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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Writing Tip Wednesday--Opening Hooks

Have you ever read a book that took forever to get to the action? Or maybe the story seemed like it started in the wrong place?

While a few authors can get away with a first-page/-chapter backstory dump or a slow start, the vast majority of us can't. We have to have that great beginning, the opening hook to grab the reader so she has to know what happens next. How do you do it???

Here are some ideas...

1) Open with an active scene. No, this doesn't mean an "action" scene. Make the character active, put her into a situation that reveals an important trait or shows her true personality--but be sure the scene is related to the plot/subplot. It can be a strength or a weakness. It can show how she interacts with others. Did she accidentally hug the male friend she secretly wants to date for changing her flat tire? Is she drafting her job resignation because the boss hit on her? Whether it's a physical or emotional dilemma, give your reader a reason to love/hate the character and motivation to cheer for/against her. Remember characterization?

2) Open with a one-liner that sums up the character's current conflict. This can be narrative or dialogue (spoken or internal). First, identify the conflict. Did her cheating almost ex-husband die mysteriously last night and she doesn't have an alibi? Next, consider her reaction. Does she want to kiss the person who offed him? Would she ask her best friend to lie for her? Last, think about the consequences. Is she worried about being arrested? Use this information to form a great opening line, something to draw the reader into the story.

3) Open with action. As with active scene openings, action scenes should give the reader some insight into the plot and the characters. A car chase is only effective if the plot or characters are affected. Having the heroine dump her salad on her boyfriend's head only works if he's done something to cause that reaction, and the reaction should be connected to the plot/subplot in some way.

4) Open with dialogue. While this is basically an active scene, the dialogue reveals the actions. "I went to the sperm bank today." or "I think I poisoned my boss." are interesting opening dialogue lines, but if the plots/subplots/characterizations aren't related to them, the reader will get angry for being misled.

Whichever opening hook you use, be sure it reveals something about the character or the plot/subplot. It doesn't have to be dramatic. It only has to encourage the reader to read on. Piece of cake, right??? Didn't think so... :)

Don't forget to share the link if you know someone who can benefit from the writing tips!

GMC is up next!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Writing Tip Wednesday--Varying Sentence Structure

I'm probably dating myself, but do you remember the Dick and Jane adventures of early elementary school reading? They bring back fond memories of learning to read. However, they're not a good example of how to write most fiction. A preschool or early-reader picture book maybe. Definitely not a middle-grade, YA, new-adult, sci-fi, romance, etc. novel.

In order to keep a reader's interest, the story needs more than... "Oh no!" Jack shouted. He jumped off the bridge. He landed in the cold river. He swam after Spot.

Change up the sentence structure for better flow. Short sentences can be effective in high-tension scenes, but avoid using them too often or you'll end up with choppy writing--especially when they all begin the same way.

A possible revision--"Oh no!" Jack shouted. He jumped off the bridge, landing in the cold river. Every stroke of his arms took him closer to Spot.

Begin sentences with modifiers (as long as they're not misplaced!), prepositional phrases, dialogue, etc. to keep the story from becoming monotonous, but avoid using "but" and "and" since most times they're unnecessary. You risk a rejection or lots of edits with the unrevised version.

Another suggestion--Take a look at the first word in each paragraph on the page. Does every one start with "He" or "She"? That can be a sign of repetitive sentence structure as well. Hopefully, you're not finding this pattern in the books you're currently reading. Good writing flows and draws the reader into the story.

I hope you're enjoying the writing tips and finding them useful in improving your craft. As I continue to learn, I'll continue to pass along the information to help other writers. Please feel free to share the link with others!

Next week--Opening Hooks

Thanks for stopping by!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Back to the Grind

Life's been a little crazy for the past week and a half--an all-day critique session with some of my IRWA buddies, followed by five days at Hocking Hills, then one day home to catch up on laundry, and a monthly IRWA meeting with the fantastic Marie Force.

Now, I'm back to the grind of five-times-a-week tutoring and menu planning again. Except...I didn't have time to do that this week, so I had to improvise last night. It didn't turn out too bad. Actually, my experiment was pretty good! Here's another easy recipe, brought to you this time by "We have to eat something!!!"

