Friday, December 29, 2017

Just in Time by Mary Jo Young

From the January 1, 2018 issue

Tagline: Glenda was always running late...until she met a kindred soul at just the right time!

Observations: This week's story needed a little more romance for me. In my opinion, the ideal Woman's World story needs to show attraction between the man and the woman, a connection, some camaraderie and some humorous banter. I know this sounds like a laundry list, but I think with the exception of the humor, these things need to be present in order for us to believe that these two people might be able to build a future together.

In this story, for me, the hero and heroine didn't quite spend enough "quality time" with each other. For most of the story he was businesslike. This made sense because this was a business meeting. He loosened up a little at the end, just wasn't enough for me.

However, this is only my opinion. Obviously, the editors liked it. :)

I did think that the hero was clever in making the reservations for a half hour later because they were all chronically late. I actually do this sometimes with my husband. LOL

Photo credit: Tinou Bao (Flickr cc license)

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Meeting Mr. Right by Dani Collins

This was one of the Harlequin stories. I thought it was well done and perfectly in line with what we're used to seeing.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Test-drive For Love by Jill Weatherholt

from the December 4, 2017 issue

Tagline: Nell was anxious about replacing her old car...until she met the car salesman!

Observations: This story was a good example of showing a heroine with a mindset that changes over the course of the story. She starts out thinking used car salesmen are shady and ends up realizing that's not true at all. The trick with writing these types of stories, is that you can't just abracadabra have the attitude change. You have to show it happening, while pushing the romance at the same time, and Weatherhold did this very well.

This would be a good starting point if you're stuck finding a story idea. Just think of different beliefs and then brainstorm ways a character could change his/her mind about that belief. Like "the best Christmases have snow," or "health food tastes bad," or "cats are snooty," or what have you. It can also be a belief about the character himself/herself. "I have a brown thumb." "I'm too tall." "I can't tell a joke." This is actually very much in line with the vibe of the magazine--to be positive and optimistic.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thankful Hearts! by Amy Michaels

From the November 20, 2017 issue

Tagline: Kate and her daughter expected a lonely Thanksgiving...but a winter storm changed everything!

Observations: I got warm fuzzies from this story. It was like a super short Hallmark movie on paper. I loved this idea of an entire neighborhood coming together. It's worth noting that when the hero and heroine work on something together--in this case, it was a blackout neighborhood Thanksgiving potluck (say that 10 times fast!)--it can forward their relationship.

Like, remember that movie, Speed, with Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves? Remember how after the ordeal with the bus and the mad bomber, they ended up kissing? Just think of a Woman's World story like that, but way way way way way way way toned down. LOL Here in "Thankful Hearts," the crisis isn't nearly as intense or dangerous, but they get past it together. So that's one way to get an idea for a story. Think of a minor crisis and come up with a way for a hero and heroine to solve the problem by working together.

Photo credit: Patricia (Brownies for Dinner) (Flickr CC license)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Thanksgiving Surprise! by Kay Layton Sisk

From the November 13, 2017 issue

Tagline: Her kids' matchmaking may give Chrissy something extra to be thankful for this Thanksgiving...

Observations: What a great story. I have to admit, Chrissy is a better woman than I. I would have been a little perturbed at the thought of five extra guests. Then again, I normally have fifteenish people and the thought of twenty gives me hives.

I loved how the kids acted once Henry got there, making themselves scarce. That was hilarious. This story was full of wit, which I love.

I just wanted to point out the story structure here.

Scene 1 - Chrissy's kids approach her with the idea of having guests for Thanksgiving. This is the set-up where we find out the situation and some of Chrissy's backstory.

Scene 2 - It's Thanksgiving and the guests arrive. Here is where the hero and heroine meet and connect. It's always good to show them having something in common and in this case, it's that they both have matchmaking kids. LOL

Scene 3 - The couple have coffee on the patio while the kids clean up. First of all, I applaud this idea of the kids doing the clean-up. Aside from that, this is the wrap-up where we find out things have gone according to plan and that the hero and heroine like each other enough to set up a "second date."

As is often the case, there is no black moment, or even a gray one. At no time do we worry that things won't end up happily, which is fine. You've only got 800 words and sometimes you just can't fit it in.

Photo credit: Kimberly Vardeman (Flickr CC license)

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A Halloween Surprise by Rosemary Hayes

from the October 30, 2017 issue

Tagline: Could Sandie's fond childhood memories of Aaron turn into real fondness as adults?

