Writing Short Stories and Serials for Woman’s Weekly

Creative WritingAs mentioned in my post earlier this week, I sat in on two talks given by Gaynor Davies and Della Galton at the Woman’s Weekly Live! event, in Manchester.

Gaynor Davies is the fiction editor of said magazine, and spoke about writing stories and serials that might prove suitable for publication. She is keen to receive material from new writers, but stressed the importance of each writer finding their own voice, without attempting to emulate those already existent in the magazine.

Woman’s Weekly has worked hard to modernise its image, so its target audience is no longer the 1950s housewife or the granny knitting in her rocking chair. The target now is the modern woman, many of whom are still working and offering a dynamic role model in their 60s, 70s, and even 80s (think Joan Collins). So to reflect this change of tone, the subject matter of any fiction needs to push the boundaries – Gaynor did warn that explicit sex and violence would be pushing it a little too far (and I should imagine swearing would be frowned upon, as well). And although Mills and Boon are still popular in today’s market, this isn’t the style of fiction sought by Woman’s Weekly for its pages.

The magazine is interested in a variety of topics including humour (not pretentious, be yourself), mystery, and crime (not too scary and still with a sense of warmth) which takes place off stage, so to speak, and results in a lot of red herrings and a sense of community – think Midsomer Murders, without any gory bits.

Gaynor wants to hear from writers who can tackle a difficult subject in an honest way, but pointed out that problems and conflict are inherent to the plot in order to have a story, otherwise it is just a catalogue of events.

No conflict = No story

It is also important to recognise that ridiculous coincidences do not make a plot, either. The story has to be believable, and there has to be a problem and subsequent change in the character.

NB. The character should drive the plot and your storyline.

Whichever way the author chooses to plot their story, it is essential they make the first paragraph stand out to attract the attention of the reader.

Rejections are usually because the character is a stereotype, and doesn’t undergo any obvious change within the narrative. A good story is one that evokes an emotional response.

If a magazine’s requirements state 1,000 and 2,000 words, it doesn’t mean anything between these amounts. A collective word count of 900 and 1100, or 1900 and 2100 may just be acceptable, but 1300 and 1700 won’t. I must be a little dim as I hadn’t realised this before, but it makes sense as the story needs to fit within the format of the magazine. Seasonal stories should be submitted as early as possible i.e. Christmas stories in June/holiday stories at Christmas. The requirements can be seen in full at Woman’s Weekly Fiction Submission Guidelines.

In terms of style and language, it seems that many writers have a tendency to overwrite using too many adjectives and adverbs, and subsequently slowing the rhythm of the piece. Before submitting a story, streamline the process by reviewing your work to cross out all the unnecessary descriptive words. Keep the language simple – not too flowery – and don’t overwork the use of similes and metaphors. Avoid using verbs to describe tone e.g. shyly, expostulating, etc. – unless it is essential – and opt instead for “he/she said”, or nothing at all. The dialogue should speak for itself and be distinctive in character voice. Another trap to avoid is using background dialogue e.g. “When is your son, Peter, coming home? The one who is doing the P.E. course at college.”

Remember: Show, don’t tell. Be subtle.

Re-read your work to ensure the same information isn’t repeated over and over again. Less is more ­– tell it once.

Apparently, many writers are reluctant to try the serial market, but Gaynor wishes to remedy this. Anyone interested in submitting a serial should write a story that breaks down into three, four or five parts, each section consisting of 3,300 words, and ending on a cliffhanger to keep the reader on tenterhooks – although if the reader is engrossed enough with the character, the breaks will provide a natural cliffhanger.

An outline of the entire story, plus the first instalment of 3,300 words, should be submitted for consideration rather than the serial in its entirety, to allow for a decision to be made as to its suitability. Ms Davies reminded us against an excessive use of background description, which will slow the pace of the narrative and the overall tension of the story.

Remember:

      i.         Be realistic to captivate the reader and provide an escape.

    ii.         Offer the reader relief and release.

  iii.         Allow your audience to explore their own emotions.

   iv.         Stories will be rejected without enough warmth; too polite; gender stereotypes; and if a serial falls into the Mills & Boon category. 

Summary

  • Know your market
  • Own voice – be yourself
  • Show, don’t tell
  • Be nosey and discover your own ideas for stories. 

Good luck and I’ll be back, again, to give advice on 21st century romance from Della Galton.

Image credit: iqoncept / 123RF Stock Photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Responses to Writing Short Stories and Serials for Woman’s Weekly

  1. Rosemary says:

    What an interesting day you must’ve had! The thing about the word lengths had escaped me too, but it makes sense. This is so informative I’m going to tweet it.

    • JWow Admin says:

      I’m glad you’ve got something from it, too. It was really informative. I would recommend it to new and established writers. And thanks for the promise of the tweet.

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