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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Writing Tip Wednesday--Setting

Less than one week left to enter the Indiana Golden Opportunity Contest for unpubbed writers! Trained judges, detailed constructive feedback, and TWO editor final judges in each category! Check out IGO13!!!

Setting is an important element of every book, whether it's as general as the name of the city or town where the story takes place or as specific as the lab where the heroine is working on a vaccine for a rare disease. The question is...How much is too much?

Like your characters' backstory, setting can become an information dump if you're not careful. Do your readers really need to know the precise pattern in the carpet? Is it vital to the plot? Or is it a way to increase your word count?

By dropping in pieces of the setting as they become necessary to the story, you can avoid spending two or three paragraphs describing every building on Main Street or all the furniture in Aunt Emma's parlor. Instead, the blinking neon sign in the hardware store window can flash splotches of red on the bride's disheveled wedding dress. The hero can clamp his hands on his thighs so he doesn't pick at the strings on Aunt Emma's threadbare couch and risk making the whole thing collapse beneath him.

Those details add subtle layers to the scene without intruding on pacing and losing the reader's interest. Characterization can also benefit from the use of instances like the threadbare couch. The hero's feelings for Aunt Emma will show in the care he takes of her belongings, and Aunt Emma's character might be revealed by her inability to part with the items she and her dead husband shared.

Besides location, Setting also gives the reader a sense of time. When the heroine strips off her sweaty T-shirt and cutoffs to jump in the creek, we can be relatively certain the season isn't winter and that we're in a contemporary setting. Shadows creeping into the alley suggests dusk is falling. Horses' hooves clip-clopping on the cobblestone street almost always defines the story as historical. Use well-placed descriptions to help identify the time period and season, whether it's in the past, present, or future, winter, spring, summer, or fall.

Worldbuilding for sci-fi, fantasy, futuristic, steampunk, etc. also falls under Setting. Rather than trudging along with an opening chapter that tells the reader all about the rules of your world, add small components as your characters encounter them. Let your setting grow in the reader's mind with the story. Build it a block at a time to create a memorable place.

Writing craft is a web of interconnecting parts. As I explore one aspect, another piece overlaps, which overlaps with yet more parts. Use what you know and learn to help improve other areas, and you continue to grow as a writer. I am. :)

Up next--Numbers in Writing.

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Another Retro Release!

The Sextet Anthologies Volume 4: Entanglements is on retro release through July 23rd! Get the e-book for 50% off at Siren Publishing!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Opportunity for Unpubbed Romance Writers!

The entry deadline for the Indiana Golden Opportunity Contest is quickly approaching! We offer trained first-round judges, detailed constructive feedback on our four-page score sheets, and TWO acquiring editor final judges in each category!!! Enter your opening chapters and synopsis (up to 55 pages total) by July 1st! Click on the link for complete rules and entry form!

Back to the writing cave! :)

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Writing Tip Wednesday--Independent Body Parts

Only two weeks left to enter the Indiana Golden Opportunity Contest for unpubbed writers! Trained judges, detailed constructive feedback, and TWO editor final judges in each category! Check out IGO13!!!

Independent Body Parts...This topic always reminds me of the comedy/horror film Idle Hands. The main character's right hand has a murderous mind of its own.

Are you allowing your characters' body parts to act independently?

Let's look at this issue from the POV character's perspective first.
When choosing a Point-of-View, we show the story/scene through that character's senses. We write what she sees, not that she saw it. Remember Showing vs. Telling? If she hears birds singing, we describe what she heard (Song sparrows warbled a lively tune outside her window.) rather than telling (She heard birds singing outside her window.).

The same is true of her actions. As the writer, you're the POV character. She reached for the letter opener. Not--Her fingers moved toward the letter opener. Her fingers become independent from the rest of her body by giving them the action.

For the non-POV characters, the rule applies differently.
If the POV character is watching someone else's action, you can use body parts. Her fingers closed around the letter opener. Your POV character is describing what he's seeing. Remember to avoid filter words like watched, saw, heard, etc. that tell instead of show. "He watched her fingers close around the letter opener" distances the reader from the characters.