Observations: What do you get if you take an old flame plot, add some nostalgia for childhood memories, and a pumpkin patch setting? This story! The Old Flame plot is a tried and true storyline. I think part of the appeal is that there's a glimmer of destiny involved. Two people know each other and are separated by whatever reason. Then, years later, they reconnect, almost as if they were meant to. In fact, if you look at the old saying, "Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl," and change it up to say "Boy and girl meet, boy and girl part, boy and girl reunite," that's what we have here.

In the second of my "advanced" classes, I talk about how to structure an Old Flame or Second-Chance plot. There's even a handy dandy flow chart to help you brainstorm and/or organize your thoughts. Old Flame stories are among my favorites. You will see them a lot in the pages of Woman's World magazine.

Photo Credit: Personal Creations (Flickr CC license)

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Enchanted! by Elizabeth Palmer

From the October 23, 2017 issue

Tagline: Eric's dating skills were as creaky as the door to a crypt. Would Ella want to go out with him?

Observations: This was a cute story. I thought it was interesting how we are sailing along with the hero and heroine and then we got a flashback. I don't see many flashbacks in Woman's World stories, so it surprised me. But it worked well, giving us a nice little peek into Eric's relationship with his daughter and some backstory (that daughter urged him to start dating.)

I was a little confused why she would of course be dressing as Cinderella and had to go back and reread the entire story to find out why. (Answer: Her name is Ella.) That is probably my mistake, not the author's.

I also liked that it was from Eric's POV. I always like getting into the heads of the men.

Photo credit: Liz West (via Flickr CC license)

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Meant To Be! by Rosemary Hayes

from the October 16, 2017 issue

Tagline: Justine thought she had lost herself...until her amazing journey with Dale!

Observations: I haven't done a stream-of-consciousness analysis in awhile, so here goes.

Right off the bat, I love how Hayes gave the heroine a problem that many of us could identify with--empty nest syndrome. Granted, usually we think about this happening when the kids have grown up and flown, but this heroine has joint custody, so it's something she feels on a regular basis.

We get a backstory paragraph early on, which is normal. As I've said before, with only 800 words, we often don't have the time to layer in the backstory.

I wonder who are Katie and Joe? His grown kids?

Ah. I see a possible plot twist. I think Justine is the person Dale wanted to ask but was too nervous because Justine jumps to a conclusion. We'll see if I'm right.

Ah, Katie and Joe are neighbors. I wonder if they're matchmaking... Maybe they know Justine and Dale would be good together.

We get a paragraph of telling, not showing. Contrary to common belief, this is okay in a Woman's World story. You must keep the pacing quick and in 800 words, sometimes you have to summarize events in a transitional paragraph to move the timeline forward. Here, we see Justine and Dale connecting. We see her noticing how handsome he is.

Justine and Dale both agree that "slow and steady wins the race." This shows them connecting. So, my advice is to have a balance of showing and telling.

Another tell/transition paragraph and then a very short scene where they connect more deeply, which is fantastic. She shares something personal and he empathizes. This signals to the reader that they might be really good for each other.

Aha! I was right. Justine was the woman he had his eye on from the very beginning.

Oh, that ending. That is just awesome.

From behind us, I heard Joe and Katie approaching fast. Dale and I ran out of the maze, laughing. As his hand enveloped mine, I knew I wasn't lost anymore.

Photo credit: Joel Kramer (Flicker cc license)

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Overdue Romance by Diane Crawford

From the October 2, 2017 issue

Tagline: Could a search for missing books open a new chapter for Jessica and Mike?

Observations: As I read this story, I thought it was a great example of a "girl to the rescue" story in which the hero has a problem and the heroine helps him solve it. What was a little different about this one is that the problem is only partly solved by them working together, then Jessica takes it upon herself to find the remaining two missing books.

Notice the mini black moment when Mike thanks her and leaves? The only thing that is usually there is the heroine wishing she'd have reached out or thinking that this would be the last time she sees him.

We have a coincidence at the gas station, which might seem awfully convenient at first glance, but you know what? It really is a small world and things like that happen. It seemed real to me and the ending sentence was great. The line about starting a new chapter in her life could have been corny but wasn't.

Photo Credit: Bill Smith (Flickr cc license)

Saturday, September 30, 2017

No Place Like Home by Nell Musolf

From the September 25, 2017 issue

Tagline: Melanie was tired of cutting grass and ready to move into an apartment...then she met Jeff!

Observations: Woman's World changed fonts on the story! I like it! I wonder, though, if it was because this story was longer or something.

