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 25, 2017

Dinner For Two by Jennifer Hayward

From the January 16, 2017 issue

Tagline: A dinner date with her past...and future?

Woman's World Tropes: an old flame, a small town, a meddling grandma, a misunderstanding

Observations: After reading this story, I had to double check to see if this was one of the Harlequin stories, and it was. This was the most Woman's World-esque of the HQ stories I've read so far. As you can see above, there were a lot of tropes. It didn't have too much drama.

There were only a couple minor things I would like to have seen different.

Near the end of the story, Lacey hears her grandmother's advice in her head...Seize the moment. And so you expect Lacey to do just that. But I don't see Lacey seize the moment.

Also, the hero had no personality. He was suave and that's about it. I wish he'd had a little more screen time so I could come to like him more. Even though I suppose we're supposed to trust the heroine's judgement that this guy is legit, I still like to make my own decision and in this story I didn't see enough of him to make any kind of accurate assessment.

Other than that, I liked it. Like I said, this story fit in more than any of the others I've seen so far.

Photo credit: George Martin, via the Flickr Creative Commons License

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

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Christmas Wishes by Jules Bennett

from the December 26, 2016 issue

Tagline: She's about to erase the professional line he vowed never to cross...

Woman's World Tropes: Widower

Observations: All righty! Another Harlequin story. I was all prepared to be underwhelmed again, but this one was much more on target. It wasn't dripping with conflict or drama, just a little internal angst that was pleasantly not over the top.

It was all from Jack's point of view and I found myself wanting to read more and find out if Vivianna was aware of her boss's budding feelings for her. I'm thinking she must. Why else invite him inside after the party?

Thumbs up for this one. At the end, I felt hopeful that things would work out for them.

Photo credit: Shimelle Laine via Flickr Creative Commons License