Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Love in Bloom! by Charlotte More

From the April 10, 2017 issue

Tagline: Thad had moved to a new town and was lonely...until he met Jennifer

Observations: This story is a perfect example of the type of nice guy hero Woman's World likes. Let's look at a list of Thad's attributes.

As an accountant starting his own firm, he's a hard worker. He's smart too. He's done his research to make sure this new town can support another CPA.

He blushes. And he gets tongue-tied. How cute is that??? LOL

When he sees his chance, he does go ahead and ask if she might help him with his yard. It's okay for our heroes to be shy, but it's also nice to see them have some initiative.

So, when you're creating a hero, it's a safe bet to show us he's a genuinely nice guy. Don't just assume we know it.

I absolutely loved the ending. I'm not sure why. The fact that he is babbling about Jen to his friend is just adorable.

Photo credit: Laura LaRose via Flickr Creative Commons License

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Emma and the Prince by Jenny Welsh

From the April 17, 2017 issue

Tagline: Emma didn't have time for romance...until she met Byron!

Observations: Loved this story! I was entranced from beginning to end. Did anyone else predict the grocery cart crash before it happened? I thought it was amusing that he was a lawyer. I did worry about Emma, though. She really shouldn't be driving a car. LOL I don't really have much else to say about this one. I'm sorry. :(

Photo credit: Eddie Welker via Flickr Creative Commons License

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Change of Heart

I've decided not to continue critiquing the Harlequin stories. The purpose of this blog is to help people write and submit romances to Woman's World and analyzing stories that aren't held to the same guidelines as the "normal" stories serves no purpose. Thanks for understanding.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Matchmaking Dad by Tina Radcliffe

From the April 3, 2017 issue

Tagline: Chrissy's matchmaking father just wouldn't quit...then he introduced her to Rick!

Observations: I thought this story was adorable. The matchmaker trope is alive and well on the pages of Woman's World magazine.

While I wondered if a true landscape designer would need help planting, especially for an apparently elderly client, but I just accepted it for the sake of the story and moved on.

Note the transitional paragraph of telling, not showing, during which a long-ish period of time passes while Rick and Chrissy garden together. I want to caution you about including this type of thing. On the one hand, it's great for making the story seem as if it's a little meatier. The passage of time helps us believe that they're really making a connection. However, if you do this type of transition, be sure you've either already established that they've made the beginnings of a connection, or you plan to show more of a connection in the last act of the story.

In this story, we see Rick and Chrissy together for a while before the transitional summary. They both see the dad on the ladder and, concerned, both take action together. They talk about her container gardening and the hero is encouraging. We spend some actual "real time" with them, together.

You can't have a story in which the hero and heroine don't interact in a significant way. If when you've finished your story, you look back and the couple haven't spent enough meaningful screentime together, you'd better go back and do some revising.

Photo credit: Flesh for Blood via Flickr Creative Commons License

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Erin's Lucky Charm! by Elizabeth Palmer

from the March 13, 2017 issue

Tagline: Josh didn't think he would ever love again...but his daughter's lucky charm changed all that!

Observations: Elizabeth Palmer is one of Woman's World's most prolific and skilled authors. I was amazed at how many clever bits of foreshadowing she packed in here. Just for fun, if you have the story in front of you, reread it and see if you can find the same three that I found. I'll put the picture here so my list isn't so easily seen. You're looking for details that seem unimportant when you read them, but come into play later.

All right. Let's see if our lists match up. The first two are subtle. The third, I'm sure you all caught.

1. He showed her Erin's kindergarten picture on his phone.

I thought this little detail was brilliant. Parents are always willing to show us pictures of their children. Josh is no different. So when he does this, we think nothing of it, but later, it becomes critical that Serena recognize little lost Erin when she sees her at the parade.

2. "I'll be there with friends."

Again, this seems like a normal thing to say and that's good. You don't want your foreshadowing to be super obvious. However, it's this offhand statement that creates the second black moment in the story. The first black moment was obviously the scary few minutes when Erin was missing. (This did fly against the normal "no intense drama" quasi rule that Woman's World usually adheres to, but that just goes to show you that if you write it well, you can get away with stuff.) The second black moment that I'm talking about is when Erin puts her matchmaker hat on and suggests they all go for green pancakes together. Josh knows--because of the offhand comment--that Serena is there with friends, so we are disappointed that things didn't work out after all, but Serena fixes that little problem while at the same time showing Josh that she's interested in taking this further.

And did you catch Josh's signal that he was interested too? It was back when he introduced her as his...friend, not his last-minute substitute hair stylist. So Palmer deftly showed us that both parties were open to taking that next step.

3. Josh smiled as he fastened the shamrock pendant, making a mental note to replace the flimsy chain before she wore it again.

This was the most obvious bit of foreshadowing, but I think it was only obvious because the stories are so short. Unlike in a novel, there's no time/space to insert a lot of happenings between the foreshadowing and the event the foreshadowing foreshadows. Such is the reality of writing super short stories. (Which is why I so admire the mini-mystery writers so much. Those stories are even shorter, yet the clues are all there.)

I'd be interested to find out if Palmer planned those or if she went back and added them during the revision stage, because the weak chain? That was probably planned. But maybe she's happily writing and gets to that part where Erin slips away and she thinks, "How can I get Serena to find her? Ah! If Josh showed her Erin's picture way back at the beginning..."

LOL I have such an imagination.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

An Unexpected Win! by Kay Layton Sisk

from the March 6, 2017 issue

Tagline: Lisa didn't realize the bowling match would be full of striking possibilities...until she met John.

Observations: I wanted to point out how tightly Sisk communicates some pertinent information about the setting and situation. As we all know, Woman's World stories can only be 800 words long, so succinctness is paramount.

Lisa Appleton pulled the old bowling bag from the car and caught up with 10-year-old Katie as she entered Star Strike Bowling Alley. The sound of rolling balls and crashing pins brought back good memories. A banner greeted them: Welcome Grover Elementary Third Annual Bowl-A-Thon.

It might be the PTA's third fundraiser, but it was Lisa and Katie's first. What better way to get to know parents, teachers and students when your job change meant a midterm move?

Lots of info there in a a mere two paragraphs. Personally, I think it's best to use the bulk of the story to establish a connection between the hero and heroine, show their attraction, show ways that indicate they would make a good couple.

I loved the puns at the end. Lately the endings of the stories haven't been as strong as I like, but this one was amusing and felt fresh.

Photo credit: Will via the Flickr Creative Commons License.

Missing Issue

Hi, folks. I did not receive the March 6 issue. Is there anyone who can email me a picture of that week's story? Thank you!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Superman Saves the Day! by K.C. Laine

from the February 27, 2017 issue

Tagline: Kelly believed there was someone out there for her...but she never dreamed of finding her own Superman!

Observations: If I were to make a general checklist of things you might want to include in your Woman's World story, this story had several of the items.

1. We had a plucky heroine who grew as a character during the course of the story. She started out with faltering confidence, and ended up with a boost to her self-esteem for having stepped out of her comfort zone and applying what she'd learned.

2. It had a solid three-act structure--act one in the present, act two as a summary, then act three the hero and heroine are reunited.

3. We saw how Kelly was attracted to David in a few discrete places.

4. There was a nice guy hero who was funny, helpful, supportive and thoughtful. He, too, made a journey from shy to assertive. Double whammy there on character development.

5. We have a saying that was proven true--"Fake it 'til you make it." Obviously, you don't want to have a saying in every story. Then readers would probably start rolling their eyes, but every once in a while, it's a great jumping off point.

All in all, a solid and cute story.

Kooky thing that probably only I would notice...David kept "sneaking up on her." LOL I was like, what? He's there behind her again?

