Friday, June 24, 2022

On the Road to Forever

by Marcella Robinson from the June 13, 2022 issue

Tagline: After popping a tire on a country road in her hometown, Merrilee is sure she's out of luck...until a familiar face arrives to save the day.

Observations: This story left me feeling warm inside. Robinson set the scene of a country road on a warm summer day so well. And when she got to the hero's "grand entrance," I was a goner.

The truck door slammed, the driver coming toward her, the sun at his back, casting him in a golden glow.

I mean, come on! That's such a perfect image.

Also, there are so many warm fuzzies regarding her dad's garage and her feeling the nostalgia of returning to the place where she'd made so many happy memories with him just added to the perfection of this story. 

Then there's the ending. I'm literally getting goosebumps reading it again.

They climbed into her car, rolled down the windows and, just like old times, drove down the country road into the sunset with wind in their hair, and the promise of live in their hearts.

If you want an example of how to craft a perfect Woman's World 5-Minute romance, read this one again.

Photo by Kumweni via Flickr Creative Commons License

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Melody of Love

 by Rose Ross Zediker from the June 6, 2022 issue

Tagline: When Katherine and her old flame, Logan, meet in a piano bar, will their love build--or go flat?

Observations: I've not seen a story set in a piano bar before, so yay! I love seeing new settings for these stories.  

This week I wanted to focus on this excellent first paragraph:

"Thank you for driving me to the opening of the new piano bar. I didn't want to miss it," Aunt Molly said. "I like to support my former students' musical endeavors."

It's excellent because Zediker gave us a lot of information via natural dialogue. It can be challenging to do this without having the characters sound stilted. I see this once in a while when I edit stories and I always think of it as the "As you know, Bob" syndrome, as in...

"As you know, Bob, Uncle Barney didn't like you as much as he did me, so when he died, I was the prime beneficiary."

All of this information would already be known to Bob and the only (painfully obvious) purpose of this line of dialogue is to inform the reader. It's not usually this blatant, but it can be something you want to be wary of.

Monday, June 13, 2022

A Day Worth Remembering

 by Mary Ellen Main from the May 20, 2022 issue

: The last thing military widow Pam is expecting at the senior center is a second shot at love...until a handsome stranger shows up in the lunch line.

Observations: I didn't think it was possible to write a romance related to such a somber holiday, but Main succeeded. I liked Pam's posse of friends at the senior center. They were adorable. And notice that only one of them was named--Georgia. It's not necessary to name every person who appears in your story. 

The time you use to describe characters should be in direct proportion to their importance to the story, and this goes double for Woman's World stories. For instance, waiters, fellow passengers, people in the elevator, these "movie extras" needn't be named or described unless necessary. You only have 800 words. Best to use them developing your story. Even the main characters probably don't need much description. (Pam didn't get any at all.)

Here's what we got about the hero, Kevin:

Thick brown hair with a slight wave stood atop his broad,handsome face and his arm rested across his mom's shoulder, creating a picture of warmth that made Pam's heart glow. As he took his place in line, his deep brown eyes, crinkled gently at each corner, caught Pam's.

It makes sense that she took sometime to create a picture of him in the readers' heads. This is the man we're going to vicariously fall in love with. 

However, if you need the space to develop the love story and the emotions and the character arcs, I would absolutely choose to use the words for that over a physical description of the characters. You can usually get away with just mentioning that they have brown hair or green eyes. :)

Photo by Denise Krebs via Flickr Creative Commons License

Saturday, May 7, 2022

True Love at First Bite

 by Kay Layton Sisk from the May 2, 2022 issue

Tagline: When father-son duo Blake and Brad show up at Janie and Annie's front door, the mother and daughter are in for the sweetest surprise.

Observations: This week I wanted to put a spotlight on the Black Moment. 

Often in fiction there is a moment in the story when it seems as if all is lost. The reader wonders how the protagonists will overcome all the obstacles. In Pretty Woman, it's when Vivian is driven away from the Beverly Regent and Edward. In A League of Their Own, it's when Dottie leaves the team to start her new life with her war-injured husband. In Romancing the Stone, it's when Jack leaves Joan by diving off the wall to chase the alligator that swallowed El Corazon, the jewel.

You may not think so but many times Woman's World stories have Black Moments too but they're subtle enough that sometimes I call them Gray Moments. In this story, the Gray Moment comes when Annie has to leave to go to her meeting. 

Clearly the stakes are not as dire in a Woman's World story as they are in movies. Sometimes in movies and novels, the reader will not be able to see any way out of a disappointing or even tragic ending, but unless it's a tragedy, things will work out. Edward comes to his senses and goes after Vivian. Dottie returns to play the championship game. Jack shows up on Joan Wilder's doorstep with a yacht and crocodile-skin boots.

