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.)


Mary Haupt said...

Many thanks for your kind remarks. This was my first attempt at writing for Woman's World.

Kate Willoughby said...

I'm flabbergasted. You've only submitted one story to Woman's World, and they accepted it? Wow. Congratulations. It's no surprise to me that they bought this one.

Kate Willoughby said...

Also, Mary, how did you find this blog with your story analysis on it? Google Alert? Just wondering. :)

Mary Haupt said...

Hi Kate,
I think I had done a Google search on the magazine itself awhile back and eventually found your site. I'm glad I did!

Anonymous said...

Hi Kate

I just wanted to say how great your site is and extremely useful, especially for those of us who are not in the US and therfore find it difficult to study the magazine.

Could I ask a question? The guidelines say that it may take up to 6 months to consider a story, but is this usual? The reason I ask is that my first few attempts arrived back in about a month, but my last one has now been out more than three months. I'm trying not to get my hopes up (could well be lost in the post!) but I just wondered what was normal.


Kate Willoughby said...

Hi, Anonymous! Thanks so much for your kind words about the blog. I appreciate it.

Six months is the longest you should wait to hear. If it takes that long, you should wonder if it got lost. Generally, the longer it takes to hear back, the better because your story has to get past Patricia, the first reader, then Johnene, the fiction editor, and then to the Editor in Chief, Stephanie. That takes time. So, let's cross our fingers that your story is moving up that editorial ladder this time!

Anonymous said...

Thank you - I'll keep on hoping then!

Cheers x

Mary Jo said...

Mary Haupt is not a common name. Just out of curiosity, is this the Mary Haupt who is an English Professor teaching at Binghamton University in New York? I Googled the name and came up with this question, but Kate said she did not have an answer.