Monday, May 10, 2021

A Charming "Tail"

by Crystal Moore from the May 3, 2021 issue

Tagline: After running into a handsome stranger at the post office, Kat, a professional dog walker, gets the chance to have a whole new "leash" on love.

Observations: This week, I wanted to point out the utility of having an animal in a story, beyond the fact that the editors seem to like animals in stories. The animal can come in handy when the hero or heroine needs someone to talk to, as in this story.

Here, Kat is regretting they way she'd acted and is berating herself via her furry client...

"Who am I, Cinderella?" she asked Gus, her long-eared companion padding beside her in the park. "A clock strikes and I take off like a greyhound. I could've spared a few minutes to find out if he was single. Turned on the charm--maybe gotten his number. No offense," she said, stooping to scratch the hound's ears, "but my love life is going to the dogs."

Sure, the character can talk to herself or have thoughts in the narrative, but this dog served as the perfect sounding board. I wouldn't necessarily put a dog in the story for the sole purpose of being a sounding board, but if your story already has an animal in it, this is something you might want to do.

Photo by Alex Beattle via Flickr Creative Commons License

Friday, April 23, 2021

The Sweetest Love Story and Love Blooms in Spring

 byAmy Oliveira and MarciMcEachern, from the April 19 and April 26 issues, respectively

Taglines: After inheriting a candy shop, Evelyn can't see how she can afford to keep it...until handsome Tom opens her eyes to all the sweet possibilities.

When her handsome new neighbor approaches with a fun request, Lori's love life is suddenly blossoming with promise.

Observations: Both of these stories were excellent, but unfortunately, I couldn't find any teaching moments in either of them. It's hard sometimes, guys! 

Photos by LoriCaliforny and David Howard via the Flickr Creative Commons License

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Oh, What a Knight?

by Chris Maday Schmidt from the April 12, 2021 issue

Tagline: When her elevator gets stuck on the way to a meeting, Sutton thinks she's out of luck...until a hunky passenger steps in...

Observations: Ms. Schmidt is very good at utilizing the single-sentence for a laugh. Check this out.

I think about that morning's call with the director of my nana and pop's assisted living facility, the hefty payment due for their care. And how my immediate fiscal status hangs in limbo.

Like this elevator.

In comedy, timing is everything. And that little pause after "limbo," makes all the difference.

Here are the other two examples from her story. In this one, she uses an m-dash instead of making the punchline a separate sentence, but the effect is the same.

With the clock ticking, I hitch up my skirt a few modest inches, raise my arms to grasp the ledge, and hoist myself--one centimeter.

And the last example...

GQ clears his throat. My skin tingles with awareness. Or heat rash.

Very funny stuff. Definitely put the one-sentence punchline in your writer's toolbox.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Good Egg

 by Mary Ann Joyce from the April 5, 2021 issue

: Dory and her best friend, Jack, are searching for treasure at the annual Easter egg hunt...but what they find surprises them both: a chance for love.

Observations: Wow. If you're looking for a shining example of what a Woman's World story can be, this is it. The writing is so perfectly restrained and tight. Remember my post about overwriting? This is the opposite of overwriting. 

Here is the sentence that really jumped out at me and said, "I am not overwritten!"

His blue eyes flashed in the emerging sunshine.

Bam. It's a very simple sentence, but it's effective.

An over-writer might look at this sentence and feel it's too simple and embellish it in an attempt to Describe with a capital D. She might want to add a simile (or two) and at least one more adjective. She might choose a verb like bedazzled or blazed or shimmered. Can we agree that bedazzled would be overkill, considering Dory is just coming to realize she's attracted to Jack? Similarly, blazed is not only too much, it's difficult for anything to blaze in broad daylight. Shimmered is a wonderful word, but not quite right for this sentence because if things can't blaze in broad daylight, they certainly can't shimmer either. Shimmering is fainter.

Some of you may be thinking, "Oh, who cares if something can't really blaze in broad daylight?" Actually, you should care. One of the most, if not the most critical skill a writer must develop is the ability to choose the right words. It's not just a matter of looking a word up in a thesaurus and willy-nilly choosing one. You must be able to detect and understand the nuances of words and how they're used so you can use them yourself effectively. This is why good writers are avid readers. You can't understand how to correctly use the language unless you've been exposed to it. A lot. 

By the way, if you hire me as an editor, I'm more than happy to help you examine your word choices. I usually avoid this type of laser-focused fine-tuning and concentrate more on tone, plot, characterization, mechanics and punctuation. I don't want my clients to feel as if they're being nit-picked to death. However, if this is something you're interested in, just mention that to me at the get-go. :) Click here if you're interested in hiring me to edit your Woman's World story.

