Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Bright New Beginnings

by Debbie Noone from the November 19, 2018 issue

Tagline: When an old flame walks back into Erin's life, she refuses to fall for him again...until his surprising plea melts her heart.

Observations: I have a ton of stuff to do today, so I'm going to do another Stream-of-Consciousness analysis.

Erin March...I'm immediately reminded of the March sisters of Little Women, for some reason, which gives me an idea of writing stories for Woman's World with heroines named after the March sisters. Yeah, my brain is weird.

Gertie smiled, fluttering out from behind the front desk of her yarn shop like a spooked starling.

I really don't know how starlings move, but I can imagine. I always appreciate a good simile in a Woman's World story.

OMG. I love the idea of a yarn shop - even though I am a failed knitter from way back - but when Gertie also holds an Ugly Sweater contest? LOL.

Well, I really should have known it was a second-chance story because of the tagline, but for some reason I was still as surprised as Erin. LOL

Erin plastered on her brightest smile a she pretended not to recognize him.

Again, LOL. I really identified with Erin because I have been in the grocery store and seen someone I didn't really want to talk to for whatever reason and pretended not to see them.

So, it occurs to me that this story has what storytellers tout as a key element of fiction writing - conflict. Erin doesn't like Jake at all, so they are at odds right from the beginning. This can make it "easy" to write the story because "all" you need to do is show her starting to like/forgive him bit by bit.

I've read two thirds of the story now and see that Erin doesn't actually start to like him. More like she remembers how much she liked him before, which isn't quite the same thing. But it works in this story.

Oh, plot twist and more conflict! Enter Daisy, the girl Erin suspected Jake had a crush on, back in the day. I love it.

"I knew the two of you would hook-up if you moved back!"

FYI, my sons (early twenties) have schooled me on the current meaning of hook-up and that I should be super careful about using it. Apparently, this generation equates a hook-up with meaningless sex.

Ah. Daisy isn't the "bad guy" after all. That was resolved quickly, but then it had to because these stories are so short!

Okay, I've finished the story. She forgives him... Honestly, I'm not feeling it. He was scared of the depth of his feelings. I can see how that would happen, but his apology didn't move me. It felt rushed to me.

Photo credit: Casey Fiesler via Flickr CC license

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Reservation For Two

by Stephanie Dees from the November 26, 2018 issue

Tagline: After becoming an empty nester, Roberta is overcome with loneliness...until she finds a new love in the most unexpected place!

Observations: It's always really difficult for me when a published Woman's World story doesn't work for me. The editors can just ignore stories, whereas I need to analyze them here on the blog whether I like them or not.

Obviously, I start reading with an open mind and as I read, if something good stands out, I mentally make a note. (Sometimes I even write on the page.) Conversely, if I see something that bothers me, I note that as well.

With this story about a third of the way in, the bothersome things (and even some things didn't make sense) were starting to add up. I'll list them here, along with the parts I liked. Unfortunately, there were more negatives than positives.

Nice bits

1. "...her real home had turned quiet and lonely, feeling more like a sieve through which her life was seeping..." I really liked this part. Very poignant and descriptive. You really felt something for Roberta and what she's going through.

2. I liked how Mickey said, "I figured maybe we'd give three square meals a day a try. You know, where I'm not the only one cooking them." LOL. Very cute.

3. I liked the idea of him getting the cruise tickets for the two of them. I might have made sure the reader knew he got separate cabins. LOL

Bothersome bits

1. Second paragraph - she was heading back to her office so she could help field the first wave of lumberjack breakfasts? How is she going to help from her office?

2. I wasn't crazy about the slight melodrama of her state of mind in this sentence:

Roberta was full of pride and joy, but also felt a loss so strong that she wondered if she'd ever be able to use the word "bright" to describe her own future again.

Then I realized this ties into the last line of the story. Yeah. This technique can work well to bring the story full circle, but I think this could have used some finessing. 

3. I think colons have their place, but two in one story seems odd and when I saw the second one, I was pulled out of the story. 

