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

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Scent of Lilacs

by Karen M. Leet from the May 18, 2015 issue

Tagline: Rona had noticed the handsome new tenant in her apartment building. One spring day, something made him notice Rona too!

Observations: If you'll pardon the horrible pun, this story was blooming with romance!

When I talk about romance in Woman's World stories, I am usually referring to how you show the romance developing between the hero and heroine. We all want to believe that the couple will ride into the sunset at the end of the story (or sometime farther in the future) and it's hard to believe that if the author hasn't done a good job of building that foundation. In my first Beyond the Basics class this is one of the first essential story elements I show you how to create.

But in this case, I'm talking about the romantic gesture at the end of the story that made me inhale with surprise and delight. Giving a woman flowers is not particularly inspired, even if it is inherently romantic. However, Leet injected thoughtfulness into the gesture. The hero didn't give her any old bunch of random flowers. He gave her lilacs, her favorite scent, the flower mentioned in the poem they share-quoted.

There's a lesson to be learned here. You can have a romantic gesture in your story, like a candlelit dinner. That's perfectly fine. But if you want to catapult it into "OMG, that's so romantic!" territory, see if you can bring in an element that you mentioned earlier in the story, like Leet did. Or think about some other way that gesture can be personalized to fit your characters and their situation.

Photo credit: Sharon & Nikki McCutcheon via Flickr Creative Commons

Thursday, May 28, 2015

In the Market for Love

by M.L. Hickerson from the May 11, 2015 issue

Tagline: Nick might not have a fondness for vegetables, but there was something--or-someone--that kept him coming back to the produce stand...

Observations: I found it interesting to find a common romance novel trope in this 800 word story. There have probably been a ton of other stories this trope has appeared in, but this is the first time I've ever noticed it. Sometimes I mentally separate Woman's World romances from full-length romance novels; they're sort of like apples and oranges.

What trope might I be thinking of? It's a trope that promotes lovely conflict--something all novels need, but is not really mandatory in a Woman's World story. And the conflict is all internal.

Look back and see if you can find it.

Did you figure it out? The trope is The Secret. When one of the protagonists has a secret, it always begs to be told. The character is always worrying about it and wondering when it should be revealed. (The author wonders this too. LOL) We always worry about the reaction of the other character when the truth finally comes out.

In this story, Nick's secret was that he had no idea what to do with all those vegetables he'd been buying. (I did find myself wondering what he was doing at a farmer's market if he didn't like veggies, but it didn't stop me from enjoying the story.)

I liked that Nick ended up confessing. (Good boy. Honesty is the best policy.) I loved how their relationship grew slowly and steadily, so that by the end when you got that little plot twist, you totally believed that they could have gotten married and had a little girl, five years later.

And look at the last line.

Investing in the market had made Nick a very rich man.

There's another twist. Instead of using the word "market" like she (he?) had been, Hickerson suggested that Nick had invested in a type of stock market, and I thought it was very clever and different.

Photo credit: Infrogmation of New Orleans via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, May 22, 2015

Free as a Bird

by Nell Musolf from the April 13, 2015 issue

Tagline: When Karen and Tom worked together, they'd been just good friends. Could they be something more now?

Observations: I wanted to talk about characterization with this story, because I really thought the heroine was well done. One of the things about Woman's World stories--and really all romances, if you think about it--is how we can live vicariously through the heroines. We love reading these stories because it makes us feel as if we are in love too, or about to fall in love.

A good way to help that along is to make the heroine likable. Give her qualities that we can identify with, that make us say, "Hey, I'm like that too!" So with this story, I"m going to look at ways that Musolf did that.

1. Karen has a crush on her old boss. Who among us hasn't had a crush on someone we either weren't free to pursue and/or thought was out of our league? Anyone? Bueller? We automatically feel for her because we've been in her shoes.

2. "I took a moment to smooth my hair and make sure no blueberry muffin crumbs decorated the front of my sweater." Again, this is something we've all lived through, right? Where we're thinking, "Oh, please, let there not be something in my teeth" etc. This little moment also adds some tension for us.

3. Likability is increased when we respect the character and admire decisions he/she makes, like both of them staying professional for ten years, when they apparently both had feelings for each other.

4. And when Karen took action...that was great too.  Tom says:

"My problem is I don't like eating out alone." 

Our eyes met over the tops of our coffee cups and my heart did the thumping thing again. "You aren't seeing anyone?" 

That was Karen, taking a step forward. And here again is another step. Tom says he should try taking out someone like her and Karen says:

""Someone like me? How about me?"

That is ballsy! Again, I admire her bravery. I think Karen was a terrific character.

Photo credit: Jazzbobrown, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons