The latest issue of The People’s Friend magazine carries a short story I’ve written, called Blackcurrant Jelly. It’s about a father wondering how his young daughter will cope on her first day back at school, after spending several months off school recovering from meningitis. In particular, he’s worried how she’ll cope now she’s lost all of her fingers and thumbs, through the illness.
This was a story I’d read out at one of the writers’ groups I go to, and some people didn’t like the subject matter at all (which is fair enough). Others thought it was well written, while a few didn’t think it would work for the women’s magazine market.
And, as such, I can understand that. After all, a child losing some fingers and thumbs is not exactly a happy time in anyone’s life (their’s or their parents’).
But that doesn’t mean to say that the women’s magazine short story market won’t deal with difficult subject matters. They do. It all depends upon how you treat it. And I think the editor whom I submitted it to (and liked it) put it best:
“I’ve just read your latest short story, Blackcurrant Jelly. In a word – superb! I applaud you for tackling such a storyline, and written in such a heartfelt way. I love to read stories that leave an impact. And this one fits the bill. Some PF writers tackle similar storylines, but they forget the element of hope, and the plots are simply varying spirals of melancholy. Not here, though.”
Notice the key phrase there: but they forget the element of hope.
If you read my story (and I hope you will – the issue is still available on newsagents shelves – it’s the one with Aviemore on the front cover), you’ll see that it’s anything but downbeat. The ending is upbeat. Both characters end the story with a newfound optimism and hope.
And that’s what magazine editors are looking for in any story. Readers are buying these magazines to enjoy themselves reading stories, not be made to feel bad and despondent.
So don’t avoid the difficult subject matters in stories. You can write about them. But it all comes down to how you handle it. Think positively. Think positive endings.
Leave the reader feeling happy, or hopeful.