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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Food and Romance

Check out this great article on food and romance by Susan Vaughn at Savvy Authors. I even got a couple mentions since I answered her call for input!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Writing Tip Wednesday--Internal & External Conflicts

I considered posting about character-driven vs. plot-driven stories, but romance technically has to be a combination. The happily-ever-after component is plot-driven, in that it's the end goal. How the characters arrive at their HEA is mostly character-driven. The plot requires external conflicts to help move the story forward, while internal conflicts drive the characters toward resolution.

What are external conflicts?

External conflicts are outside influences that can directly or indirectly affect the hero/heroine's path toward the goal and are often beyond the character's control. They force the characters to take action. Although they can cause/influence internal conflicts, external conflicts are separate from the romance itself.
Examples:
A storm causes a tree to fall on the hero's house.
A new city ordinance prohibits the heroine from having camels on her property.
A huge conglomerate is buying up all the available real estate in the heroine's neighborhood to build a mall.

What are internal conflicts?

Internal conflicts provide the character with room to grow and struggle against himself. They force the characters to make decisions about the relationships in their lives--with self and others.
Examples:
Can the hero trust the woman who might've stolen an Mayan artifact from his collection?
Will the heroine serve as a surrogate for her best friend, even though they suspect the friend's husband is cheating on her?
Does getting married mean the hero has to give up being a cop?

By using a combination of internal and external conflicts, you can create a well-balanced story with a strong plot and character arcs through GMC.

I love the way the elements of writing are all connected. :)

Next week, we'll take a look at Foreshadowing!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Apple (Pie) Season is Here!

My husband picked half a bushel of apples yesterday. Guess what that means...

I spent the afternoon making two yummy apple pies. Every one I bake reminds me of my wonderful late mother-in-law. When I was a few months pregnant with my daughter, I craved apples. Yeah, I know. Weird. Not pickles and ice cream. Apple pie. My husband happened to mention it to his mom, and she made an apple pie for me. :) Best mother-in-law ever!

So, in memory of that amazing lady, I'm sharing my apple pie recipe.


Never Fail Pie Crust

3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups vegetable shortening
1 egg, well beaten
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons water

Combine flour, sugar, and salt. Cut in shortening until crumbly. Combine egg, vinegar, and water. Add to flour mixture and stir only until all flour is moistened. Shape into a ball. Cover or wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Divide dough into four parts. Roll between waxed paper to desired diameter. Removing 1 sheet of waxed paper at a time, line pie plate with crust. Fill. Repeat with another 1/4 of the dough. Cover filling, trim crust to 1/2-inch overhang. Crimp closed and cut steam slits in top. Makes 2 double-crust pies.

Apple Pie Filling

6-8 cups baking apples (depends on pie plate size), peeled, cored, and sliced
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter or margarine, cut into 3 equal pieces

Combine apples, sugar, cinnamon, and lemon juice in a large bowl and mix well. Pour into pie crust. Dot with butter and add top crust. Cut steam slits. Bake at 400 degrees for 50 minutes. Place foil over crimped edges of crust after 35 minutes to avoid over-browning. Cool completely before storing. Eat while warm (or cool)!

Enjoy!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Writing Tip Wednesday---Writing a Series

I've learned a lot about Writing a Series over the last couple years, not the least of which is my writer brain tends to think in continuing/connected storylines. Almost every book tries to pull me into a multiple-secondary-characters-must-have-his/her-story-told vortex of never-ending WIPs. While they're always single titles, they may or may not have an ongoing subplot. This can cause major problems for a plantser like me if I don't follow a few basic guidelines. I'd also use these same tips if I ever wrote a serial.

1) Decide on a record-keeping method. Some options are Scrivener, OneNote, spreadsheets, handwritten notebooks or paper and file folders, Word documents with computer files. I prefer paper and file folders so I can have my manuscript open and look at my notes at the same time. Do what works best for you!

2) I keep a running list of character first and last names so I don't accidentally use the same name twice in a series. Even similar names can sometimes confuse a reader.

3) At some point, most main and secondary characters need profiles. The amount of information I include depends on the level of participation in the current story. For main characters, I list hair and eye color, height and weight, distinctive characteristics, age, occupation, anything that may be mentioned more than once (nickname, youngest of five siblings, etc.). Secondary characters usually have personality quirks or other traits that make them unique (uses a cane, has an accent, etc.).