Photo credit: JD Hancock via Flickr Creative Commons License

Friday, February 24, 2017

A Sweet Surprise by Mary Davis

from the February 13, 2017 issue

Tagline: Cathy attended the Valentine's party out of respect for her grandmother...little did she know she would meet her heart's desire!

Woman's World Tropes: Matchmaking family member (2!)

Observations: Sweet story! Ha! Did you see what I did there? LOL No really, this was a cute story. Matchmaker stories abound in Woman's World. It's cute that there are two of them here. I saw nothing that stood out especially for me to comment on (or criticize.) Sorry.

Photo Credit: Rahim Packir Saibo via Flickr Creative Commons License

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Under the Heart Tree by Rosemary Hayes

From the February 6, 2017 issue

Tagline: Susan couldn't accept losing the heart tree where she received her first kiss...

Woman's World Tropes: a small town, old flame

Observations: I loved the idea of this story--saving the tree. It's not something I recall seeing before in Woman's World. Neither do I remember seeing a lot of stories in which the hero and heroine unite to fight for a common cause. This might be a plot line worthy of further exploration. If any of you remember other examples, please let me know.

Hayes is an old hand at these stories. I don't think this was her strongest story, despite what I said about the innovative plot. I just didn't get a warm fuzzy feeling at the end and I've been trying to figure out why. I think part of the problem might be that they both held torches for each other, so I couldn't help but wonder why they broke up in the first place.

Also the epilogue paragraph just didn't give me a zing of happy.

Some things in life I definitely can Justin's eventual marriage proposal. The reception was held at the new Heart Tree Hotel conference room. And of course, there was only one place to hold our ceremony--under the iconic Heart Tree.

Could it be that the reception was in a conference room? That sounds so stuffy. Maybe it would have been better if Hayes had just not included those words. That's not to say that a wedding reception in a conference room is bad or can't be romantic. It just didn't sound romantic.

Maybe it might have been better to mention again that the Heart Tree was the site of their kiss rather than that it was an icon. Or maybe we could have witnessed Justin proposing under the tree... I don't know. Anyway, your mileage may vary. Obviously the editors deemed it worthy of publication. :)

Photo credit: Krista Grinberga via Flickr Creative Commons License

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A High School Crush by Nell Musolf

from the January 20, 2017 issue

Tagline: Prudence was anxious about starting over...until she talked with Hank!

Woman's World Tropes: Old Flame from High School

Observations: Today, let's talk about two different jumping off points for stories.

This week's story takes place at a crucial moment in the heroine's life. She's about to start a new chapter in her life. She's quit her job of 20 years and is going to nursing school. From the first moment we meet her, we immediately admire her for her courage, right? This is a good starting point for any Woman's World story. Create a character who is starting something new. It can be anything--a new job, like Prudence; a new hobby; a new town; moving to a new town; getting a new car or a new pet. Then show her connecting with someone in the process.


Begin the story before that new something has begun. Show the character at the crossroads, struggling to make the decision. Then someone special can come along and encourage or support. In this type of story we see the main character grow and change and find love.

Photo Credit: Dominik Wagner via Flickr Creative Commons License

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A Treasure in Plain Sight by Amy Michaels

From the January 23, 2017 issue

Tagline: Madeline thought of Mike as her best friend...then she realized just how empty life would be without him!

Woman's World Tropes: "Meddling" family member, helpful hero

Observations: I was nodding my head, liking this story, until I got to this one point.

Did you experience a let down when she confesses her love to Mike? I did. I was like, wait...did I miss something? One moment she's talking and the next moment, Mike's all SHE LOVES ME in his head.

I recently went to a workshop put on by my local chapter of Romance Writers of America. Tessa Dare spoke on firsts in romance novels--first meet, first kiss, first realization that this is love, etc. One piece of advice she gave that really resonated with me was to slow it down. When you come upon an important moment in your story, it's critical that you slow down. When I'm editing stories, I usually tell the writers to MILK IT FOR EMOTION, which is essentially the same thing. Like Hermoine with her Time Turner, you have the power to control time. In this case, I wish Michaels had taken a little more time right here:

"I'm not mad."

