Monday, July 28, 2014

Yours, Mine, Ours

by Jan Pierce from the July 21, 2014 issue

Tagline

When new neighbors meet, who knows what can happen?

In a Nutshell

A divorced mother of two sons, Greta can't get her lawn mower started. The new neighbor next door helps. She invites him and his daughters to dinner. The girls compare them to the Brady Bunch.

Observations

I'm afraid I have to put on my critical hat. I liked the story, except for one thing, and the one thing ties into the entire theme of the story. I couldn't buy that these little girls, aged 12 and 9, would know about The Brady Bunch. 

I dislike when pop culture references don't synch with the age of the character who is making them. For instance, I'm very careful to make sure if my character is 25 years old, he is not quoting Hogan's Heroes. Of course, it is possible that these young girls have seen that show on DVD. If there had been a line explaining that their dad bought the boxed set for them for Christmas one year and it's their favorite, I would have been fine with that. But there was no such explanation, which made me shake my head, unfortunately. 

Except for that one omission, I liked the story, but in the long run, I'm not all that important. Johnene is the important one and she liked it as is and paid Ms. Pierce $800 for it. 

Photo credit: ABC Television via Wikimedia Commons

My People!

There is no way to explain how I happened to run into two Woman's World people at the Romance Writers of America Conference other than Fate.

I was sitting at breakfast and a woman asked if anyone was sitting next to me and I said no. Now, you have to understand this is a giant room with hundreds of people. Lo and behold, it was Lynn Cahoon! We squealed! We hugged! We smiled and chatted all through breakfast. It was so much fun to meet someone from the Woman's World World in person. (Sorry about the horrid selfie. I suck at selfies.)


Then, literally five minutes after I was finished with breakfast, I was in the Goody Room putting the last of my promotional pens in the basket I had brought. (The Goody Room is a room where authors can leave items of all sorts for other writers to grab. Pens are very popular, but I picked up mints, a fan, lollipops, a screen cleaner, lip balm, among other things.) I was about to leave when someone said, "Kate?"

There was Linda Nielsen! Again, there was squealing. There was hugging. Neither of us could believe we'd found each other among the 2000 some writers attending the conference.



It was so wonderful to not only meet her, but sit next to her at a workshop on how to "Quiety Make Six Figures in Indie Publishing." We both left that workshop with stars in our eyes about what kind of options are open to authors today. 

Linda, Lynn, I am SO glad we met. If you're going to the New York conference, we have to get together, all three of us!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Good Home

by Elizabeth Palmer from the July 15, 2014 issue

Tagline
Lily's trip to the shelter brought more than two sweet kittens into her life!

In a Nutshell
When Lily wants to adopt two cats from the shelter, the previous owner, who has been transferred overseas, wants to meet her first. Lily is touched by how devoted he is to his pets. When he returned unexpectedly, He wants to see Lily as much as he does the cats.

Observations
Cliches with a twist: I would venture to say at least one Woman's World story a year revolves around a pet adoption or has an animal shelter as a setting. I believe the reason is, adopting a pet is an altruistic thing to do. It shows good character and we want our hero and heroine to be admirable.

The trick to writing and selling a story with this animal adoption/shelter trope is to make it your own by putting a twist on it. In this case, Palmer had the (male) owner request that he meet the potential adopter. This tweaked my interest because it was an odd, but understandable request. Not only that, but it went a long way establishing what a caring man Adam is.

Safety First: It can be a dangerous world for a single woman. Always keep in mind that you don't want to portray your heroines doing stupid things, like agreeing to meet a man she met online in a secluded place. I noticed that when the pet adoption facilitator asked if Lily would agree to meet the cat owners, we found out that the man was her neighbor. It's not like the man provided ID and clearance from the FBI that he did not have a criminal record, but the fact that he was the woman's neighbor provides a tiny bit of security. It's a small detail, but one I thought worth mentioning.

Photo credit: Denniss via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Work Buddies

by Melody Murray from the July 7, 2014 issue

Tagline
Grace knew that things don't always work out as you hope they will. But, she discovered, sometimes they do!