4. This paragraph is kind of a grammatical mess. It has two sentence fragments and the way it's written, Roberta is her own best friend. I also winced at his head being full of curls. "Full" isn't the word I would choose, but that's getting really picky. 

Mickey: her ruggedly handsome partner-in-crime at the Darling. With his head full of chestnut-brown curls shot through with gray, and a lazy warm smile. He always looked out for Roberta--the best friend she'd never known she needed.

5. When their fingers brush and she feels a "jolt of excitement," it seemed to come out of the blue. Again, maybe the word choice wasn't quite right. Or maybe I wasn't prepared as a reader for this level of emotion at the wayward touch.

6. Free? To do what? To spend weekends walking alone on the beach or wandering around on her own?

Walking and wandering are too similar. Better to choose some other example of her solitary life.

7. He tilted his head as her heart hammered out toward him. 

Another word choice thing. I'm fine with her heart hammering, but how does it hammer out toward him?

8. Twice in the story a character "sang" his/her dialogue. I was fine with once, but like the colons, twice was too much.

9. Roberta smiled widely as she jumped up to hug him. 

When did she sit down? I went back and the last mention we have of her physical location was "she headed back to her office."

10. Why did he choose a cruise that was over Christmas? Isn't she going to spend the holidays with her daughters?

So, yeah, this story didn't work for me and I feel really bad about it. I hate to take the joy out of the author's accomplishment by so heavily criticizing it, but this is only my opinion. I also really hate James Patterson's style of writing, and he's one of the most popular novelists alive today, so take what I've said here with a grain of salt.

Photo credit: Kabacchi via Flickr CC license

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Bit of Sugar and Spice

by Diane Crawford from the November 12, 2018 issue

Tagline: After her divorce, Jane worried she faced a lifetime of lonely nights, until Steve's bright smile lit up her heart with new hope.

Observations: I am going to do a stream-of-consciousness analysis this week, which means, I read the story and type thoughts and observations as I go.

I find myself wondering why she wants pumpkins after Halloween and for what purpose, but I peeked to see who the author was, and it's Diane Crawford, an author who has sold quite a few stories to Woman's World. So, I assume my question will be answered eventually.

I adore this vivid description:

As she opened the door, taking a moment to watch the golden sunlight cresting over the cornfield just beyond her, a tall handsome man with gray-streaked hair emerged from the stalks like a vision.

What a beautiful image. As you know, Woman's World stories are only 800 words long, so sometimes you have to skimp on imagery, but Crawford gives us a wonderful image and a character's physical description in one succinct sentence.

And here she skillfully summarizes the heroine's backstory in one sentence:

Since she'd gotten divorced three years earlier, the mornings had become a respite from an endless stream of lonely nights.

She needs fifteen pumpkins? What on earth for? I'm even more intrigued.

Ah, she teaches at the community center, which is exactly the type of good-citizen profession one might expect from a character in a Woman's World romance.

"Budgeting Makes Cents" - clever name for the class!

Aha! Mystery solved. She's teaching her students to make pumpkin bread from real pumpkins.

Here's a bit I'd like to highlight...

On the way home, Jane's stomach fluttered nonstop. It had been years since a man had flirted with her...or since she'd been interested in a man at all. She resolved to return to the farm after class, to thank Steve and Eric with some fresh loaves of pumpkin bread...or, if she was being honest with herself, just to see Steve again.

This paragraph is pivotal in showing Jane's character arc. This is where she makes the realization that she's truly ready to move on past her divorce. Character arcs aren't mandatory in these romance stories, but I believe they add some emotional heft and make the stories feel more complete and satisfying.

In the last paragraph I noticed a little fire theme. The only word that didn't fit in was "bloom."

"I'd love to," Jane said, feeling a warmth bloom in her chest. Suddenly, he took her hand in his. And as his strong fingers closed around hers, Jane felt a new spark of hope blaze in her heart.