"Sure you are. You're mad because your parents love me and you don't."

"That's not true. I love you just as much..." I stopped and closed my eyes tightly. The next thing I knew Mike's arms were around me.

This is anticlimactic for me. It's too fast. Here's the first thing I thought of to boost the drama.

"I'm not mad."

"Sure you are. You're mad because your parents love me and you don't."

"That's not true." I stopped and closed my eyes tightly. "I...I love you just as much."

The next thing I knew Mike's arms were around me.

To me, that pause before the declaration is key. It shows Maddy is scared. You almost think she might not go through with it. But she does, and you sigh with relief. If I had my druthers, I'd have beefed it up even more.

"I'm not mad."

"Sure you are. You're mad because your parents love me and you don't."

"That's not true. I..." I stopped and closed my eyes tightly. I was filled with uncertainty, but I was also filled with feelings I'd been harboring for Mike for a long time, but never realized. Until now. 

"You, what, Maddy?" Mike asked.

I took a deep breath. "I love you too."

The next thing I knew Mike's arms were around me.

See what I mean? Slow. It. Down. Milk it. If you have to cut something somewhere else, do it. Better to skimp in an unimportant place than at a critical one.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Let it Snow! by Joan Dayton

from the January 9, 2017 issue

Tagline: Susan thought she'd never love again...until she met Dan!

Woman's World Tropes: Man to the rescue, independent woman, matchmaker family member, widow, moving on

Observations: There is a great deal of information packed into the first two paragraphs. I haven't talked about this in a while, but backstory dumps are a-okay in Woman's World stories. You don't have time to dribble it in a bit at a time, like you do in a novel. Quick and dirty, ladies! Everything is compressed in an 800 word story.

Here's what Dayton stuffed in there:

  • Susan needs a snowblower.
  • Susan is new in town and new to Minnesota weather.
  • She has a daughter and granddaughter.
  • Susan has become a do-it-yourselfer.
  • Susan had help with this transformation.
  • The helper is single.
After that, still in Act One, she's just as efficient.

  • Dan is proactive about helping Susan when she comes to the store.
  • Dan and Susan are still dancing around their mutual attraction. ("I wouldn't want to trouble you...")
  • Dan makes a subtle move to show he's attracted. ("I really admire how you dove in and tackled all those home projects.")
  • They start using first names.
Act Two, we see the plot moving forward when the daughter gives Susan the push she needs.

Act Three, the scene is all set. The reader is just sitting there waiting and hoping it will turn out all right. And it does. Dayton throws in some romance for good measure--Dan snow-blowing a heart in Susan's driveway. Totally adorable. 

In my opinion, the story would have ended nicely after he says "All the time in the world" but Dayton went even further and brought back the fact that Dan's face lit up when he smiled, which was mentioned earlier in the story.

This was a well-crafted and enjoyable story.

Photo credit: Janine via Flickr Creative Commons License

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Just Like Magic! by Terry O'Brien

From the January 2, 2017 issue

Tagline: Emma was unsure about her niece's matchmaking abilities...until she met Jeff!

Woman's World Tropes: matchmaker, shelter dog, male teacher

Observations: This was a pleasant story, but nothing really stood out to me.

Here's a very minor tip...

O'Brien named Abby's parents Zach and Liz. In my opinion, it wasn't necessary. You name characters because they're important and/or will be appearing enough that it would be awkward (or annoying as to the writer) to not name them. In this case, they're mentioned one more time and could have been referred to as Abby's parents.

This detail/teaching point that isn't anything earth-shattering, but readers are trained to remember characters that have been named and in a story this short, eliminating extraneous names might make the story feel cleaner and more streamlined.

Photo credit: Tim Pierce via Flickr Creative Commons License