A comparison--Think about which version draws you closer to the POV character and into the story.
Version #1
***Jane paced to the long table, careful not to look directly at her target. Feigning a polite smile, she tried for her friendliest tone. "Are you finished eating, Laird Callum?"
***"Aye, Lady Jane. 'Twas a hearty stew." His words were likely as close to a thank you as she'd get from her warden.
***The tiny key still rested on the bench next to him, the same place she'd spotted it when she'd delivered his supper. She only had to slip it into her skirt pocket as she gathered the remains of his evening meal.
***Lifting the bread board, she tipped it ever so slightly, sending the knife clattering to the floor beneath his seat. "Oh, dear! Forgive my clumsiness!"
***Intent on her plan, she set her load on the bench to retrieve not only the knife but her chance for escape. The key was scant inches from her possession. She reached for it.
***He grunted and turned toward her, his wide palm covering her target a moment before she could grab it. "Dunna take me for a fool, lass. A woman who sends a seductive smile to her captor is always up ta no good."

Version #2
***Jane's feet carried her to the long table as she carefully avoided looking at her target. Her lips curved upward and she tried for her friendliest tone. "Are you finished eating, Laird Callum?"
***"Aye, Lady Jane. 'Twas a hearty stew." His words were likely as close to a thank you as she'd get from her warden.
***The tiny key still rested on the bench next to him, the same place her eyes had spotted it when she'd delivered his supper. Her hand only had to slip it into her skirt pocket as she gathered the remains of his evening meal.
***Lifting the bread board, she tipped it ever so slightly, sending the knife clattering to the floor beneath his seat. "Oh, dear! Forgive my clumsiness!"
***Intent on her plan, she set her load on the bench to retrieve not only the knife but her chance for escape. The key was scant inches from her possession. Her fingers reached for it.
***He grunted and turned toward her, his wide palm covering her target a moment before she could grab it. "Dunna take me for a fool, lass. A woman who sends a seductive smile to her captor is always up ta no good."

Did you catch all five instances of independent body parts in the second version? By adding her feet, lips, eyes, hand, and fingers as being active by themselves, I changed from third-person to omniscient POV. I was no longer showing the story.

POV covers a lot of territory, doesn't it?

Next week, we'll look at Setting!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Retro-Release Today!

Two Fated for One (Bewitching Desires 3) is a retro-release at Siren Publishing today! Get it for 50% off through July 13th!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Writing Tip Wednesday--Research

Reminder: Only three weeks left to enter the Indiana Golden Opportunity Contest for unpubbed writers!!! Detailed score sheets, constructive feedback, and two acquiring editor final judges for each category!!!

Research is one of my favorite acitivites in the writing process. I know I'm probably in the minority, but I love researching for my stories.

Besides the ten craft-type resources currently on my desk, I also have a stack of research books related to stories I've written or plan to write. The titles? Mythology, The Mammoth Book of Pirates, The Canterbury Tales, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Beowulf, Indian Mounds of the Middle Ohio Valley, The Knights Templar, String Theory for Dummies, and Medieval Arms and Armor. That doesn't include the phone book and a US-Canada-Mexico atlas. Quite a wide range of topics, isn't it? Just call me a research nerd. :)

Why is research so vital to your writing?

Lack of it can destroy the credibility of a writer.

A great example of an author not taking the time to research: A writer friend (who happens to be a nurse) told me she once read a book where a transfusion was given to an injured person at the accident site--without cross-matching blood types and all the necessary precautions taken before such treatment would occur. When my friend contacted the author about the goof, the author admitted she hadn't checked her facts because she was under deadline.

Would you want to read another book by someone who didn't thoroughly research unknown subject matter? Under deadline or not, don't you owe it to your readers--and your characters--to know the material you want to include in the story?

I'm a strong advocate for writing what you know. However, that doesn't mean you can't learn new things to add to your plots and characterizations. Researching history is especially important if you're using actual events to help create your timeline.

Where will you find reliable information?

1) While Wikipedia is quick and easy, always find at least one other resource to support your findings. I tend to stick to university websites and expert-in-the-field blogs/articles online to discover the facts.
2) The non-fiction section of the library or bookstore can offer good resources as well. Check the publication dates if you're researching an area with evolving or expanding knowledge.
3) Attend presentations, workshops, and seminars by experts.
4) Interview someone with your character's occupation to get a firsthand account of what the job entails.
5) Ask people in your writing community. Many have hobbies, jobs, life experience, etc. that can help you with your research.

Above all--Don't guess. Take the time to find out the facts!

Let's take on a lighter subject next week. How about Independent Body Parts? :D

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Golden Opportunity

I'm very active in my local chapter of Romance Writers of America (RWA). Yes, a professional organization for romance writers exists; no, you do NOT have to be published to join.

