Friday, October 22, 2010

"The Art of Love"

by Mary Ann Joyce from the October 18, 2010 issue

In a Nutshell: Ben's 12 year old son, Cooper, loves his new art teacher, Miss Penney. At the art show, Ben, who has been a widow for four years, hits it off with the art teacher.

Observations: I usually tell people to avoid too much sadness in their stories. Woman's World shies away from negativity. Their mission is to lift the spirits. So when I read the following paragraph in this story, I blinked in surprise.

When his wife died four years earlier, Ben had been devastated. If it hadn't been for Cooper, he'd probably never have left the house once he got home from work. But being a single parent forced him out--and he was glad for that. Cooper grew, time passed. They managed.

I thought, whoa. That's verging on no-no territory. However, if you really look at it, it's just a very factual telling of his history, very succinct and well done.

When I then got to the part where Cooper shows his dad the book he made illustrating a story his late mom had written, I got a little teary. I hadn't seen that coming.

Joyce doesn't let you wallow too long in that moment, though. She snaps you right back into the action as Cooper excitedly calls to Miss Penney, and when Ben invites her to Taco Night at their house, she accepts. So, although the story briefly visited a sad place, most of it was very upbeat and active. Like they say on TV, though, don't attempt this at home. I mean, it's a tricky thing to do and don't be surprised if you try it and get rejected. If I'd written this story, I'd have been completely prepared for rejection.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"A Fresh Coat of Paint"

by Karen Nikula from the October 11, 2010 issue

Tagline: The sweet little old lady next door knew that Sara needed more than home improvements to make a fresh start.

In a Nutshell: After just moving into a new house, Sara gets advice from a neighbor about where to find a good painter. She investigates and hits it off with the painter, who, coincidentally enough, is the neighbor's nephew.

Observations: People tell me all the time about how Woman's World stories often tell more than show, which is the opposite of what longer fiction requires, and they worry that they're compromising their literary integrity by doing that. The truth is, a professional writer, a writer who wants to sell, will write what the publisher and that publication demand. It's difficult to provide a reader with a satisfying, positive romantic experience in 800 words, and no matter how much you might want to channel your inner Hemingway or Steinbeck, the brevity of Woman's World stories won't allow you to. As a result, telling, not showing, will be something you have to give yourself permission to do.

Here's a breakdown of showing vs. telling in this week's story.
This story - The first paragraph summarizes Sara's backstory and a description of her current situation.
A novel would probably have shown Sara moving in, or examining the walls of her new house with distaste, making the decision to repaint.

This story - You get a little "flashback" where Sara remembers meeting Ellie and Ellie giving her Barry's name as a painter.
A novel probably would have shown Sara meeting Ellie.

This story - After Barry and Sara have a very brief conversation about what she does for fun, you get a summary of the rest of their encounter.If you're writing a first meet story, a conversation like this one is about all you can do to show the relationship developing.
A novel would have shown you the entire conversation so you could get a better grip on Sara and Barry's personalities and how they connect. 
In summary, in a Woman's World story, be prepared to tell as much as you show.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

"A Change in the Weather"

by Sheila Llanas from the October 4, 2010 issue

Tagline: The thunderstorm took Sandy and Tom by surprise--and so did the romance that followed...

In a Nutshell: Sandy and Tom go out on a first date. Tom is shy and nervous through dinner. The rest of the date is not ideal, and yet they end up getting married one year later.

Observations: The majority of Woman's World stories tell what happens leading up to that first date. This one took up after that first meet and described the date itself instead. What a refreshing change.

Another difference is that the "black moment," when you worry that things aren't going to work out, occurs in the first third of the story, instead of near the end.

She wondered if this would be a typical first date: Tom would drop her off, tell her he'd call. She'd crawl into bed with a good book and never hear from him again.

I thought the bib wedding favor idea was cute, and I always love a wedding epilogue.

However, this story didn't really grab me. I think it's because Tom didn't appeal to me. I think his bumbling was supposed to be endearing, but he came across as a little too unassuming and awkward. Sandy is a better woman than I am, clearly!