Thursday, July 30, 2015

Fourth of July Fireworks

by Lisa Weaver from the July 6, 2015 issue

Tagline: When Amy's van broke down on the way to the parade, help arrived in the handsome form of Fireman Dave...

Observations: I'm so short on time. I have a deadline looming and I'm a little scared I won't make it. So I'm going to do a stream of consciousness critique.

The first thing I notice is that this is first person, present tense. Not my favorite, but only because I have to get my brain into that groove.

The first few paragraphs are chock-full of information and action. Every single word is necessary and this is something you're forced to learn how to do in a Woman's World story. Eight hundred words isn't much.

The car breaks down. This is a common enough trope in Woman's World stories.

Ah, one of her charges, Lila, knows Fireman Dave. I wonder why.

Oh, he takes his shirt off? Woot! That usually doesn't happen. I love Amy's reaction of trying not to stare, but failing.

Okay, Lila's kitten must have been up a tree and Dave rescued her.

Fast forward to the parade...the moment you see Amy jump to the conclusion that Dave is married, you know that she's wrong. However, it's always fun to see the explanations and in this story it was a little out of the box. I've never seen a dog be mistaken for the wife. Weaver also explains why he's driving a total soccer mom car.

The ending fell a little bit flat for me.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Like a Rainbow

by Nell Musolf from the June 29, 2015 issue

Tagline: Megan was drawn to the man she'd just met in the paint store. It was something about the color of his eyes...

Observations:  Nell Musolf is an "old hand" at Woman's World stories and she employs a couple of devices that we see all the time.

1.  The eccentric, lovable relative appears often in Woman's World stories. Here it's Aunt Zelda. The relative can have an active part in the story, or as in this one, she's just someone the protagonist thinks about.

2. The eccentric, lovable relative usually has some bit of wisdom that he/she loves to say like "Keep your eyes--and your options--open." This bit of advice always proves to be true.

I liked how the colors ran all through the story. It was a nice motif.

Photo credit: By Visitor7 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, July 6, 2015

Unforgettable

by Rosemary Hayes from the June 22, 2015 issue

Tagline: Callie would never forget the day she lost her cellphone...and found love

Observations: Okay, this story gave me a little ripple of happiness at the base of my neck. Sometimes it's the goosebumps on the arm, but this time it was the neck.

I wanted to point out a story device I'm going to call bookending. We've talked about it before. I've also called it coming full circle. It's where you mention something at the beginning of the story and then mention it again at the end. What's cool about this example is how Hayes bookended using POV as well.

At the beginning of the story, the narrator Callie talks about special dates that stick in our minds. It's something everyone experiences and it helps us feel a connection with the storyteller. In this little section, we're a bit removed, as is the narrator.

Then Hayes eases into the real story, introducing it with that ellipsis and then going into a deeper POV so that we are Callie on the day she lost her cell phone and fell in love with the man who found it. We happily live the story of how they met, smiling and hoping that romance will win the day.

And then, boom, Hayes states a date: June 24. And just like that, we're zipped back out of the story and looking at the events from a distance again because Callie has resumed her role as narrator. She summarizes what happened with Ethan after that first meeting in the cafe, and it works. We don't need to be Callie any more because now we're like friends and she just finished telling the story of how she met the love of her life.

It's a nice little device to have in your writer's toolbox.

Clever/funny lines:

1. My stomach fluttered. I wasn't sure if it was because of his friendly laugh or because I had found a kindred "loser."

2. "I'm in the cafe across the street, actually. I'll be the person with two phones on the table."

Photo credit: SGT Christopher M. Gaylord, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The One For Me

by Melody Murray from the June 15, 2015 issue

Tagline: Matchmaker Ellie was so busy playing cupid for others, she never considered her own love life!

Observations: Okay, maybe I'm hormonal, but this one made me get a little misty.

This was a misunderstanding trope, done very very well.

One of the things that stood out for me was, at the beginning of the story, I wasn't quite sure who the heroine was going to be. Was it going to be the matchmaker herself, or her cousin? I wasn't certain for a really long time. It wasn't until Reggie said, "It's just that I'm already interested in someone else," that I was sure the story was really about Ellie the matchmaker. That was a full halfway into the story that I was kept guessing.

I also thought Ellie's character was terrific. She was so happy and optimistic -- a little crusader for true love. How can you not like someone like that? Here's a line that I identified with:

"Because, really, she's nothing like me. She's prettier and...and shorter. You'd like her." Ellie was quite tall for a woman and had always wished she were more like her cute, petite cousin.

Who among us hasn't wished she were shorter or taller or had better hair or whatever? We all have insecurities and when the author shares the character's insecurities with the reader, it helps us feel closer to that character. And here's an even stronger example of that:

"I'm pretty sure she doesn't see me as someone she wants to date." His dark eyes looked sad.

OMG. That totally reeled me in. I felt so bad for Reggie. From that point on, I'm totally rooting for him, wanting Ellie to see the light and praying that deep down she's interested, but wasn't aware. However, I did still have a niggling
doubt. Reggie was so passive. He was just ready to accept that she wasn't interested, but then the author redeems him when he comes right out and says he's interested in her.

The only thing that bugged me was Reggie holding his hand out to her at the end. That pinged on my Corny Radar a little bit. But I still got a little teary-eyed.

Takeaway: Share your character's insecurities to help the reader identify with them.

