them creak.

Rather than using "softly," you can replace "walked" with a stronger verb, like "tiptoed" or "crept." The writing is tighter, more succinct, and more effective.

2) Silently watching her climb the stairs, Callum waited to see where Jane planned to snoop.

Can you think of a word to replace "watching" when it's done "silently?" Off the top of my head, neither can I. The sentence could be rewritten to omit the adverb, but occasional use is OKAY. The manuscript doesn't have to be adverb-free.

Adverb or...something else?

Examples:

3) Jane pulled a lovely silk gown from the trunk.

"Lovely" ends in -ly, but is it an adverb? No. It's describing the gown (a noun), so "lovely" is an adjective.

4) The floor creaked somewhere behind her, so she ducked under the bed.

"So" is often an adverb, describing an adjective to tell how much. In this example, "so" is used as a conjunction to join two independent clauses. Without it, we'd have a comma splice. Remember those???

5) The very tips of Callum's boots rested on Jane's sleeve, trapping her against the floor.

"Very" is almost always an adverb--and one that shouldn't be used in narrative. Use only when emphasis is needed in dialogue. In this sentence, however, it's an adjective because it describes the tips of Callum's boots (a noun).

Use the rule of moderation with adverbs. Know what they are, what they aren't, and how to use them correctly and effectively.

Next up--Adjectives!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!