Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Catch a Falling Star

by Dana Stephens from the June 27, 2011 issue

Tagline: Jenny didn't realize it at first, but her wish had come true before she even spotted a falling star.

In a Nutshell: Jenny goes to the lake with her sister and brother-in-law. After an encounter with several yellow jackets, she takes an unexpected spill into the lake. Jack "rescues" her. To thank him, she invites him to dinner, and when she wishes on a falling star, one year later her wish comes true at her wedding to Jack.

Observations: Jenny leaned over the front seat of the Jeep. "Annie," she said to her sister, "are you feeling okay?"

"You and Jack," Annie said, elbowing her husband sitting in the driver's seat, "are like two worrywarts. The baby isn't due for another month--I'm fine, really."

I got off to a rocky start with this story. It might just be me, but I had trouble figuring out if Jack was Annie or Jenny's husband. I read it just now and could see that he was Annie's, but I can easily switch mindsets and get confused again, thinking he could be Jenny's. The pronoun "her" is a tad bit ambiguous, and the names are similar--two syllables with n's and a long e at the end... :)

Also, I wondered in the back of my mind about how smart it was to go somewhere remote if Annie's only a month away from delivery. However, I'm very detail oriented and most readers probably wouldn't think like I do.

However, I did like the yellow-jacket idea and the man to the rescue plot, and Dylan's joke really made me laugh. They're talking about fishing in the lake...

"Are they biting? We brought a couple of rods." That's Jenny talking.

"The only thing I've pulled out of the water so far is you," he said, his blue eyes twinkling.


Interesting twist in this story in that the circularity/motif thingy I'm always talking about was "out of order" in that the first mention of the wishing on a star was in the second to last paragraph instead of near the beginning of the story. Also, we see that they get married, which is always nice, but hard to do in these short stories.

Lastly, I noticed Jenny being proactive in that she searches for a falling star to wish on. Smart girl! Give Fate a nudge when necessary. :)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Life's Bare Necessities

by Sherri Mostaghni from the June 20, 2011 issue

Tagline: Kristin and Darren shared a passion for coffee, chocolate, cute babies--and who knew what else?

In a Nutshell: Kristin likes Darren, the guy working at the coffee shop. One day after she'd already ordered, she gets a phone call. Her sister is having her baby! A week later, she goes to the cafe and Darren asks her out.

Teaching Moment: Check out the structure of this story: girl has crush on boy, something not too serious happens to drive them apart, girl talks to boy, boy asks her out. :) This is a good structure to follow. Choose the setting where the girl has the crush. Think of the thing that happens. Then put them back together and let the scene flesh itself out. If you can work in a motif, like the "life's bare necessities" that Mostaghni came up with, all the better.

My Favorite Part: "I noticed the name on your credit card the first time you came into the shop." He paused. "Does that sound too stalkerish?"

He's cute, isn't he? I also noticed that he took note of her name the first time he met her, which meant he liked her right away.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Something Just Clicked

by Maureen McDonald from the June 6, 2011 issue

Tagline: Brent didn't look like the man of Deb's dreams, but appearances can be deceiving...

In A Nutshell: After being "bribed" with a fancy coffee drink, Deb agrees to go on a blind date. The guy turns out to be charming.

Observations: I found the characterization in this story to be outstanding. It starts with the matchmaking friend, Helen. I loved how insidiously clever it was to remove the lid from the coffee to let the aroma do its dirty work. I loved the banter between the friends. You could see how comfortable they were with each other.

Brent seemed real and down to earth. He seems like a great father and a fun guy.

Then, Deb, the heroine, had several admirable qualities. She was understanding of Brent's phone problem until the third time. We didn't see her irritation, but I sure felt it. I've been in that situation with my own husband and found it annoying! She was accepting that Brent wasn't the handsomest guy on the planet, but instead was more impressed by his sense of humor and intelligence. At the end of the story, you also see she takes the opportunity to thank her friend and gratitude is always a plus to me, in real life and in fiction.

I especially liked the circularity motif of the coffee drink. Since I work at Starbucks, I enjoyed McDonald's creative drink names..."vanilla mocha latte something-or-other--with lots of cinnamon" and "cinnamon-cappa-frappa-whatever." LMAO!

Teaching Point: Notice the slick transition between the first scene between Deb and Helen and the date:

Halfway through the entree, Deb had to agree with Helen's assessment of Brent.

Boom. We segue very smartly to the next scene and move the plot forward at the same time. Two birds with one stone, something to strive for when you have such a short word count. We never see the two main characters actually meet, shake hands, etc. We just zip forward in time to the part of the date that matters.

Monday, June 13, 2011

"The Remedy"

by Colette Shannon from the May 30, 2011 issue

NOTE TO MY FOLLOWERS: From now on, when a story is written by an author whose work I blogged about before, I'm going to include a link to their "author page," so you can see all the Woman's World stories by that author that I've analyzed.

Also, I'm trying to play a little catch-up, since I fell behind, so you'll be seeing more than one analysis a week for a bit. :)

Tagline: Ellen had no intention of opening her heart again. Ever. Then her aunt introduced her to Logan...

In A Nutshell: After her heart is broken, Ellen's Aunt Phoebe lures new neighbor, Logan, to dinner on the same night Ellen just happens to always come. Ellen rebuffs him at first, but after a heart-to-heart with Aunt Phoebe, realizes she should take a chance on love.

Teaching Points: There is often a problem to be solved in Woman's World stories. For instance in the story "What a Guy!" a woman had a raccoon going bananas inside her house and the hero helped her get the critter out. In last week's story, the hero needed a cat sitter. Here in this story, there was a still a problem, but it was an emotional one that the aunt helped her solve, not the hero. But this is typical in a "moving on" story.