Photo note: There were no images for a matchmaker that I could find, but I remember Jane Austen's novel about a matchmaker which was made into a wonderful movie. If you've never seen Emma, with Gwenyth Paltrow, you need to rent it. It's terrific.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Very Good Plot

by Laurel Winter from the June 8, 2015 issue

Tagline: Marie realized that a garden was a very nice place for love to grow!

Observations: I adored this story for so many reasons. It was so very skillfully written and I'll point out what impressed me.

In the beginning, we get a good feel for who Marie is. Right off the bat, we see her attraction to the man who parked next to her. We find out she has a small balcony that is too small for a garden planter, but big enough for the table where she would like to entertain. She likes to garden.

Then we see the guy again. We see he's polite, and that helps the reader like him as a potential mate for the heroine.

He waved her toward the garden gate. "You first," he said. "I have to figure out where I'm going."

We find out about the mix-up and there is some minor tension while we wonder how they'll fix the solution and then the guy suggests they share the garden plot. Is he interested? Maybe! We read on to find out.

For a little while we see them bonding and forming a connection through a thing they both like to do and when the day is over, we see them commit to the next day as a couple would, negotiating...

"Are you coming tomorrow?" she asked. "I mean, if we want to work together..."

"I'd like that," he said. "Around nine or ten?"

"Eight-thirty might be better," she said. "A good start before it gets too hot."

"You're right.," Greg agreed.

He offers to bring her coffee and asks how she likes it, so he's thoughtful and considerate, another plus.

Then, the best part is the ending. After all the groundwork has been laid for Greg and Marie's blooming (sorry about the pun) romance, the author refers back to the three goals Marie had thought about at the beginning of the story--having dirt under her fingernails, tomatoes in her future, and the possibility of having a friend over to share a drink on her tiny balcony. BOOM. That's how it's done, ladies and gentlemen.

Photo credit: Stacy via Flickr Creative Commons

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Johnny's Back

by Deanna Scott from the June 1, 2015 issue

Tagline: All through high school, Natalie had had a crush on her bad-boy neighbor. Now she was all grown up...and the bad boy was back!

Observations: I liked most of this story. There was a lot of backstory, but it didn't bug me. I like the old flame trope. I liked how Natalie talked to her dog. I liked how she was contemplating making a first move. I liked how they caught up with each other. But, for me, I didn't sense much attraction from him and when he finally asked her out? It should have felt inevitable, but instead, it felt awkward.

The only reason I can think of to explain this is this line:

"It's taken me more than 10 years to get up the nerve to ask, but do you think I could talk you out from behind that door and into taking a walk with me?"

Nothing in the story made me think he'd been holding a torch for her all this time. All the attraction was one sided. Yes, we were in her point of view, but it's still possible to show Johnny's interest through his dialogue and body language.

When he talked about his mom sending him her stories, that would have been a great place for him to--not talk about how his mom was proud of her--but what his response to them was. What did he think of them?

I also felt Johnny's character was too flip. Perhaps this was because so much had been made of his bad boy reputation. Or perhaps it's just that lack of feeling. He's described as being nonchalant at one point, but I think it went beyond that one line.

Disclaimer: I'm only one person. This is my opinion and it may differ from yours. It certainly differed from the editor's, since Woman's World thought enough of it to buy it.

Photo credit: Hannes Grobe via Wikimedia Commons License

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Just the Two of Us

by Tracy Wilson-Burns from the May 25, 2015 issue

Tagline: For Karen, the idea of a romantic getaway with Max was just a beautiful fantasy.

Observations: I adored this story. It was so refreshing to see something that wasn't a first meet. I don't think I can fault Woman's World for that, because I'll be they don't get too many stores that are not first meets.

Today I want to talk about the old adage, "Write what you know."

For the most part, I think that adage is mostly a bunch of baloney. I haven't worn ice skates for decades and I certainly never played hockey when I did have them on. I've never been a man either. However, I do write hockey romances and about half the chapters are in the man's point of view. Further, authors who write murder mysteries are most likely not writing from real life experience. Just because you are not familiar with something doesn't mean you can't write about it.

All you need to do is research. When you write, you make a promise to the reader that they will be able to suspend their disbelief for the amount of time it takes to read your story. When you break that trust with inaccuracies and implausibility, you break that trust and make readers angry or frustrated. I'm sure you know what I mean. You've most likely been on the other side of that equation.

Sometimes when you read a story, something about it doesn't seem quite right, but you may not be able to put your finger on it. That something might be a lack of authenticity which might or might not stem from a lack of research. I read hockey romances by authors who do not appear to be real fans. They have some of the lingo, but the way they use it isn't authentic.

I did not find that in this story. In fact, I wanted to point out how true to life those two little girls were. Wilson-Burns either has kids herself or is apt at observing kids and transferring that to the page. My guess is that she's a mom herself, because Karen reacted like a real mom.

The girls' dialogue was spot on. The closed door argument was perfectly rendered with the em dashes. (I was actually in awe of that. Sometimes you picture something in your head and it proves very difficult to communicate in words, but Wilson-Burns did it beautifully here.) The fact that the 10-year-old said something and the 8-year-old echoed it...so true to life.

This kind of authenticity sparkles and I guarantee that every single mom who read this story was nodding her head and remembering moments like these in her own life and that kind of identification draws the reader in and makes her almost part of the story. It's invaluable and something you should strive for.

Photo credit: Forest & Kim Starr [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons