Study Stories Like a Detective

They say you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you meet your prince. Story writing works the same way. You’ll probably get many rejections before your first acceptance, especially with women’s magazines. That’s why you must analyse all the stories that do get published until you realise what has to happen before an editor gives you the OK.

Choose a story and read it through several times. What does this story have that yours doesn’t? Maybe it’s the title. The story I’m sharing with you today I called “Post Office Box” but when it appeared in Women’s Own, they changed the title to “Take A Chance On Me” which is certainly catchier.

Is the first paragraph special? Is it a hook, that takes you straight into the action? The main character must be sympathetic. She should be similar to the readership in age and personal circumstances. Are there too many characters? Are their names suitable for the period you are writing about – if it’s contemporary, don’t call them Flora, Maude or Muriel – more likely Kylie or Kimberley. Be sure there is a real problem to overcome in your plot, or a serious decision to be made. Give the reader a laugh when you can. Is the ending satisfactory, with all the loose ends tied up?

Here is my story which was accepted within a few days, but – as I told you – they changed the title.



Tiffany never read the Personals in the local newspaper or, if she did, it was just for fun. How could anyone ever take them seriously? Almost everyone described themselves as tall ,good-looking, fun-loving, intelligent, with a great sense of humor. A far cry from the people she met in her job at the realtors. The men were mostly short or bald and always married. And as far as a sense of humor went well, forget it!

Her mother, Nora, read them assiduously. A widow of 57, she rather hoped to find someone for herself, but men of a suitable age were looking for slim women in their 30s which ruled her out completely. Mainly she looked to find a mate for Tiffany who had been afflicted with the travel bug since her 18th birthday, continually going abroad for 6-monthly stints a waitress in a café on a GreekIsland; an entertainment hostess on a cruise ship; a travel agent in the Bahamas. She was never anywhere long enough to form a lasting relationship. Her present job at the Real Estate agency was the closest shed got to a more settled lifestyle. Spring only comes once Nora would quote to her stubborn 26-year-old daughter, who would only laugh at her.

It wasnt that Tiffany didnt like men. On the contrary. But she had her standards . They had to be single, presentable, educated and if the guy could make her laugh, that was a decided plus.

One day Tiffany came home from work to discover the Personals page propped up against the radio in her bedroom. Her mother had placed it strategically where she couldnt overlook it.

Nora had outlined one advertisement in red: Young man, 30, tall and handsome, slim, rich , professional, seeks similar to age 26. She was just about to throw the page in her waste paper bin, when the unmarked one underneath it caught her eye: Im a bit of a no-hoper on the wrong side of 30. Even my Dad doesnt call me handsome. Would you take a chance and meet me? You could share my overdraft. You might be my last chance! followed by a Post Office Box number.

Tiffany giggled. She read it again. Just for fun she thought, Ill send off an answer. She grabbed a piece of stationery headed: From Tiffany’s Desk,her best friend Clares’ gift to her for her birthday. She wrote:

Dear No-hoper. As my mother says Spring only comes once and as Im almost over-the-hill, Id better meet you. Maybe you’re also MY last chance. You don’t mention any assets, so youre probably no great catch, but they do say two can live as cheaply as one and other idiotic cliches. At present I am living with my mother and I’m 26, so that should tell you something. If youre interested, you can reply to the P.O.B. where I work.

She shoved it in an envelope , stamped it, and put it in her briefcase. As the office secretary, she sent it out with the next days mail and promptly forgot about it.

Three days later, while opening the office mail, she was amazed to see one addressed: Attention: Tiffany’s Desk. It began:

Dear Tiffany’s Desk. It was very nice to get a letter from you, especially as I didn’t know desks could write. I tended to think them as rather wooden. I don’t think at 26 you should consider yourself over the hill. Indeed my grandmother has an antique Jacobean desk hundreds of years old, so you are actually a spring chicken in the desk department. Hers also has a secret compartment I wonder if you do?

It would be terrific if we could meet and table our aspirations for the future. If you are interested, please give me a call in the evening. Being such a no-hoper, I am usually at home or leave a message with my Dad. A telephone number followed.

Tiffany laughed to herself all the morning, raising the eyebrows and ire of her stern boss, Mr. Wilcock, who considered the real estate business nothing to laugh about. Hed never seen her like that before, and wondered if perhaps she was a secret drinker.

She could hardly wait until lunch-time, to share her missive with Clare. They usually met for coffee and a sandwich at a nearby snack bar. Clare was a head-turner chief fashion buyer for a large store, she really looked the part an impeccably tailored suit, an upswept blonde hairdo, very expensive perfume and impeccable make-up, while Tiffany grabbed whatever was clean on the nearest coat-hanger in her closet.

No-one turned their head to look at Tiffany although she was actually much prettier than Clare, with soft brown hair, big blue eyes and a nice figure although a bit too full-breasted for current fashions demanding a more boyish, slim-hipped line.

I don’t believe it Clare gasped, you answering a Personals ad!

Well, I only did it for fun.

So did he, obviously. Are you going to call him?

No, of course not.

But you must. Youre obviously made for each other. Youve got the same wacky sense of humor.
Thats what I like about his ad Tiffany admitted. The fact that he didnt say he had a sense of humor.

mean, you wouldnt if you had, would you?

Youve lost me somewhere Clare said. But you absolutely must call him tonight I have to know the end of the story.

Over lunch they fantasized about what hed be like. Optimistic Clare saw him as a gorgeous academic probably a university lecturer or maybe an investment counsellor , the latter appealing enormously to her sense of what a young woman needed in life. Tiffany, thinking of the men she met in her work on a day-to-day basis, thought he was probably married, fat and jolly hardly the stuff of which dreams are made.

Tiffany waited until she heard her mother leave for her weekly bridge game, then she dialled his number with shaking hands. A pleasant mans voice answered.

“Oh Lord, she remembered, I dont know his name. Um, is that Mr. No-Hoper?

I dont think so. Ive always thought of myself as quite successful came the amused reply.

I I think I wanted your son she stuttered, thankful that he couldnt see her flaming face. That could very well be he replied evenly, and she heard him calling out: John John . A rather strange young woman appears to be asking for you.

She was tempted to hang up. Only Clare and curiosity prevented it.


Er is that Mr. No-hoper?

Yes, it is. You must be Tiffanys Desk.

She laughed. I liked your letter. I just wanted to tell you so.

And I liked yours. Since we seem to be each others last chance, how about we meet?

Well, Ive never done anything like this before. I mean you might be an ax-murderer.

Oh, I assure you Im not. I faint at the sight of blood, actually.

Tiffany considered this. What if we hate each other?

Well have wasted an hour. Is that so terrible?

No I guess not. When and where?

“Well, with your name it should be Breakfast at Tiffanys. I know a great place that does Sunday morning breakfasts with bagels and lox from 9 a.m. Then if you find me too frightful, you can pretend you have to rush off to church or something. And I dont think murderers operate at breakfast time certainly not before they’ve had their coffee anyway.

So the arrangements were made. He didnt sound old and fat ,Tiffany decided, and he made her laugh. She thought she would tell her mother part of it. Im meeting someone who advertised in the Personals she confided. Thats great Nora enthused, remembering the ad. shed circled. Hes a professional, handsome and rich too.

Well, actually I answered a different one. This ones a no-hoper of very limited means.

You’re always kidding was her mothers reply.

What are you going to wear? was naturally Clare’s first question.

Jeans and a t-shirt? suggested Tiffany.

Clare was horrified. Dont be ridiculous. You know the saying: You never get a second chance to first impression. Youve got to bowl him over.

Getting all dolled up is hardly my style.

But you must youve got to knock him for six. Lets see. Have you still got that ice-blue chiffon with the draped bodice?

Are you crazy! Were meeting for breakfast, not a cocktail party at the White House.

You listen to me Tiffany. Ive had two husbands already, and I know about men. They love pale blue they sort of melt when you look all feminine and beguiling.

Spare me Tiffany groaned. Anyway hell probably be a creep. But she didnt really believe that . No creep could sound as he did on the phone, or write such a hilarious letter.

She settled for a pale blue blouse and navy pleated skirt, which really did emphasize her blue eyes. He told her hed be reading the Sunday paper thats how shed recognize him. She looked through the window, deciding that if he had acne or dandruff shed turn tail and run. He wouldnt know how to find her again.

The only guy on his own that she could see through the window looked quite attractive. He was wearing a brown sports jacket with leather elbow patches, and a beige shirt with a lemon tie. Obviously hed put some thought into what he wore, and she was glad Clare had talked her out of the jeans and t-shirt.

When she reached his table, he rose and held out his hand. Tiffany? Im John. They shook hands, and he also held out his left hand. Look no ax!

She felt comfortable with him right from the start. He was a journalist and put the ad. in on a dare from a friend. I thought I might get a story out of all the applications, but you were the only one he said ruefully.

What kind of a story?

Oh, you know Loneliness in a big city that kind of thing.

I replied for fun too she admitted. A sudden whim.

Well I can see youre not really over the hill. Youre gorgeous he said suddenly. Do you think this might be the start of a beautiful friendship?

Tiffany thought for a moment, then she smiled mischievously. How big is your overdraft?

The End

(1,784 words)

If I can help you with any of your writing problems, you can write to me. You may be interested in getting my new e-book recently released. It’s a novella titled “Autumn Blessing” and it’s available at:


Prism Book Group


Click on the above for details. Happy writing.


18 thoughts on “Study Stories Like a Detective

  1. Rita says:

    Loved it and as always your stories flow so naturally. No overdose of details but enough to get the visual picture of the characters and setting. Like a sketch there are no extra lines.

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