Anyway, I noticed a plot device that appears in many stories, but that I haven't talked about in a while. It's when a main character believes x, y, z and that belief shifts by the end of the story. This also appears as a main character expressing some sort of dissatisfaction and by the end of the story, they end up satisfied one way or another.

If you're an experienced Woman's World romance story reader, then you might have read the passage quoted below and realized, "Aha! She's going to change her mind."

...I thought about how much easier life would be if I rented an apartment instead of a house. Someone else mows the lawn or shovels the snow when you have an apartment.

And sure enough, the story ends with...

Maybe moving into an apartment wasn't the best solution for me. Especially now that my house was beginning to feel more like home!

In my basic Writing for Woman's World class, I talk about ways to get ideas for stories, and one way is to take a character, figure out what they believe and change their minds. Or come up with something a character might be dissatisfied with and, again, change their minds. They could realize that dissatisfaction is actually trivial. They could realize that they should be grateful for what they have. (That would be a great idea for a Thanksgiving story.) These can be great jumping-off points when your mind is blank and you're trying to get started.

Also, I liked the repeated motif of sparks and wondered if Musolf intentionally planned for the "spark" of the lawn mower engine starting to echo that. If so, wow! Very impressive.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

As Sweet as Peach Pie by Mary Davis

from the September 11, 2017 issue

Tagline: Sandy thought that she had no time for love...then she met Brian!

Observations: I just literally laughed out loud while reading this story. Here's the part that made me crack up:

"Why would I hang up on Ginger Ford's grandson?"

"Because the peaches are a bumper crop this year, and my grandmother refuses to make me a pie unless I ask you out."

So funny! I also loved this line:

"...I am very familiar with dating under duress."

OMG, I just cracked up AGAIN. (That Brian is a very funny guy.) He sold 50 of her shirts and she asks him what his secret was...

"No secret. Just a basic marketing principle: product positioning. You have to convince the customer your product is the one that they should spend their money on."

"How did you do that?"

"I wore the shirt, then I gave them an incentive to buy."

"What was that?"

"I told them if I could sell enough shirts, you might go to dinner with me. Not a single person turned me down."

Bottom line, this story had so much humor in it, I dare anyone not to have loved it.

Photo credit: Jeffrey W. (Flickr cc)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Cookie-Cutter Romance by Mary Jo Young

from the September 4, 2017 issue

Tagline: Mark thought he had no time for love...then he met Kenzie!

Observations: At first, I thought this was another story about cookies and I wondered if Ms. Gaddis was going on a cookie story binge, but I soon found out I was wrong. LOL

I thought this particular meet cute was funny and novel--not something I'd seen before. There was also a quasi-matchmaker, his office manager, Mrs. Hendrix. I thought it was oddly formal that they referred to each other as Mrs. Hendrix and Mr. Osborne, but I went with it.

This story was unusual in another way. We saw more going on between Mrs. Hendrix and Mr. Osborne than we did between Mark and Kenzie. It didn't bother me. I still thought it was a cute story, but it went against my suggestion that you always spend a good deal of time showing the hero and heroine interacting. So, that just goes to show you, I don't know everything!

Photo Credit: Steve Moses (Flickr cc)

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Always Bake Cookies by Kacey Laine

from the August 14, 2017 issue

Tagline: Abby loved her new house...and her handsome neighbor made it feel like home!

Observations: This was a sweet story. What stands out to me is the heroine. It has always been my assertion that Woman's World likes the traditional woman who waits for the hero to make the first move. She is still very present in stories. However, just as popular is the confident woman who sees an opportunity and takes it.

Here, Abby acts, and sort of as a throwback to that traditional woman, she feels like she was too "forward." So, maybe she's a hybrid, after all.

I also wanted to point out the misunderstanding, a common plot device in WW stories. Very often, one of the characters makes an assumption that the other is married or otherwise spoken for and it turns out that this isn't the case. Here was a fresh take on that plot device: the heroine assumed the man was moving away when he wasn't. Well done, Kacey!

Photo credit: Wen Tong Neo (Flickr cc)

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The French Connection by Rochelle Banks

from the August 28, 2017 issue

Tagline: Ty never dreamed of going to Paris until he met Angie...then she gave him the surprise of his life!

Observations: This was such a great story! I was genuinely surprised at the plot twist and it's hard to surprise me. I think this week is a good week to talk about showing not telling. This is a phrase writers hear often, and it is true most of the time. But if you look at this story, you'll see it's probably half showing and half telling. This is because of the word count. You only have 800 words to use. You have to forward the plot along using transitions. Let's see how this panned out with this story.

