On Friday 11th April, I left Cardiff on the 6.55 am train from Central Station to arrive at Paddington just before nine o'clock. This would allow me plenty of time to get to the workshop by coffee time...or so I thought! Now, I'd always prided myself on my map reading skills, having navigated all over France on annual family holidays in the days before SAT navs. No, what I hadn't mastered was the map app on my brand new iPhone! 'What!' I can hear my Geography lecturer daughter screaming in disbelief. Yes, Jo, I took the wrong turning out of the tube station, got totally confused by the little blue man 'walking' and got myself completely lost! To cut a very long story short, I eventually got to the Blue Fin Building in Southwark by flagging down a taxi driver who got me there just as Gaynor Davies, the Editor, was starting her welcome - apologies, embarrassment, flustered, hot and bothered! :-(
The room was full of people like me hoping to find out what it takes to be a Woman's Weekly writer. We were all seated around a very long table that seemed to fill the room. I soon spotted my friend Helen at the other end and Glyn, another writing buddy who was attending, was seated a few seats away from me. Gaynor opened the proceedings with a warm welcome and introduced our tutor for the day, Della Galton.
Gaynor began by talking about a typical Woman's Weekly reader and recommended that we try to see the reader not the age, a reader who may be interested in travel, an optimist, involved with family and homes and community minded. When reading the stories in Woman's Weekly you will find characters like this with whom the readers can relate and feel empathy. She then listed the sort of stories that would interest the editors:
- there should be warmth, especially in the way the characters behave
- stories that are character not plot driven where there is conflict or crisis, for the character to have a problem and the character has to change
- more humorous stories
- stories that end on a note of optimism but the ending should not be 'tied up in a bow'.
On style, the editors do not want too many adjectives, adverbs or images. Keep to 'said' for dialogue. They do not want you to tell your readers everything. Respect them and let them work things out for themselves.
On the length of stories, she mentioned one pagers (900 - 1000 words) and two pagers (1800-2000). Apparently the awkward lengths are the 1200-1800 word stories as they can't do much with these from a lay-out point of view. At this point, I was trying to think how long was the last story I submitted to WW!
Della then led us on a timed writing exercise. We suggested characters, problems and settings for her 'random idea generator' and she then asked us to write an attention grabbing paragraph about a mother who was having marital problems and the setting was a station. It was good to see everyone busy writing away in complete silence but it soon became apparent that we had to read our efforts out. This didn't turn out to be as unnerving as I thought it would be because it was great to see how everyone had interpreted the scenario so differently.
Before lunch, Della talked to us about ideas, plot and developing short story characters which was preparation for another writing exercise in the afternoon.
Lunch time was a great opportunity to catch up with the other writers and admire the impressive Blue Fin Building. (It was a bit of a blur when I arrived!) The views from the roof top terrace canteen are amazing and the food is pretty good too!
The afternoon began with an exercise where we completed a chart for the main character of a story. Knowing everything about our characters will make them credible and explain why they behave in the way they do. Time was spent reading these out and explaining how the stories would develop and Della and Gaynor interjected with useful comments and advice.
The day ended with a session from Della about why stories are rejected. Here are some of the reasons she covered:
- predictable endings
- overused theme
- underdeveloped characters
- insufficient plot
- too much plot
- wrong market
- bad luck!
All we have to do now is finish the stories we started in the workshop and put into practice what we've learned. I wish! Seriously though, I highly recommend attending one of the workshops. The next ones are listed on the Woman's Weekly website as taking place on August 15th and September 1st but I'd check to see if places are still available. For two excellent posts about writing for Woman's Weekly, you may like to visit Della Galton's Blog, one posted on April 21st and a previous one on February 25th.
PS. The walk back to Southwark tube station on our way home took a matter of minutes so I asked Helen how she'd found her way to the workshop that morning. "Oh, I did it the old-fashioned way," she said. "I asked directions and the man said 'Just follow the orange lamp posts!'" Now, why didn't I think of that? Hee-hee!
Thanks for reading. Have you been given one of the reasons listed if you've had feed back about a rejected story? Please leave a comment.
PPS. If you'd like a light-hearted read, my short story Harriet's Easter Surprise has just been published by Cafe Lit . Or, for something totally different, why not read Freed To Be Myself on Creative Frontiers ?
You may follow me on @JanBayLit