In this story, Annie and Brad figure out a way to meet again to discuss restaurants in the neighborhood. There isn't the rush you might have felt when you watched those movies--and if you haven't watched them, they are MUST-SEES. But there should be a warm glow of contentment and satisfaction when you read the end of your Woman's World story.

If there isn't, keep revising.

Photo by Benny Mazur via Flickr Creative Commons License

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Bargaining for True Love

by Diana Hickerson from the April 11, 2022 issue

Tagline: Hosting a yard sale is not newly single Tracey's idea of a fun way to meet people...until a handsome man arrives wit the offer of a lifetime.

Observations: The first third of the story has zero dialogue in it. It's just the main character's thoughts about her friend's obsession with yard sales, her mediocre interest in them, but the reason why she's hosting one anyway. 

There's a common "rule" that says you shouldn't front load your story/book with backstory, but I have always disagreed. You can do anything in fiction as long as you do it well. It's all in the execution. I mean, take those epistolary books--books that are entirely composed of letters. Crazy idea, right? So not what we would expect or imagine that we would enjoy, and yet, I love these types of books. 

And I didn't find the beginning of this story to be boring at all even though nothing was really going on at first. Obviously, the editors didn't have a problem with it either.

So, I encourage you to take risks with Woman's World stories. The stories are so short that you can afford to spend a few days going out on a fictional limb. Take a so-called writing rule and break it on purpose. See what happens.

My favorite part:

He had moved away when he turned 12, and I never knew what became of him. But clearly, wherever he'd been had done him good. Or else there's no limit to what four decades and a weathered barn jacket could do for a guy.

Photo by Mike Mozart via Flickr Creative Commons License

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Let the Light In

by Moxie Hull from the April 4, 2022 issue

Tagline: After a tough divorce and a becoming an empty nester, Liza bought a new house and is not-so-ready to mingle with the neighbors...until handsome contractor Harry gives her some pointers about constructing a brand new love story.

Observations: What a perfect story to start the new quarter with. So many teaching moments jumped out at me.

1. The dialogue sounded natural and also revealed character. For instance, in this sentence, one word--"totally"--told me so much about the sister. I could hear her mock whining tone mixed with a little admonishment at the same time, which is so sisterly. 

"Will you please take a break and come to my party," she moaned. "It'll be fun, and it will be totally rude if you don't come. I invited all the neighbors so you could meet them."

2. Hull cleverly inserted quite a bit of backstory in the dialogue:

"...Jerry's been gone for two years. The girls are grown and on their own, and you've finally downsized to this little fixer-upper..."

My only gripe would be that this makes it seem as if Jerry died and the only reason I know it was divorce not death is because of the tagline.

3. Then we see some real sisterly love. Maxie had put on her bossy sister hat until this very nice moment:

My eyes began to well as I unwrapped a picture of the girls and placed it on the hutch. "Oh, I'm sorry, sweetie," she said, noticing that I was ready for a meltdown. She pulled me in for a hug. "You're going to be fine." And after a few slobbering moments, I realized she was right. I needed to get out.

4. And that was the end of the first of three acts in the story. Liza has made her decision and we need to transition to the next act:

A few hours later, I was ringing Maxie's doorbell with a Pyrex full of brownies. In a dress. With heels on my feet.

Points for capitalizing Pyrex. There are quite a few words that are in common usage but that are actual brand names and need to be capitalized, like Jell-O. (Note that Jell-O has a capital O as well.) I also wanted to point out the use of sentence fragments. This is a great way to make a subtle point. Here she's  showing this is not how Liza would normally dress and that she's wearing those shoes begrudgingly.

5. You guys know I am very detail-oriented. It's in my DNA. I noticed a slip-up here that I also see when I have my editor's hat on. See if you can spot it.

I handed her the brownies, which she replaced with a crisp glass of white wine.

There's a misplaced modifier here. The word "crisp" is describing the glass instead of the wine. Obviously, we all understand what was meant, but it should actually read

I handed her the brownies, which she replaced with a glass of crisp white wine.

6. We come to the end of the second act when Liza promises she would call Harry when she was ready to continue work on her house. This works on a couple of levels. One, having three acts makes the story seem meatier, like it's not only 800 words long. It "feels" right to us as well. There's a beginning, middle and end, a story structure we are practically wired to expect. It also serves Liza's character. Obviously, she's not emotionally ready to move forward romantically at the time of the party, so this second-act-to-first-act transition gives her the time she needs.

8. Finally, the ending was very clever. 

"Demolition woman! I've been waiting for your call. Are you ready?"

"Yes," I laughed, my heart soaring. "Yes, I am."

No doubt you see the double meaning here. She's ready for the demolition and ready to enter the dating world again. Sometimes this type of zinger ending feels forced. Here, it was perfect. 