Scene 1 - Ty and Angie meet in the library.
Scene 2 - We transition to Tuesday at the French for Travelers class.
Scene 3 - We transition again to that weekend when they see a French film and kiss.
Scene 4 - After yet another transition to the next day at work when he asks his travel agent about flights to Paris in the spring, we skip forward to their second date. Then, we fast-forward a year to their honeymoon in Paris.

So, six time transitions! That's a lot, but a lot happens in this story. We go from boy meets girl to boy marries girl in 800 words. That's how it's done, ladies and gentlemen. Make transitions your friend, and you'll move your plot along.

Photo credit: Chris Drumm (Flickr cc)

Friday, August 25, 2017

You won't believe it...

I'm actually working on two stories. I think it's been 2+ years since I wrote a Woman's World story. Wish me luck! LOL

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Mellie's Tiny House by Mary Jo Young

from August 7, 2017 issue

Tagline: Mellie loved her tiny house...and Sam made it feel like a home!

Observations: I love tiny houses! I love those TV shows about tiny houses.  If I lived alone, I might very well try out a tiny house to see what it was like. I'd certainly have to cut down on the amount of stuff I own, that's for sure.

While I'm a fan of Young's stories, this one didn't hit any particularly high notes for me. I would like to have seen some more witty conversation that centered around something relevant, like how she was liking her house or maybe a bit about dogs--whether he has one or had one as a boy or whatever. The chicken thing seemed to come out of left field and was
touched on for too short a time for the bring-it-full-circle device of Sam offering to build a coop for her to really work. If it had been my story, I might have cut out the hike date stuff so I had more room to develop the chicken coop stuff, or vice versa. Their topics of conversation were never meaty enough for me.

Photo credit: Nicolas Boullosa (Flickr cc)

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Mustang Sally by Elizabeth Palmer

from the July 31, 2017 issue

Tagline: Miranda wasn't looking for romance...but her Mustang, Sally, changed all that!

Observations: I loved this story. I loved the heroine being so familiar with her car that she could change the oil -- not something I would ever attempt to do myself since it's not that expensive to have it done. I loved that Palmer showed Miranda knew herself well enough to not settle for a man who didn't share her interests.

Those of you who are fairly new to analyzing Woman's World stories with me should take note of the big coincidence that Sally happens to break down in front of "Bud's." Woman's World stories often contain a coincidence that the reader needs to accept for the story to work. This is fairly common.

There really are too many details to list that make this story nice and tight. It was so smartly written. I especially loved the ending in which they talk about Sally having HPS.

Photo credit: Ann Baekken (Flickr cc)

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Love Is A Mystery by Mary Ann Joyce

from the July 10, 2017 issue

Tagline: Joe's smile was warm--just like his eyes!

Observations: A murder mystery part was such a cute premise for a story. I wish I'd thought of it! And who doesn't love the fashions of the 1920s?

I wanted to point out that in contrast to romance novels, in Woman's World stories the emotional baggage of the characters is not dwelled upon. In fact, it's barely even mentioned. Here, you see that both the hero and heroine are divorced. Both have been reluctant to get out socially. And that's it. That's all that's said. That's all that needs to be said, because with only 800 words to work with, you need to spend most of your time showing these two connecting on as many levels as you can.

Some ideas for showing that connection include

  • physical attraction - they touch and there's some sort of zing, they are each handsome/pretty in the other's eyes
  • they have one or more things in common
  • they make each other laugh
Also, I loved that he called her "dollface." That made me laugh.

Photo credit: Pedro Ribeiro Simoes (cc)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Cellphone Wager by Tina Radcliffe

from the July 24, 2017 issue

Tagline: Hannah loved social networking...could she drop it for 24 hours?

Observations: This was a clever premise--and one I think teaches us a valuable lesson. I see far too many people on their phones when they should be interacting with each other. I feel a keen disappointment and a little anger when I see a parent on their phone when they could be talking to their child, like at restaurants or when shopping. I'm guilty of too much phone use myself.

I'm not sure why Jane was so invested in Hannah unplugging, but I went with it. Maybe she was just that concerned about her friend being too immersed in her own world. There was a tiny coincidence in this story--that Cute Guy happens to live in her building. But coincidences thrive on the pages of Woman's World.