In a Nutshell
Grace flips houses. She hires the handsome Randy to help her with the heavy tasks. She thinks he's not interested in her until the job is finished and she finds out that he was only waiting until she wasn't his boss anymore.

Observations
Description: In general, because of the very small word count allowed by Woman's World, I usually counsel writers to minimize descriptions of characters. However, this story had a quite hefty description of Randy.

The friend was right. Randy was worth any two helpers she had hired before. He was strong and precise in his work. He was also very handsome.

The "I would love for him to be attracted to me" kind of handsome. The "why do I have to always be such a mess when he's around" kind of handsome.

His dark hair fell across his forehead[,] calling attention to his blue eyes. As if that weren't enough, the T-shirts he wore stretched most attractively across his broad shoulders.

Three whole paragraphs! This is quite unusual, however, please notice that the author did not just describe Randy, she also established the fact that Grace is attracted to him.

Characterization and Gender Roles: Woman's World loves traditional values, however, has slowly but surely included "new-fashioned" ideas like gender-norm reversing. Here, you see Grace restoring a house. If there ever was a male-dominated job, construction worker is it, right? So when writing your stories, or looking for ideas, take those gender norms and turn them on their ears.

Photo credit: BaytownBert via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Fireworks

by Pamela Hart from the June 30, 2014 issue

Tagline
With her ex out of the picture and her dog on vacation, Lindy would be alone on the Fourth. Or so it seemed...

In a Nutshell
Lindy brings her dog to the kennel every year because fireworks scare him. There she meets the son of the kennel owners. They agree to meet the next day to watch the fireworks together.

I'm going to try a different set-up with topics and see if that works. Bear with me. I'm always looking to improve things.

Observations
Story Ideas: This is one of those stories that makes me think, why didn't *I* think of this? It reminds me of a great tip for finding story ideas.

Think of a minor problem that you or someone you know has, like a dog that freaks out on the Fourth of July. Build a story around it. I have a cupboard with a  broken latch. I think to myself, what if a woman didn't know how to fix that and knew her new neighbor was handy that way? What if she offered to bake him cookies or a pie in exchange for fixing her cupboard? OR, I think, what if I put a twist on it and make it a man who doesn't have a drill, but has noticed his neighbor working on projects in her garage? Maybe he offers the baked goods in exchange so we break free of the gender norms... See what I mean. Let your brain go places.

Characterization: Notice how Lindy has just broken up with her boyfriend. She has some "woe is me" feelings. That's natural, but in a Woman's World story, you don't want to belabor that. In fact, you should show the character overcoming that and moving forward. That's the type of optimism and mindset that Woman's World likes.

Driving to the kennel, Lindy thought about tomorrow--she was looking forward to the parade and the fireworks, but the picnic? No. After her break-up with Josh six months earlier, Lindy would be flying solo in her group of married or seriously dating friends. She sighed. She was not going to let Josh ruin the holiday.

Very succinct and to the point. You can feel Lindy's determination and admire her for it. Keep this in mind when dealing with a character with a "tragic" past.

Photo credit Ltshears via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Shakespeare and Love

by Tamara Shaffer from the June 23, 2014 issue

Tagline: Jessica had never realized just how romantic Romeo and Juliet really was!

In a Nutshell: Jessica and her little boy meet a man and a little girl at a statue of Shakespeare that they visit often. One day it rains and the four of them have cocoa together. Oh, and the little girl is his niece and he's single. Score!

Observations: There was a lot about this story that made me think, "This was written by a pro," and it was. Shaffer has several stories published by Woman's World.

Realism--young children do crave repetition, so I thought the fact that Billy wanted to keep visiting the statue was perfect. And if you've had kids, you know they like to do things "all by myself." So, another realistic touch there that will ring true for a good portion of Woman's World readers.

Misdirection--when magicians direct your attention one way while they're doing something sneaky somewhere else, it's called misdirection. Shaffer did this when she had the hero say, "...your mom'll have dinner on the table." Of course, as seasoned Woman's World story readers, we know he's available. Personally, I suspected he was divorced, like she was.

Transition: Even the three rainy days that kept us inside didn't completely erase him from my mind. That part was terrific. With 800 words, you don't have a lot of wiggle room and this sentence both establishes a passage of time and shows us her frame of mind.