Smoked Sausage Bake

1 lb. package of turkey smoked sausage (or your favorite), sliced into 1/2" pieces
2 large red potatoes, cut into chunks
1/4 tsp salt
1 medium onion, quartered and sliced
1 Gala apple, cored and chopped
1 c. apple juice

Place sliced sausage in the bottom of a deep-dish casserole. Top with potatoes and sprinkle with salt. Add onions and apples. Pour in apple juice. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for at least one hour (until potatoes are tender).

Enjoy!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Writing Tip Wednesday--Characterization

I love stories with three-dimensional characters, both main and secondary. They draw me into the story, and I'm invested in their journeys. What makes a fully developed character?

Yes, the reader should have a general idea of the character's physical traits. I don't necessarily mean a specific height, weight, eye color, and hair color rundown. Unless he/she is being described for a police report, these characteristics should be worked in without making the description obvious.

Just as important as what the character looks like is how her life experience has influenced who she is, how she interacts with others, her mannerisms, etc.--personality traits. They help readers get a better sense of who the character is and why.

Some examples:
The hero might crack his knuckles as he's watches the heroine talk and laugh with a guy he doesn't know. Rather than saying he's worried/nervous he might have competition for her attention, the action shows his nervousness/anxiety. It can be a habit he's trying to break.

If the heroine grew up in a bad neighborhood, she might use a swagger and nasty attitude to cover her fears. Give her a smart mouth and great dialogue but vulnerable internal dialogue to turn her into a sympathetic character.

Make a secondary character memorable by making that great aunt feisty and outspoken, or the shy little sister can have a gift with abused animals.

The little things your characters do and say give the reader deeper insight into their strengths and weaknesses. They encourage a deeper connection and make the reader more invested in the story. Remember that showing is more effective than telling! Make your readers love (or hate!) your characters by making them real.

Next week, I'll be talking about Varying Sentence Structure!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Writing Tip Wednesday--Backstory vs. Exposition

**Last day to enter for a chance to win an e-book! Leave a comment on any Writing Tip Wednesday post or drop me an e-mail at mellanieszereto(at)hotmail(dot)com by midnight on March 6th!**

In recent months, I've noticed a lot of agents and editors commenting on Twitter about submissions they've rejected because the author either opened with page after page of backstory and no action or had a great opening action scene followed by pages of backstory. Some of the contest entries I've judged have had similar issues.

How much backstory is too much? And what is exposition?

You've thought of a fantastic idea for a story, so you start getting to know your characters. If you're a Plotter, you might create a character bio, listing physical characteristics of your hero/heroine and finding the perfect celebrity to represent him/her. You know this person's history--he's the oldest of four siblings, he's overprotective of his baby sister, his dog died when he was 12, etc. Is all of this information vital to your story?

Probably not. Some of it helps define your character's GMC (goals, motivation, and conflicts), but the reader doesn't need to know much of what you know about the hero/heroine. If the hero recognizes a smell, he might be reminded of his grandmother's kitchen at Thanksgiving. It can have a positive or negative affect. Do we also need to know that when he was eight years old, his grandmother spent weeks in the hospital from gall bladder surgery complications? That's a backstory dump unless the heroine is about to undergo gall bladder surgery and he's worried she might die.

By adding small instances of past experiences here and there, we get the information we need at the right time rather than a giant info dump. That's exposition. You expose pieces of the character's history when they're influencing current actions, reactions, and behavior.

Remember that info/backstory dumps can be in narrative or dialogue. If your character has a scar, is she going to talk about the details of how it happened with someone who was there or already knows the story? Not likely. As with POV, be the character. Think about her relationship with other characters in the scene. How much would she tell a stranger? Is she self-conscious of the scar? All these things influence how much exposition you should use in dialogue, whether spoken or internal.

Backstory and exposition, like many other aspects of writing craft, are best when used in moderation. Sure, you have to take more time and care when creating your story, but your end product will be better for the effort--and your readers will love you for it!

In writing this blog, I'm wondering if backstory tends to be a bigger problem for Plotters... If you have thorough knowledge of your character's life history, are you more likely to have problems with backstory dumps??? And what about Pantsers? If you don't know your character, do you have more issues with contradictory or inconsistent behavior???

Hmm... Something to think about until next week's post on Characterization.

Thanks for stopping by!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Friday, March 1, 2013

Last Day!!!

Today is the last day to get Dirty Dancing for 50% off st Siren!

Back to writing!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!