4) If secondary characters in book 1 will be the main characters in book 2, note how they know each other or any info that might be important in book 2. If you're like me, you can't depend entirely on memory for those details. Readers will notice mistakes and inconsistencies!

5) Jot down ideas, plot points, etc. for future books in the series as they arise. It won't make you a plotter if you aren't one. It will, however, keep you from having to remember that great idea you had two weeks or months ago. Trust me on this!

6) Use a timeline to keep time frames and dates straight. Someone WILL notice if the heroine from book 1 is eight months pregnant in the opening scene of book 2 four months after conception.

7) Think about common themes in the stories to come up with a series name, whether it's location, family name, dragons, etc. Brainstorm a list of related words and work from there. My current series involves romance, food, and restaurants, so Love on the Menu fits great to tie all the books together.

8) Use similar titles or types of titles for books in the same series to help connect them. Does each title in the series have a common word? Do they contain related words or themes? Are they similar in length?

Whether you're a plotter who creates a series bible before you begin writing or a pantser/plantser who notes as you go or when you're finished writing the book, consider a method of organization. The time you save searching for one small detail is time you can spend writing!

Let's look at the differences between Internal and External Conflicts next week!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Greek Night--Spanakopita recipe!

I tried out a new recipe tonight--Spanakopita! Yum!!! It's a bit like Greek lasagna. :)

Spanakopita

2 cups feta cheese, crumbled
2 cups lowfat cottage cheese
4 eggs
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
couple dashes of black pepper
1 cup onions, chopped
8 cups fresh spinach, chopped (about 8-10 ounces)
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 lb. package phyllo dough (puff pastry can be substituted)
3 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

Mix cheeses, eggs, flour, basil, oregano, and pepper in a large bowl. Saute onions in 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat until translucent. Reduce heat to low and add spinach. Cook and stir until spinach is fully wilted, about 5 minutes. Add to cheese mixture and mix well.

For phyllo dough--Brush the bottom and sides of a 13"x9" pan or dish with melted butter. Add 8 sheets of phyllo dough, buttering between each layer. Dough will go up the sides of the dish. Spread on half the cheese/spinach mixture. Repeat phyllo layer with 8 more sheets and melted butter. Spread on remaining filling. Top with 8 more sheets of phyllo and butter, folding in corners and buttering the top.

For puff pastry--Brush the bottom and sides of a 10"x6" deep casserole dish with melted butter. Add two-thirds of a sheet of puff pastry. Spread on half the cheese/spinach mixture. Repeat puff pastry layer with another two-thirds sheet and melted butter. Spread on remaining filling. Top with last two-thirds sheet of puff pastry, folding in corners and buttering the top.

Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand ten minutes before serving. Makes about 8 servings.

Enjoy!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

New Website Look & Inside Info!

In anticipation of the November release of Love Served Hot, the first book in the Love on the Menu series, I've completely overhauled my website. What do you think of the new look???

Yes, you heard it here first! Book 1 of my foodie series will be out in November!!!

After much thought and number-crunching, I've decided to delve into the self-publishing world. My Sextet sister Bethany Michaels, the brains behind Dragonfly Press Designs, is designing the covers--she does great cover art!--and I'm learning how to format books. Cheryl Brooks, one of my other Sextet sisters, has been answering lots of my newbie questions. I'd be lost without my writer friends!

More updates to come!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Writing Tip Wednesday--Creating Sexual Tension

Sex sells, but sometimes anticipation makes it even better. No matter the level of heat in your story, the reader becomes more invested in the outcome when obstacles stand in the way and challenge the characters' journey to the bedroom (in addition to their happily ever after).

What is sexual tension?

Sexual tension can begin with an immediate attraction or an instant dislike between characters. It can build over time for friends who are trying to decide if they want to take their relationship to a new level. Maybe your couple has already had sex, but some conflict prevents them from allowing the connection to deepen. Characters with a failing marriage could be trying to move on alone, only to discover they're still in love. Teasing creates anticipation for a long-awaited kiss or lovemaking session and hope that the characters will find their way to each other. However, sexual tension doesn't always have to lead to sex. A word of warning, though--dragging out the "foreplay" too long can result in an annoyed reader.