I also wanted to give Joyce a *Kate Willoughby Handshake for surprising me with the whole golden egg surprise. That was just delightful! I definitely did not see that coming and it was an adorable moment that I'm sure made every single reader wish they had a man as romantic and as creative as Jack in their lives.

*The Kate Willoughby Handshake is similar to the Paul Hollywood Handshake from the Great British Baking Show. It means the author succeeded in dazzling and surprising me.

Photo by jmv via Flickr Creative Commons License

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

A Sweet Reunion


by Wendel Potter from the March 29, 2021 issue

Tagline: When Allison Fletcher visits a lemonade stand, she discovers she's in for a sweet surprise--and a chance at renewed love!

Observations: This charming story is the perfect time to suggest a strategy that I've seen emerge in the world of romance novels which is focusing on tropes. 

Related to that, we all have certain story elements that we are drawn to, sometimes on a subconscious level. I attended a workshop once that talked about this very thing and how, if we incorporate things that really flip our own switches, it will make the act of writing more intrinsically fun which, in turn, helps us produce a better book. The workshop prompted to make a list of the things I'm drawn to in stories and movies so that I can include them in my own writing. (Obviously, some of the items on these lists aren't appropriate for a Woman's World story.)

For instance, some of the character types I love to see in books or movies are: 

  • bad ass older people, especially grand dames who everyone is afraid of
  • male friends who are like brothers
  • chefs
  • twins
  • royalty
  • honorable gentlemen
  • overprotective big brothers
  • narcissists who end up to be caring and generous
  • bookworms
  • wallflowers
  • serial killers
  • chess masters
Some of the details I love to see in stories or movies are:
  • comeuppance scenes
  • bets or pranks
  • kisses in the rain
  • shopping for clothes for a special date or event
  • reluctant makeovers
  • swooping up a woman on a motorcycle or horse or vine or what have you
  • ice skating
  • using fame for good
  • grand entrances
  • fictional reality shows
  • surprise reunions, especially military
  • animals being rescued
Places/locations I love to see in stories or movies:
  • boarding schools
  • a rooftop oasis
  • trains
  • bakeries
  • bookstores
  • hidden passageways
  • yachts
  • penthouses
  • palaces
  • any place decorated with fairy lights
In this story, I saw several tropes that have proven over and over to be attractive to readers and the editors. The first one I noticed was including something nostalgic. In this case, it was a lemonade stand and the soda jerk cap. The demographic of the readership skews older so it makes sense to include things that they can relate to, something that hails from "the good old days." Teachers are also popular as characters, and as far as plots are concerned, having people return to their hometown is seen often. This could be a story-generating method--choose a few popular tropes and try to come up with a story that includes them all. Give it a try!

Photo by EvinDC via Flickr Creative Commons License

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Lucky in Love

 by Christine Greifzu from the March 22, 2021 issue

Tagline: After a broken engagement, Kelly is sure she's cursed in love...until a surprise guest at her Saint Patrick's Day booth turns everything around.

Observations: For those of you who don't know, backstory is the stuff that happened to your characters before the story starts. It's like their personal history.  Obviously, if they're an adult, a lot has happened to them, and just as obviously, you don't need to mention it all, especially considering how short these stories need to be.

In this particular story, the author dropped one bit of backstory at the beginning--

Since this was her first year renting a booth...

--and then waited until the hero showed up to tell us one pertinent fact about Kelly's romantic history--

After a broken engagement last year, she was overdue for some [luck], and a good man in her life, come to that.

And that's it! That is all the backstory we get. It's also all the backstory we need. Don't overload your story with unnecessary information. You don't have that luxury with an 800 word word count.

Photo by GoToVan via Flickr Creative Commons license

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Writing Better: Overwriting

I believe it's easier to improve as a writer if you know what you're doing wrong. One of the most common mistakes made by amateur (and even some professional) writers is to overwrite. Overwriting is like overacting but with words. 

Here's a reverse-engineered example of overwriting from a story I recently submitted about a man who is planning to pop the question. (Cross your fingers for me!)


Being well prepared helped with the nerves that battered his body but didn't eradicate them completely because what if...what if Allie gave him the one answer that would tear his heart into a million miserable pieces? 

Toned down

Being well prepared helped with the nerves but didn't banish them entirely because what if...what if the unthinkable happened and she said no?

See the difference? Doesn't it feel like the first example is just trying too hard? Resist the temptation to make your writing "better" by amping up your adjectives and verbs, adding too many adverbs or even just overdoing the emotions appropriate for the situation or character. 

And read this article. It's truly excellent.

Photo by Raw Pixel Ltd via Flickr Creative Commons License