I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Monday, February 6, 2012

Author Rachel Hauck Performs Book Therapy on Our Contest Winner's Scene

Happy Monday, everyone!
Today award-winning author and My Book Therapy therapist Rachel Hauck provides feedback to our blog contest winner, who as we mentioned last week, asked to remain anonymous. (Yes, this is a real person, I promise!)
Read through the scene and then see what you can glean from Rachel's comments (in blue) on how to improve the scene:

She hated funerals. Great opening. Simple. We see immediately part of her, and what’s going on in this first scene. And we relate. We all hate funerals.
But she supposed there weren’t many people who actually liked them. Except maybe undertakers and casket makers. She looked at Mr. Parisi’s casket. It was simple and straightforward- just like him. She wondered where he would be buried since the Saratoga Springs Community Church had no cemetery nearby. Maybe he would be buried in the municipal cemetery across from the high school. Or maybe he would be cremated and his ashes spread on the back lawn of the Schuyler Inn. She could see that more than she could see him spending eternity in a cold, impersonal cemetery - the Inn was not only his business, it was his home. She caught a tear with her damp, wrinkled tissue. She just couldn’t imagine what the Inn was going to be like without Mr. Parisi. He was the heart and soul of the place; how would she run it without him.
            Bam! ß Don’t do sound effects. We can “hear” the doors ourselves. The door at the back of the church slammed against the wall. Everyone ß I understand this but the word more or less moves us to “third person plural.” Since we are new to Stella, have Stella turn to the back “along with the other mourners” to see the back of the church. Also, where is Stella in the room? Near the front? In the back? Give us a sense of time and place. Since you opened with deep POV, which I liked, we now need some senses. Sight, sound, smells. Time of day? Location? Like: “The Louisiana sun burned the lights from the stained glass window into the sanctuary, painting the air with rainbow colors. Stella licked her lips. July was hot in the bayou.”  turned at once to see a homeless man, or at least he looked homeless to Stella, standing in the doorway squinting at the mourners and swaying a little. The swaying seemed to propel him forward and he stumbled down the aisle until he finally fell into a seat in the front row next to Mr. Parisi’s daughter. She glared at him but didn’t tell him to move or go away. The pastor looked from Jenny Parisi good, just need a few more lines to set the scene. Like: The pastor stopped his eulogy and looked at Mr. Parisi’s widow, Jenny, then down the long stone aisle to the man in the back. Something… let us “hear” the message, see his movements. to the homeless man, cleared his throat and continued.
            Stella was sandwiched in-between Mr. Viccerio and Mrs. McNamara who were both craning their necks to see who had just crashed the funeral. Good, but move it up to the second graph when you introduce her environment.
            “Can you see anything?” said Mr. Viccerio in a loud whisper. I like this but it feels a bit abrupt. They can’t see to the back? Neither can Stella? How big is the sanctuary? How many people are there. That’s be good to give us. Over all, bump up your story world here in the opening.
            “No, Charlie’s huge head is blocking my view,” said Mrs. McNamara.
            Charlie Miller, who owned an auto body shop, and whose neck had the same circumference as his massive biceps, turned around and glared.
            Mrs. McNamara waved her hand for Charlie to move to the left. He grumbled but leaned ever so slightly to the left.
            “Can you see now?” asked Mr. Viccerio.
            “Oh my word,” Mrs. McNamara said slowly, settling back down into the pew.
            “What? Who is it?”
            “It’s Rob.” Good!!
            “Are you sure? That guy looks like five miles of bad road.” LOL
            “I’m sure,” Mrs. McNamara nodded. “Did you see his eyes? They’re a dead giveaway.”
            “Rob’s eye color is bloodshot?” I’d delete this. Let the reader wonder about his eyes. Or let us see his eyes from Stella’s pov.
            Stella moved forward on the pew and looked around Charlie’s head to see if she could get a look at the homeless man. All she could see was his shaggy brown hair sticking up in places, matted down in others, and a large stain on one of the shoulders of his jacket. It didn’t look like the Rob Parisi she knew; the Rob Parisi that had left their small town and become a sitcom sensation at seventeen, the Rob Parisi that lived in a mansion in LA, dated models, and was ‘the sexiest man alive’, the Rob Parisi that left and never looked back.
So she knows him? Cool. But we need a lot more reaction. She says “homeless man” as if she doesn’t know who Rob is. Give us more of her reaction to him.
Rob? What? No one had heard from him in years. The sitcom sensation at age seventeen? Who left town like it was a bad stink on his shoes?
The boy she’d loves since third grade?
             “He has really let himself go since he was on So Far, So Good,” mused Mrs. McNamara.
            Stella could feel herself blush – embarrassed at the memory of her teenaged obsession with Rob’s show. And of the fact that she still had SFSG marathons – sometimes polishing off the whole DVD set in one weekend. 
            “Well, none of us has seen him in person in eleven years, so I don’t know how you can be so sure,” Stella whispered back..
            “Oh, that’s him all right. I just wonder why he’s here.”
            “His grandfather died,” said Mr. Viccerio.
            “Well yes,” Mrs. McNamara rolled her eyes, “but his timing kind of stinks. Guy would have given anything for him to have visited while he was alive. He loved that boy, even though Rob didn’t give two licks about him. Makes me wonder what he’s up to.”
            “Shhhh,” Stella said as the pastor asked them all to bow their heads in prayer. She noticed that the Rob had already bowed his head. Then, in the silence, a soft snore rose up from the front row.