What are some ways to create sexual tension?

A casual touch, whether on purpose or accidental, will trigger a response. Is it physical--increased pulse, sudden feverishness, other more sexual responses? Is it emotional--longing, panic, frustration? Or is it both? Use the senses to convey those reactions by showing rather than telling.

Use dialogue to ramp up the tension. Is the hero angry at the heroine for some reason related to the conflict? Maybe he lets something slip about his feelings. Does he catch himself in time to cover his admission? Or does he reveal just enough to get the heroine wondering what he meant to say? People tend to lose control of their mouths when they lose their tempers. Dialogue can also be used in place of physical actions. An outspoken heroine might whisper her naughty plans for the hero in his ear. If they're in a setting where neither can act on her words, their anticipation grows.

Danger and emergency situations can bring out hidden emotions and a "lapse of good judgment" that can change those sparks to a flame. That urgency makes for less gray-area thought since adrenaline forces quick decisions.

Interruptions are a useful tool in creating sexual tension. Think about how sympathetic you'd feel if the hero and heroine are finally going to admit their love to each other and her ex-husband walks into the room. Doubts set in, raising the conflict and stakes.

Remember to use GMC to help guide your pacing and develop a relationship worth cheering for!

Next week's WTW post will cover Writing a Series. See you then!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Writing Tip Wednesday--Worldbuilding

Many writers hear the term Worldbuilding and immediately dismiss the chance to learn about it because they don't write sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal, etc. Although creating a believable world that doesn't actually exist (that we know of) is vital for those genres, every story requires some level of setting that goes beyond what we see.

Cheryl Brooks' Cat Star Chronicles books are great examples of worldbuilding. She's written a fictional world in space, with numerous species of humanoid and non-humanoid creatures, each with unique cultures and physical characteristics. Each planet has its own type of society. All the "rules" associated with those characters and worlds help build and support her stories.

The same can apply to vampire-, werewolf-, shifter-, ghost-, demon-related stories. The characters and their communities become part of the setting--part of that unique world. Lynsay Sands' Argeneau vamps don't fit the traditional Dracula mold. With their nano-blood, blood banks, and interaction with "normal" humans, they help form a new world that operates under different conditions.

What about historical and contemporary stories? Do they need Worldbuilding?

Some may disagree, but I believe every story uses worldbuilding to a certain extent. In a historical setting, the writer can use time period and location to define how the hero and heroine interact. The social norms of the setting can easily make the heroine seem like an outspoken, overly independent woman. Family dynamics or a non-traditional occupation in a contemporary book can push the limits of what's socially acceptable in Amish culture or small-town America. Use those challenges to make your reader more invested in the outcome.

The combination of physical setting, characterization, GMC, and character arc create your world, whether it's in present-day Texas, medieval England, or the Klingon Empire. Your readers live in that world while they're reading your stories.

Now comes the tough part--building your world without backstory/information dumps. Instead of using several paragraphs to describe your aliens, shifters, etc., add small bits of description at a time. Compare their features to familiar objects. Use color and size to create an image. Work these details into an active scene for good pacing.
Example: Rumbling snores assaulted my ears as I carried the first crate into the cargo hold. My chief engineer was passed out on the floor near the entrance, forcing me to step over her tail. Gorba's scales seemed more orange than usual and her snout was swollen like an over-sized gourd. Had she tried to drink a band of Norwellian Habiks under the table again? She'd never been able to handle more than half a flagon of the fermented mugfruit they passed off as wine.

You can do the same for physical settings by using the senses as your character passes through an alley or marketplace. Smell can be especially effective at helping draw the reader into the scene. Which is more interesting--a paragraph that describes the buildings or an active scene where the character ducks into the doorway of a gambling den for a moment before moving on to an alley that reeks of rotting garbage?

If you're a plotter, make a list of details you want to include and then add them as needed. If you're a pantser or plantser, be the character and see, hear, smell what he sees, hears, smells as it happens. Keep the action moving, show rather than tell, and use careful exposition to reveal your world.

Next week we'll take a look at Creating Sexual Tension!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Guest Interview!

I'm over at Jennifer Denys' blog today for a guest interview! Learn more about my new foodie series, Love on the Menu, and read an excerpt from Love Served Hot!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!