Moving on stories show how the hero or heroine is struggling with leaving behind a heartbreak of some kind. Sometimes it's being jilted. Sometimes the spouse passed away. Sometimes it's divorce. Moving on stories focus on one character's emotional journey. The amount of focus on the emotional journey vs. the romance differs depending on the story. "The Remedy" was about 50-50. In "Sometimes the Stars Align," there wasn't that much emotional journey stuff. It was more of an "old flame" story than a moving-on story.
I think that Woman's World likes these types of stories, because who among us haven't suffered through heartbreak? Moving on stories can encourage us to not give up hope and make us feel like, "Well, if she did it, so can I." I know I'm repeating myself when I say that Woman's World likes to promote positive thinking, but it's true. Just pick up one issue and you'll see what I mean. Keep that in mind as you write stories for them.

Observation: One thing that didn't quite work for me in this story was the circularity/motif. If you follow my blog, you'll probably be familiar with the technique of establishing a motif in the beginning of the story (and also sometimes in the title, as with this story) and then wrapping up with it at the end. In "The Remedy," here's that first mention, the first two sentences in the story:

I felt sure my broken heart would never be whole again. But Aunt Phoebe, my mom's older sister, apparently thought she had a magic remedy.

So we get the feeling that Aunt Phoebe has a master plan or at least an old-fashioned solution to getting over a broken heart.

At the end we have:

I stepped inside, he closed the door, and I realized Aunt Phoebe's remedy was already working its magic.

This beginning and ending mention of "the remedy" would have been great if I had been able to identify what that remedy was! LOL I feel a little stupid because the only remedy I could see was that Aunt Phoebe told her the story of her own heartache and how it had turned out wonderfully when all was said and done. But Aunt Phoebe obviously would have preferred not to have the talk at all and seen Ellen paired up right after dinner. The talk only happened because Ellen got cold feet. So that couldn't have been the remedy.

Okay, thinking about it harder, maybe the remedy was just to do it--meet a new man. Phoebe obviously set the dinner up ahead of time. But then that doesn't jive with the last sentence, because the remedy wasn't meeting Logan, it was the heart-to-heart Ellen and Phoebe had.

Either way, I see a problem. However, like I always say, I'm not an editor at Woman's World and I sometimes don't understand their publishing/editing choices. Clearly, they liked the story and the fact that this bothered me but not them, just goes to prove how subjective this business is.

Coming Soon: As I think back about other moving on stories, I'm trying to remember if there are other problems, besides divorce, death or a break up. I'm going to do some research and get back to you on that.

Artwork: Peter Worlsey's "Two Women Talking" 2010.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Must Love Cats

by Jan Romes from the May 23, 2011 issue

Tagline: Vanessa had just about given up on ever finding her one true love--until the day she met Luke

In a Nutshell: Vanessa waits tables and finds out the handsome guy in the booth needs a cat-sitter a couple of times a week while he's out of town on business. Over the course of a few weeks, they get to know each other and eventually he asks her out for dinner.

Observations: This was a tightly written story, one in which you could really believe they had a future together. One reason is that the story occurred over a month, and after Romes really showed you that they hit it off, she continued to build on that initial connection until at the end they were ready to get even more serious. She also had that circularity thing going with the pot-lid theme, which was cute.

Also, notice the casual tone and you got the feeling you were really in Vanessa's head. The first paragraph is a good example:

Vanessa Oliver smiled as she remembered the conversation with her friend. "Vanessa," Ginnie had said, "remember: for every pot there's a lid." Doubtful. Every lid she'd met lately didn't fit. Self-absorbed lids. Lids that wanted to get to first base on the first date. But mostly, nothing-in-common lids. She was a square pot. They were round lids.

The short, incomplete sentences give the impression that these are her thoughts. (They also help emphasize each undesirable quality and convey her annoyance/resignation at the same time.) Also, as a bonus, if you do it well, it cuts down on your word count! LOL

There was no black moment, but I didn't miss it. Well, actually I guess I did miss it because I noticed it's absence, but it didn't bother me. LOL

Great story from an author I don't recall reading before.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"Make A Wish!"

by April Knight from the May 16, 2011 issue

Tagline: Marley never imagined her birthday wish would actually come true--but then she met Bob, er, Josh...

In A Nutshell: Celebrating her birthday with her friend, Marley wishes for a man. Obligingly, her friend has already arranged a blind date with Bob. Unfortunately, the sketchy description of Bob leads her to approach the wrong guy, twice! The second guy, Josh, offers to help her identify the real Bob. Fortunately, Bob never arrives and Josh asks Marley out for dinner instead.

Teaching Points: When writing these stories, you actually have to make the reader AND the heroine fall in love with the hero, so make sure your story has a place, or places, where you show the hero demonstrating heroic behavior in some way. He can be thoughtful, kind, helpful, romantic, funny, brave, or any combination thereof. This can be shown in action or in dialogue.

In "Make A Wish!" here's where I fell in love with Josh:

"I'm a high school science teacher and a lonely bachelor--except sometimes I pretend I'm a knight in shining armor who rescues beautiful damsels in distress."

Here's Marley's equally funny reply:

"I work in a hobby is wandering around coffee shops looking for men wearing blue shirts."

Which brings me to another point. Humor is always welcome in a Woman's World story. The goal of their magazine is to improve women's lives and if you ask me, laughter is one of the easiest ways to accomplish that. Another really funny part was in the beginning of the story:

"I wish I would meet a wonderful man, fall in love and be married by my next birthday!"

"That's a lot to ask from one candle."

So, those are the lessons to be learned from this week's story: make your hero heroic and make the reader laugh.