Photo Credit via Flickr CC License: Martin Brigden

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Parking Spot Bandit

by Tamara Shaffer from the November 5, 2018 issue

Tagline: After her divorce, Sherry wasn't sure she'd ever find love again...until a parking spot poacher named Phillip stole his way into her heart!

Observations: As I read this story, I was a little surprised that Woman's World approved of Sherry's tantrum. That was pretty in-your-face behavior that, as an author, I may not have risked. However, the rest of the story shows her feeling remorseful and if you think about it, that's how we all grow as people, right? We make mistakes. We do our best to make up for them. It's a good life lesson and a romance story rolled into one! :)

Something else I wanted to point out...we've all had this happen. Someone snags the parking spot we had our eye on. This is actually a great way to come up with story ideas. Just look at what happened during your day. Really! If you can find the type of occurrence that happens to everyone and build a story around it, you can be certain the story will resonate with readers on that level (including the editors). They'll read it and think, "That happens to me all the time," and just like that, they've made a personal connection with your story.

Photo credit: Nicole Danielson via Flickr CC license.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

A Sweet Fortune

by Amy Andrews from the October 29, 2018 issue

Tagline: When a fortune cookie foretold that Callie would meet the man of her dreams on Halloween, she spent years secretly hoping the prediction would come true. But just when she'd given up on ever finding love, she meets a handsome stranger...on All Hallow's Eve. Could he finally be the one?

Observations: Wow. LONGEST TAGLINE EVER. LOL It was like a full paragraph. They're really taking advantage of the double page spread. :)

I actually got a chill at the end of this story, something I wasn't expecting. It was a little eerie, but what to you expect from a Halloween story, right?

Again, for a Harlequin Woman's World story, I think this is indistinguishable from the norm we're used to seeing. Maybe the editorial staff and Harlequin had a meeting or are communicating more. Whatever they're doing, it's making the "5-minute romance" experience more consistent for the reader.

Regarding this story in particular, I liked the "coincidence" of the hero dressing as the thing that the heroine is afraid of. I also liked that he was Itsy Bitsy, instead of a scary spider. Again, talking about characterization, the fact that this man isn't afraid to channel his inner child or about being "manly," shows that he's real life romance material--at least the type of romance material Woman's World story readers are looking for. No tortured, alphas here. No sirree.

Photo credit: Andrew Malone via Flickr CC license

Monday, November 5, 2018

A Sweet Surprise

by Rosemary Hayes from the October 22, 2018 issue

Tagline: Haunted by a past relationship, Laura is afraid she'll never fall in love again...until Joel shows up on her doorstep Halloween night and makes a heartfelt confession.

Observations: Who can resist such a sweet story of a romance that was so long in the making? You can't help but admire the heroine for not wanting to come between her brother and his best friend. That's the type of characterization that works well in a Woman's World story. The editors like to be shown good, positive character traits. In my opinion, this is because we're not only telling romance stories, we're also showing people at their best, to counter all the negativity we see around us these days. Think of our stories as a weekly prescription of happy and keep that in mind as you're writing your own stories.

Photo credit: Scott McLeod via Flickr CC license

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Hearts Lost and Found

by Jill Weatherholt from the October 15, 2018 issue

Tagline: Just when Charles fears he'll never be able to fall in love again, he meets Melanie in an unlikely place...and she changes everything.

Observations: Well, this was a Harlequin story and very well done. I may start regularly analyzing them. I didn't even realize it was an HQ story until I saw the book cover at the end. I like that it's not so "in your face."

Unfortunately, that means less stories for us freelancers, or perhaps more opportunity to sell to Harlequin, if they like the type of Woman's World stories we write...? Glass half full and so on.

So I really cannot find anything in this story that does not jibe with the regular Woman's World stories. It has the right tone, the right kind of plot, the touch of nostalgia/tradition that we have come to associate with the magazine. Even the ending was spot on.

I did laugh at this line:

"Thank you both for rescuing me," she said, her green eyes sparkling up at Charles. "I probably would have gotten lost in there and ended up looking like one of the scarecrows..."


Photo credit: Cynthia Collins via Flickr CC license.