Also notice that Hannah not only finds romance, she grows as a person and learns the lesson that her friend Jane was trying to teach her. She starts out reluctant and a little nervous, but bit by bit, she gradually realizes what she's been missing. At the end of the story you even see this little tidbit:

Someone's cellphone rang. Its discordant tone was a rude interruption.

I loved this little detail and how it showed how Hannah's perception of phones had changed.

Photo credit: Gonzalo Baeza (cc)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Love on the Vine by Shannon Fay

from the July 3, 2017 issue

Tagline: Carol wasn't looking for love, but then she met Paul...

Observations: What a great story this was. I loved the setting of a winery, a setting I don't remember seeing before. I loved the little mini-love story.

This is the perfect example of a "meet-cute" story in which you only show the couple meeting. There's usually so
me set up then they actually meet. Make sure you show a real connection between the pair. If you look at this particular story, we get just enough to convince us that Carol and Paul will enjoy themselves at that Independence Day party.

There's also a small dark moment when the interview is over and Carol thinks she might never see Paul again, but of course, she's wrong. After that, we wrap up with the two people arranging to have a first date. The end. :)

Photo credit: Tim Corradino (cc)

On a side note, my father passed away on Tuesday. He left peacefully in his sleep, which was a blessing. He's been bedridden and unable to effectively communicate for over two years as a result of a stroke. Thanks for understanding why the blog isn't current.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Catch of the Day by Rosemary Hayes

from the June 26, 2017 issue

Tagline: Ben's smile warmed Maggie more than sunshine...

Observations: There was some cute banter in this story. The niece, Phoebe, acted as the matchmaker--something children unwittingly (or sometimes on purpose, as in this story) do in Woman's World stories. I thought the hero and heroine were nice. I liked the last line and the play on words about catching each other's heart.
The only thing that I wondered about was why Phoebe had to wait her turn if Ben had an extra rod.

Photo credit: Ralph Daily (cc)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

New Beginnings by Scarlet Wilson

from the June 19, 2017 issue

I know I said I wasn't going to analyze the Harlequin Mini-Romances, but I just wanted to say this story really felt like the perfect, regular, Woman's World story. I wonder if Scarlet Wilson is a fan of Woman's World?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

One Morning in the Park by Jenny Welsh

from the June 12, 2017 issue

Tagline: Ellie knew no one in town...then she met Danny and Sophie!

Observations: This story is a direct opposite from the story last week. Last week, we had a widow who was at a crossroads. She felt something was missing in her life, but was reluctant to move forward for fear that it would mean saying goodbye to her late husband.

This week, we have a heroine who is completely content. She is on the brink too, but is in a state of happy anticipation, eager to see what life brings her. She's proactive and optimistic.

There's also a time-honored trope here I thought I'd point out - the often-maligned misunderstanding. In the pages of Woman's World, you will often see a story in which a character appears to be married or taken, when in fact, just the opposite is true. Ellie sees a man with a little girl and assumes he's her father. Another variation is seeing someone with a person of the opposite sex--walking together, shopping, kissing a cheek or hugging, driving in the same car--the possibilities are endless. It's natural to assume they might be a couple. You will also see a heroine jump to conclusions if the hero is doing something to suggest he's a parent. Maybe there's a carseat in his car, he's carrying a shopping bag from a toy store, he shopping in the children's section of the bookstore.

Regardless of how they come to the conclusion that the person is married/attached, obviously the truth must be found out. Here Ellie hears the girl call him "Uncle Danny."

Photo credit: Sebastien Launay (cc)

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A Wave of Romance by Mary Jo Young

From the June 5, 2017 issue

Tagline: When Lydia met Sam, the connection startled her!

Observations: This is a good example of showing a character getting past a hang-up they have, something that you can really hang your hat on with a Woman's World romance story. It's one of the ways to come up with story ideas I suggest in my "How to Write and Sell Romance to Woman's World Magazine" class. Think of a problem in the hero or heroine's life and tell the story of how they overcome it. It can be an emotional problem, like in this story, or a real life problem, like they need to find a new apartment.

Here is how Young did it. Note there are only two acts, not the usual three in this story, but it works.

Act 1: Young set up the "problem" by showing the widow Lydia talking with her daughter about finding someone special. Lydia is an active woman who seeks an equally active guy, but the men she meets her own age are couch potatoes. The daughter suggests she find someone younger and Lydia balks at first, but does feel lonely.