Foreshadowing: I hope you noticed the author foreshadowing the rainstorm. This ups the tension a tiny bit for the reader. We feel a light sense of impending doom or romance, depending upon your outlook. LOL

Humor: 'But soft!'" He struck a dramatic pose. "'What light through yonder window breaks?'" He winked at me. "I hope it's the sun coming out." Loved that. I also loved this line: "See you tomorrow at the park--same time, same statue?"

Characterization: We want to read about heroines with whom we could be friends and I appreciate humility and the ability to make fun of yourself as Jessica did at the very end of the story where she pokes fun at her unfamiliarity with Shakespeare's work.

"As Romeo--or no, I think it was Juliet--said, 'Parting is such sweet sorrow.'"

I giggled. "Hey even I remember that line!" I said, thinking, I couldn't agree more.




Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Real Prince

by Kathy Hendrickson from the June 16, 2014 issue

Tagline: It appeared a little bit of bad luck was going to bring a lot of happiness to Princess Amanda...

In a Nutshell: Amanda is a princess-for-hire but gets a flat tire on her way to her first gig. A man comes to her rescue.

Observations: I feel like I've read a story about a birthday party princess before, but it doesn't really matter. Story elements have a way of reappearing in Woman's World stories. This was still fun and cute.

I haven't talked about story structure in a long time, so today's a good day for that.

The first part of the story introduces the heroine, her situation, the hero and his daughter. It takes us continuously all the way from Amanda's flat tire to the party.

Then, notice there is a "tell" paragraph to transition us to after the party. There's no room to show everything in a Woman's World story, so when writing your own stories, make strategic use of summarizing the action like Hendrickson did. This transitional paragraph kind of serves as the second "act" of the story.

In the last portion of the story, there is no "black moment," per se. You have that worry in the back of your mind that Eric is married because he has a young daughter, but really--this is a Woman's World story. The reader knows deep down he's single, and yet the tension is still there subtly. Black moments are good, but not necessary.

Photo Credit: Alesgab93 via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Dream of You

by Barbara Glass from the June 9, 2014 issue

Tagline: A conversation with an old friend, a vivid dream...and suddenly, Helen's thoughts were filled with Robbie.

In a Nutshell: After talking with an old high school friend, Helen is reminded of her first boyfriend, Robbie. She immerses herself in photos from the period and loses track of the time. Her friend comes to pick her up for their lunch/movie date, but just as they're leaving, Robbie calls.

Observations: I've said it before, and I'll say it again--Woman's World romance stories are all about possibilities. Often, first meet stories end with someone asking someone out on a date and getting a "yes," and the reader is left feeling optimistic for the couple.

In this case, we don't even get that far, but we still feel Helen's giddy excitement. But I'll admit I have a soft spot for old flame stories. There's a guy in my past that crops up in my thoughts every once in a while.

So, the story is very much in line with what we expect from a Woman's World romance. However, it's also contrary in that Robbie doesn't even show up until the very end--and he's not even there in person. It's only his voice on the phone! The majority of the story is reminiscing via the conversation between Helen and her friend. Usually, I don't like stories that don't show the hero and heroine interacting for a decent amount of time because it can make it hard for the reader to believe they really made a connection and have a bright future as a couple.

However, this one worked for me. I think maybe because it was an old flame story, so we almost have a connection built in, assuming they're still compatible after all those years. That assumption I'm willing to take as a reader, because I'm hopeful and optimistic. I think also because the story ends on the cusp of their conversation, the author isn't forcing us to believe two people just met and connected enough to make future plans. Glass wisely stopped us short of that. She also used the friend cleverly too.

Sarah, the friend, leaves at the very end of the story, literally closing the door on what's going on with Helen and Robbie on the phone. I felt like I was perching on Sarah's shoulder as she left the lovebirds to catch up with each other and it was as if all her hope for her friend was transferred to me.

In my opinion, this is what Woman's World--the entire magazine--tries to do. Lift us up. Show us that life is good, and if at the moment it's not quite so good, things can and will get better.

Photo from HerCampus.com