Thursday, September 29, 2011

Stranger at the Door

by Mary Haupt from the September 19, 2011 issue

Tagline: The thing was, Chelly realized, her dream man had walked through the door and claimed her heart a long time ago...

In A Nutshell: Chelly dreams of a stranger who will walk into the general store she works at and sweep her off her feet. A stranger does come in, but he's rude. Eventually, she realizes that the boy she's known since first grade, who joined the National Guard and recently returned, is her true love.

Observations: I loved this story. Sure, it was your classic "shared past/old flame" plot, but the scope of it felt larger than 800 words. Let's analyze how the author was able to accomplish this.

You may have heard the phrase "show, don't tell." I believe this is because active scenes feel more immediate and as readers, we feel more fully immersed in what is happening. However, Woman's World stories don't leave us the room to show too much. So, telling becomes necessary. Haupt has done a masterful job of telling here, as you'll see.

She starts out describing Chelly's dream of a stranger coming to the store and announcing he was going to "take her away from all this." This is in narrative. We don't actually "see" this happening, like on a stage. We are told this by the narrator. (And this story does seem to be told from an omniscient point of view.)

Tommy, her co-worker, makes a pragmatic comment about that dream, a comment that made me laugh. I liked Tommy right away. This comment does more than make you laugh, though. It transitions the reader to the past where you find out that Tommy and Chelly have known each other since first grade and he's always had a thing for her, but has also always known that Chelly "was looking for something different, something more exciting."

Next, we transition back to the present and get the info about Tommy's choice to move on.

What follows is a middle of the story in which it appears as if Chelly's dream has finally come true. As I mentioned before, up until now the story was all narrative. It's only now that we are shown a scene, described as it happens. A handsome stranger comes into the store, but he's unfriendly and rude. She is disappointed. end of scene.

We switch back to narrative in which we cover a good amount of time, "told,  not shown." Tommy and Chelly exchange some letters, but Tommy eventually stops wriitng.

After that brief "telling," we get to another in-the-moment scene, deftly described by Haupt in a way that I found super romantic.

Then one rainy afternoon, while Chelly was restocking the shelves, someone came through the front door. The man wiped his boots on the mat and turned down the collar of his raincoat.


See what I mean? If this had been a movie, the women in the audience would have been heaving a collective sigh.

They greet each other. Chelly asks why he stopped writing, and Tommy shows how noble he is:

"I figured that if a handsome stranger ever showed up to take you away from all this, I shouldn't stand in your way."

Yup. That's when I decide if Chelly doesn't wake up and smell the coffee, she doesn't deserve him. But, of course, she does. Haupt even neatly recycles the pragmatic comment about the dream here at the end, but it's so subtle, you almost don't notice it.

This, my friends, is how it's done.

(Thanks to Mary Ann, Lorraine, and Deb for helping (or offering) to get me a copy of this story after I'd lost it.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

It's Getting to be a Habit...

Once again, I have a missing issue. This time I actually had the story. I had marked it up with notes and it has disappeared. I am going to look at work this afternoon and see if I left it there. Stay tuned...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Leave It To Lucy

by Mary Ann Joyce from the September 12, 2011 issue

Tagline: After her crushing breakup,  Erin swore she was through with love. Fortunately, her best friend knew better...

In A Nutshell: Erin is coming off a bad breakup. Her friend gives her a job at her vintage clothing store and sets her up with an artist who needs her help. They hit it off.

Observations: Woman's World loves stories that have a sort of updated Normal Rockwellian tone, and I feel that this story delivered that, especially with a vintage clothing store as the setting.

It is your classic matchmaker story but with a little bit more. Even though Joyce didn't spend a lot of time focusing on the heartache Erin must have endured, this felt like a "moving on" story as well because of the ending:

"So, how do you feel about having dinner with me this weekend?" Blake asks, warming up his smile.

"I feel happy," I say. And for the first time in a while, I really am.

And I haven't mentioned black moments in a while, but I noticed that this story doesn't have one. If you are familiar with basic story structure, usually there is a climactic moment, but Woman's World stories often fly in the face of this tradition. Personally, I always try to include a moment where the reader is worried, but the editors don't seem to mind if things sail along without any bumps in the road, to mix metaphors. So, keep that in mind when you're writing your own stories. :)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Price Change

I just wanted to tell everyone that I'm going to be raising the price of my workshop to $25 on November 1, so if you were thinking about taking it, you might want to do it before the price goes up. :)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

All On Our Own

by M.L. Hickerson from the September 5, 2011 issue

Tagline: When Julia met Matt, everything fell into place--it just took them both a little while to recognize it.

In A Nutshell: Julia is marking items off her "Twenties List," things she wants to accomplish before she turns thirty. Matt encourages and calms her before she bungee jumps and even promises to help her learn to tango and drive a stick shift. She, in return, teaches him how to make ravioli by hand.

Observations: I thought this idea was fresh and I kick myself that I didn't think of it. I mean, I saw "The Bucket List" movie! Doh! Although I did wonder why someone would want to bungee jump if they were that terrified of it...

What I found more problematic was the fact that because Matt had chaperoned high school dances, of course, he could tango. I'm not sure where in the United States high schoolers tango or even play tango music at their dances, but I found that implausible. However, I managed to forgive that and still enjoy the story.

I liked how Hickerson dropped that mysterious hint about the last goal on Julia's list. When I read "...she realized she'd already mentally crossed off the last goal on her list," I thought, "Hmm, I wonder what it is..." The story moved along right after that to her 30th birthday party, so I didn't "have time" to ponder it. As a result, the ending was great because I hadn't already figured out her last goal was to fall in love.

On a side note, I found it interesting that you don't learn the hero's name until a third of the way through the story. And I didn't quite understand the title of the story. Maybe one of you can explain it's significance to me. :)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Sounds Like Love

by Lisa Weaver from the August 22, 2011 issue

Tagline: Callie never believed the old family legend about the love bells--until they chimed for her...

NOTE: So here's the August 22 issue. Don't know how the August 29 issue could have arrived before this one, but the ways of the post office are a mystery to me.

In A Nutshell: When picking up blueprints for her grandparents' greenhouse, Callie meets a nice man on the elevator. At a family dinner later, it turns out he's the architect of the greenhouse and was invited to dessert.

Observations: In my online class, I give my students a list of common plotlines that I've seen in Woman's World magazine. One of the categories is "Proving a Saying or a Loved One's Advice," and this story loosely qualifies, except it's not a saying, like "Opposites attract..." or advice, like "The way to land a man is to do little things for him." This time it's something that happens to the heroine. In this case, it's hearing bells.

What I thought was cute was the fact that Weaver kept tricking you into thinking Callie has heard the bells. First, it's the man's cellphone. Ah, you think, that's him. But then he and Callie part when the elevator takes him to his floor. Darn.

But you are a savvy reader. You know that it's boy meets girl, boy loses girl, so you keep hoping.

At her grandparents' house, she hears the doorbell when he arrives and you think to yourself, Yes! Also, he brings a set of wind chimes with him, and you think--okay, pow, it's gonna be a double whammy. But then, the chimes don't ring. Finally, they're on a date a few days later and Callie does hear bells--bells that no one hears but her and you get that warm happy feeling that they're going to be walking down the aisle very soon.