Overall Feedback from MBT Therapist Rachel Hauck: 
Good!! I love this. Great set up. I’m intrigued by this Rob guy and Stella. I just need more of her world, more of her heart. You’re writing is good and clean, readable, but you’re hesitating to give us deep POV and emotion on Stella. Let go, “show” us her emotion. Like: Her breath caught when she saw Rob inching down the aisle, like a lost, lost soul. In all her life, she’d never, ever imagine the golden boy of town …
Make sense? Since she knows him, don’t call him homeless man. He’s Rob. Make this personal to her. How would YOU feel if you were Stella and Rob walked in?
Good pacing!
Good wording and word painting though if you give more story world, that will improve to a stellar point.
Keep writing!! This story has promise.

So what did you learn by reading through Rachel's book therapy? 

Thank you to everyone who participated in the contest. And a special thank you to Rachel for providing her expertise and doing "scene therapy" for our winner. 

Don't forget Rachel's latest book, The Wedding Dress, comes out in April 2012!


  1. This post is a great reminder that:
    1. Writing is rewriting.
    2. It always helps to have someone else look at your writing -- especially someone who is more experienced.
    3. I need to "let go" sometimes -- or as I've heard Rachel say, fall in love with my story and my characters and not be so uptight about rules and word count and getting it all right.

  2. It takes courage to put your story out there and for a public critique. I appreciate the writer so much for letting us all learn from this.

    Rachel, You've done an awesome job. Thanks so much!

  3. Thank you Anonymous for your courage. Sounds like you have a great story here. And Rachel! Your feedback is so good, showing us how just a few sentences can deepen the story. Thank you!

  4. This is a great reminder to have someone else look at my work. For example, I might think I have described the scene, but a reader might not have a full enough picture of that scene.

  5. Loved this! Thanks so much to the writer who was willing to be transparent and put work out there, and thanks to Rachel for sharing her insights!

    I loved the two characters sitting next to Stella--they provided some fun in that serious setting.

    I really appreciated the tips Rachel gave for getting into deeper POV and weaving story world more into that. Got a couple of ideas for a scene I'm working. Thanks so much!

    Thanks Ponderers and Rachel providing this opportunity to learn!

  6. I love reading critiques like this. They help me to look at my own openings again with fresh eyes. I have one ms reader who jots down what she's thinking and feeling as she reads my draft. The insights into where a reader's thoughts might go is awesome. And it shows me where I've failed to put on paper the story world that is in my head. Thanks Rachel and anon! Off to turn on my orange and get writing. :)

  7. Excellent. I love the opening and occasion but Rachel's therapy also makes it much more alive and immediate. I'm looking forward to more!

  8. We always learn so much from Susie and Rachel's critiques! Glad we're able to share in this one.

    One of the number one requirements for writing is thick skin to take critiques.

    I hope this story goes far!

  9. Rachel, you are an awesome therapist! Writer, whoever you are, I'm intrigued by your story!

    Like others have mentioned, I can learn so much from reading a critique not only of my own work, but of someone else's. And like Beth noted, I love Rachel's advice deep POV and emotion. It IS easy to get a bit stiff, focused on the mechanics of a scene without letting myself really get "carried away" in the emotion of the scene.

    But that's the awesome thing about rewriting (which I happen to love - so much less scary, to me, than a blank page). It's always possible to go back into a scene, prod myself into the moment and make room for the emotion. OR, it's always possible to go in and scale back when I've gotten too heavy-handed with it. Writing IS rewriting... :)

  10. Adding my own thanks to the writer who let me review his or her work. Thank you for our writing and your courage.

    Second, this is what book therapy is about. Helping writers sculpt their story.

    My input is just that, input. Some of it will work for this write, some will not.

    One thing I forgot to mention in this piece. and something WE all need to remember, is hint at the lie, the fear and the story question in the opening pages, at least by the end of the first chapter. HINT. Don't' explain in detail, but hint.

    I thought we got good hint at Stella in the beginning when she sees Rob. But that's crutial to hooking the reader.


  11. Since I'm a visual learner, I love hands-on critiques like this.

    Thanks to the writer for creating an engaging premise. I love the humor threaded throughout the paragraphs. Now I want to read more of this story.

    Thanks, Rachel, for your input. Your teaching is always so solid. No surprise since your books are so well written.

    Having a critique partner or two to read my scenes helps me to find those areas that strengthening. My CP reminds me to add action beats--"You're putting your characters in the spotlight. Let me see them interact with their environment." As writers, it's easy to assume the reader already sees what we see.

    Great post!

  12. Hey Rachel and Anonymous,

    First, thanks so much for being brave enough to share your story with us. I love it. Stella and Rob seems to have a history that's intriguing!

    Rachel, thanks for taking the time to provide the feedback. I'm with Lisa, I learn best by seeing, so seeing your comments gives me great ideas on what to do with my own stuff!

  13. I too like reading critiques, it helps improve my writing as well. Thanks Rachel for appearing on the ponderer's blog and thanks for the anonymous author. Great job!

  14. Thanks
    I too am a visual learner and it helps me to "see" examples such as this.

    I must say I'm,intrigued by the characters....keep writing Anon!

  15. I learned that I want Anonymous to get this story written and published because I want to know the rest of it!! What a fantastic hook!

    I also learned another little bit about POV (it used to be so easy when the author was omniscient. Not better, just easier, lol!) with Rachel's comment about the word "everyone." And like Lindsay, I am reminded to get feedback from others about my Storyworld. When I have spent so much time visualizing it in my head, it is easy to assume everyone else can see it too.

    Thank you, Contest Winner. You have such a great start here!! I hope you are planning to enter the Frasier!!

    And thank you, Rachel, for giving us all a mini therapy session! =)

  16. Wow! I loved this therapy session! I'm going over my opening scene and see if I included the senses to their fullest potential. Thanks Rachel! You always make things So clear :)