Act 2: We see Lydia is involved in community theatre and she meets the new manager. He's cute. They talk about surfing, something they both enjoy doing. Lydia, afraid, puts it right out there that she's got grown children and she's a widow and the hero doesn't bat an eyelash. He's not that much younger than she is.

Here's where we see Lydia turn the corner.

Divorced, Lydia surmised, and he didn't wear a wedding ring. Maybe she needn't be so hung up on the age thing.

After that, it's smooth sailing. There is no black moment in this story, but as I've pointed out in my class, that isn't a mandatory thing for a Woman's World tale.

Photo credit: Eugene Kim, (Flickr CC)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Game of Love by Mary Davis

from the May 29, 2017 issue

Tagline: His eyes held hers and Kelsey's heart skipped a beat!

Observations: Alas, although hockey is my sport of choice (watching, not playing!) I did enjoy this softball story. There was some cute banter between the hero and heroine, which I think is always a good thing. First, it's banter! Who doesn't like banter? Also, it shows us the hero and heroine interacting. Readers want to believe the couple has a chance of making a go of it, and showing them on interacting on the page is usually a step in the right direction.

I also liked how both characters stepped out of their comfort zones. Steve did it when he asked her to accompany him to the party. Kelsey was brave when she admitted she had a crush on him. That last one really requires some daring, because we can all imagine the awkwardness that would follow if he didn't feel the same way about her.

Photo credit (cc): Erik Drost

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Midnight Caller by Shelley Cooper

from the May 15, 2017 issue

Tagline: Sophie was anxious about meeting Luke...would they connect as well in person as they had by phone?

Observations: Loved this story! I don't recall a Woman's World romance about two people meeting via  a radio show before.

My desire for plausibility was challenged a couple of times. I doubted a professional radio host would ask a caller, even if she was familiar, about her personal life. I also didn't think the station would approve of him making a date while still on the air. However, I went with it anyway. I thought, maybe this was a smaller town where things are different.

I really enjoyed how Cooper brought back the dating rules in Luke's conversation. I thought it was cute that people showed up to the cafe to see what would happen between them. This was just a fresh story, well-written. It reminded me of a mini rom-com movie that was only five minutes long. LOL

P.S. Notice how she mentions the Bluetooth kicking in. It's a good idea to not show your characters doing things that are against the law or possibly dangerous like driving and talking on the cellphone.

Photo credit: curtis.kennington via Flickr Creative Commons License.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Courage to Love by Mary Jo Young

from the May 8, 2017 issue

Tagline: Rita wasn't looking for romance...but it found her when she began to live a more courageous life!

Observations: I liked this story a lot. I just finished editing a story and one of my main suggestions to the author was that she focus more on the main character and give him a character arc--something to get past, like shyness. It really helps people identify with your characters. When we see characters with challenges that we ourselves have battled, we automatically root for them.

I thought the conversation between them flowed naturally, one subject leading into the next. This is another tricky skill that is often challenging to beginning writers. We know, as authors, where we want the conversation to go. We need them to talk about x, y, or z and sometimes an author forces it that way.

For example, girl meets boy at the auto show...

"That's a nice model," Jane says. "It's so sleek and speedy looking."

"It sure is," Richard replied. "I love cars. That's why I come to the auto show, so I can see all the latest models."

Jane sighed wistfully. "I can't afford to get a new muffler on my car."

Whoa. Where did that come from? Maybe we need Richard to find out that Jane is poor and can't afford the upkeep on her vehicle, but do you see how that doesn't flow? Yes, her statement does have to do with cars, but it's out of place.

Another thing I thought was great in this story was the ending. In my class I talk about a plot device to bring your story around full circle, which is having a friend or family member say something sage or repeat a saying and then bring it up again at the end of the story. In this story, Rita's mom said "someone special would come into her life when she least expected it." And at the end of the story Rita realizes her mom was right. But Young went one step further and pulled in the fact that the lecture was about courage. This was very clever because it reminds us that Rita has grown as a person. She's become more daring and it's paying off.

Photo credit: Vee via the Flickr Creative Commons License.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

A Purr-fect Romance! by Nell Mulsolf

from the May 1, 2017 issue

Tagline: Fluffy liked her old home...and her owner liked Kate!

Observations: Nell Musolf is one of the most prolific Woman's World authors, with 11 stories under her belt, at my count. I don't think this was her best work. I liked "Free as a Bird" better. I wish I had more to say about this one, but I just don't. Sorry. I feel like I let you guys down when I can't find any teaching points. Maybe next week. :)

Photo credit: Jans Canon via the Flickr Creative Commons License

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