Photo by gemteck1 via Flickr Creative Commons License

Friday, April 1, 2022

First Annual Blog Awards (Q1)

I'm proud to have maintained this blog, analyzing the stories and offering my opinions and advice, for thirteen years. That's a good chunk of time! And the format and contents of the blog have remained mostly the same.

This year, however, I decided to change it up by giving out quarterly awards of merit. I thought it would be fun to recognize and celebrate stories that excelled in the following categories: 

Best Hero
Best Heroine
Cutest Meet
Most Original Premise
Couple Most Likely to Wed
Best Overall

It is now my pleasure to bestow the awards.

Our Best Hero this quarter is a man who isn't afraid to try new things. Admirable, right? He's also able to admit when he's made a mistake--another great quality. In fact, he does it in the story twice. He tends to look on the bright side, even after his girlfriend broke up with him on the night he was going to propose. And when he meets the heroine of the story, he doesn't hesitate to ask her out for coffee.

The Best Hero for Q1 of 2022 is 

The Best Heroine this quarter is a woman who serves her community as a policewoman, so she's strong and brave. But she's had to build some walls to protect herself because many of the men she's dated have been intimidated because she carries a gun. She also deals with her mother's matchmaking machinations with wit and patience.

The Best Heroine for Q1 of 2022 is

The Cutest Meet occurred in a beauty salon, traditionally a female-dominated venue. So it's not surprising that the hero entered with trepidation, especially considering he was hiding an "at-home haircut gone terribly wrong." Lucky for him, his stylist is just his type.

The Cutest Meet for Q1 of 2022 is

The winner of the next category was actually the inspiration for these awards. After I read it, it was so good I thought it and all the other outstanding stories deserved some recognition. I think, however, next year, I'll do them bi-annually so there are more stories from which to choose.

It's challenging to come up with a holiday-themed plot we haven't seen before, but the author of this quarter's Most Original Premise winner succeeded in a big way. The story is built around a town tradition--at the stroke of midnight instead of a disco ball, they drop an old boot from a crane to honor the farmers in the area. They also hold an Ugly Boot Contest which was a hoot. I'd never seen anything resembling either of these events before in Woman's World.

The winner of the Most Original Premise for Q1 of 2022 is 

The winner of Wittiest Story had me laughing throughout. In fact, I wrote LOL three times in the margins of the story as I read it. The first LOL came from the heroine's inner thoughts. She's a cop about to suffer through a matchmaking dinner her mom set up.

[My mother] eyed me with disapproval. "Why are you in uniform?"

"I'm on call." And if I got lucky, I'd be called to a crime scene any second now.

LOL number two came about because the hero and heroine played Prince Phillip and Princess Aurora in their third grade school play. Their performance had been hilariously memorable because "instead of pretending to kiss me, like we had rehearsed, he planted a smack on my mouth on opening night." The princess yelled "Yuck!" much to the audience's amusement.

Fast forward to the present. Dinner is over and Matchmaking Mom has insisted they enjoy the fresh air...

We settled onto the front porch swing. 

"So," Max said, breaking the silence, "act in any plays lately?"

I grimaced. "So you do remember."

His chuckle made my pulse beat erratically.

"Are you referring to what my family calls 'The Yuck Heard Round the World?"

That last line had me literally laughing out loud.

The winner of Wittiest Story for Q1 of 2022 is

It's difficult to predict whether or not our fictional couples will end up married, especially since all I have to work with is 800 words of interaction. But one couple stood out to me as having the best chance for wedded bliss, if only because they'd both suffered through relationships with people who clearly weren't right for them. I have to assume that, having had this experience, they ended up with a better understanding of what they were looking for.

Therefore, the Couple Most Likely to Marry for Q1 of 2022 is

That brings us to our last award this quarter--The Best Overall Story. To determine the winner in this category, I didn't add up any scores, and I didn't automatically go with the story that won in a majority of categories. I chose the story that provided me with the best overall reading experience, the one that had me laughing and smiling after I read it, my mood happily boosted! It was written by someone who has skillfully penned so many romances for Woman's World, she's practically a household name. (I'm serious. Check the sidebar for Author: Cooper and you'll see what I mean.) 

And the story she wrote had it all--great, three-dimensional characters, a hilarious backstory, humor by the truckload and an ending that not only was an epilogue (which I love in novels and in short stories) it brought the story full circle by calling back to the yucky kiss joke. As you've probably guessed by now...

The Best Overall story for Q1 of 2022 is

I hope you enjoyed these inaugural awards as much as I did giving them out.

I want to thank all the authors, my blog visitors, and especially Woman's World who publishes short romantic fiction that entertains us and lifts our spirits every week. 

Look for the Q2 awards in June. I'll be adding a category--Best Secondary Characters!