Each year, we hold a contest for unpublished writers, The Indiana Golden Opportunity Contest. Our trained first-round judges will give you detailed feedback on the opening chapters and synopsis of your story (a combined total of 55 pages). I'm one of the trainers and a judge. :) You'll get constructive and supportive comments to help you improve your story, and the top three entries in each category will move to the second round of judging--one acquiring editor from a traditional publisher AND one acquiring editor from an e-publisher. Many of our past finalists have gone on to final or win RWA's Golden Heart Contest (which has the same page requirement for entry), receive requests for full submissions from our second-round judges, and/or sell their manuscripts. Our score sheets are available for viewing prior to entry by following the contest link above. See below for more details!

Indiana' s 2013 Golden Opportunity Contest - ONLY 4 WEEKS LEFT TO ENTER!

Several of our past entrants have gone on to final in the Golden Heart Contest, sell their manuscripts, or become RITA winners.

NEW IN 2013
* TWO Editor Judges for each category (1 traditional print & 1 e-pub)
* Updated rules & score sheets

Contest Opens: May 1, 2013
Contest Deadline: July 1, 2013
Entry Fee: $35.00 US

Entry: Entry consists of the first section of the manuscript beginning with Chapter One (or the Prologue, if you have one), and the Synopsis. The total length of the entry (partial manuscript and synopsis) must be no more than 55 double-spaced pages. Entry must be a .doc format.

The first round of all categories will be judged by IRWA members that are either published authors or trained judges.

Final Judges: Offering TWO editor judges (One Traditional and One ePub) for all category finalists.
Contemporary Romance :
(T) Latoya Smith - Grand Central Publishing (E) Rhonda Helms – Carina Press
Erotic Romance :
(T) Leis Pederson – Berkley Publishing Group (E) Michele Paulin - Resplendence Publishing
Historical Romance :
(T) Laura Fazio – NAL at Penguin Group (E) Erin Molta - Entangled Publishing
Inspirational Romance :
(T) Shana Smith – Harlequin Love Inspired (E) Becky Philpott - HarperCollins Christian Publishing
Paranormal Romance :
(T) Kristine Swartz – Berkley Publishing Group (E) Heather Howland - Entangled Publishing
Romantic Suspense :
(T) Patience Bloom – Harlequin Books (E) Deb Nemeth – Carina Press
Young Adult Romance :
(T) Leah Hultenschmidt - Sourcebooks Casablanca (E) Stephanie Taylor - Astraea Press

Best of the Best : Katherine Pelz - Berkley Publishing Group

Prizes: 1st Place Finalist in each Category: $50 and certificate
2nd Place: Certificate
3rd Place: Certificate
The Best of the Best Award: A special keepsake award and certificate.

Further information, rules, and a sample of our score sheets are available at IRWA website: http://www.indianarwa.com/

Please share this information, and good luck to those who enter!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Writing Tip Wednesday--Author Intrusion

What is Author Intrusion?

A writer can "intrude" in her book in numerous ways. Here are some of the most common issues:

1) Imagine reading a story that uses unfamiliar terms, and most (if not all) those words and phrases have a definition/explanation preceding or immediately following them. While that might seem like exposition, it isn't--unless the character is learning a foreign language and his instructor is having him repeat new words and their meanings for memorization purposes. The same goes for scientific, medical, historical knowledge. If you don't have a character specializing in the field, you're leaving your imprint on the story. Research facts belong in your reference files!

2) The plot involves a woman preparing her aunt's house for sale after the older woman's death. Your character discovers love letters written by her father to her aunt. In the midst of cleaning out the house, she finds a litter of abandoned kittens and starts spouting off to the neighbor about the virtues of no-kill animal shelters. If she volunteers at one and that plays a vital role in the story, okay. Otherwise, leave out your social, political, economic, religious, etc. views. This is author intrusion!

3) Your secondary character was born and raised in a mining town and has a tenth-grade education. But--his dialogue consists of complete sentences with perfect grammar and extensive vocabulary. NO!!! Let the miner be himself! For your heroine, narrative should also reflect her education, upbringing, etc. when you're in her POV. Word choice needs to fit the characters!

4) A male character should speak and behave like a man. A female character should be easily identified as a woman by her actions and dialogue. Yes, women are from Venus and men are from Mars. If the hero says the color of his car is red, he isn't going to think the heroine's short skirt is scarlet. If your hero calls the skirt scarlet, he needs to consistently refer to colors in shades and tones. Generally speaking, men don't think in those terms, but some do. Although your female detective can handle a gun and swears like sailor, she can't completely escape being a woman. She'll probably notice details that her counterpart might overlook. Follow through on characterization!

You are the mouthpiece for your characters, but that doesn't mean you're allowed to insert your knowledge, opinions, college degrees, or gender. The story belongs to the characters!

Let's take a look at Research next week. :)

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!