Thursday, February 16, 2012

Rachel Hauck with Our Pitch Winner's My Book Therapy!

Casey here: Earlier in January the Writer's Alley hosted a very first: the chance to have the first 1,000 words of the winner's story critiqued by Rachel Hauck, awarding winning author and My Book Therapist. Below you will find the winner's pitch and excerpt and Rachel's comments highlighted in the blue. Rachel gives some great comments that apply to all stories, not just this one and is a great learning experience. Thanks to both our winner and Rachel for giving of her time for our learning experience!

Winning pitch!:
When a confirmed bachelor inherits his sister's 

four kids, he knows he can't do it all on his own.

But he can't mail order a bride - can he find one on Craigslist?

They looked like stair-step angels. Towheads. With big blue eyes. Their mother's eyes. Their father's hair.
Sitting there.
Staring at me.
What did I know about being a dad?
I was cool Uncle Andrew. Flew in at Christmas. Sent fun stuff on birthdays. Promised ski trips for the teen years.

I'd sworn off ever having a family of my own. ((RH: GREAT hint at the hero’s issue, story question and what this book is going to be about. Love the quick opening!))

But now I'd inherited one. ((RH: Good. This is the problem. He doesn’t want a family and now he’s inherited one. We’re intrigued because we want to know how it happened and what he’s going to do about it?))

Guests around me murmured words I didn't hear, much less understand. ((RH:ß Seems weird to me he hears murmured words but then you write “I didn’t hear.” He heard something, Reword this??)) I could only stare at the lives that now depended on me.

"Unca An'rew?" ((RH: This is a rule of mine and I think it’s a good one. If you’re writing young kids, use sentence structure to show broken speech, young speech or dialect. Misspelling words is awkward and often jerks the reader a bit.))

My Daisy Girl. A flower in the rain. That's what she reminded me of. "Yes, Emma?"

"Where're we gonna go?" There was a tell-tale quiver of her bottom lip. She was trying to be strong and brave. ((RH: Can you weave in here the children’s ages?)) I wasn't sure who had told them they needed to be, but someone had. All any of them wanted to do was cry. I'd lost my parents at twenty-five and it was all I'd wanted to do. How much more so for a four-year-old? ((RH: ß put in earlier.))

"With me, Daisy Girl."

"But you don't have room." Tyler looked more sullen. At six, he understood better than the others.
"I'll find room. A new place. I have to move for work anyway so we'll get a place big enough for all five of us."

I hadn't thought this through. I was moving from Phoenix to Springfield, Missouri in a matter of weeks. The kids belonged in Charlotte, North Carolina. Where Ally and I had grown up. Their paternal grandparents had volunteered to take them until I could figure things out, but there was no one else and I'd promised Ally. They couldn’t do it full-time. I was the only relative. No other aunts or uncles. No cousins. No best friends willing to step up.

((RH: I like this set up. Can you slow down a bit and give a bit more emotion and detail. Or have someone come up to our hero, Andrew, perhaps the in-laws and have some of this in dialog.
Both the father and mother of the children died? How did Andrew promise Ally he’d take the children? We’re getting great information here but slow down, give a bit more detail about the death. It’s not back story IF it relates to the current scene. And it does.))

Just me.

Perpetually single Uncle Andrew. ((RH: Is this his choice? Hint of a fear or regret here?))

And a judge had even okayed it.((RH: <-- Okay him being perpetually single? :-) ))  Thought it was a good idea even. ((RH: Rearrange the sentence to be in a more logical order.))

"We hafta move?" Tears filled Emma's eyes.

I nodded. ((RH: ß Instead of “I nodded,” show more action. “I scooped her up in my arms. I’ll keep you safe baby Emma. I’ll do what I have to do. I will. No backing out on this one.” Something like that “shows” the scene better. Nodding, smiling, laughing, etc are good and we need those but use them sparingly. In this scene we need more of Andrew’s movements. Also, if you add a few lines like I suggested, the reader will see he’s trying to overcome a fear, a bad habit, an immaturity that we know will cause him troubles later. :-) ))   "I'm sorry, sweetie, but yes. But it'll be okay. We'll get a big house with a yard and friends nearby, okay?" I prayed I could deliver on that promise. I was getting a raise and everything was cheaper in that part of the country. Surely, I could swing a decent house. ((RH: ß This is good. But maybe something you could add to the dialog part with the in-laws over where they were going to live. This is “surface” detail that the story needs. BUT not worth internal thought. That can be said “Out loud.” But internal thought, about his fears, his resolve, his doubts, add a deeper layer of emotion and can be told in internal thought. People are more likely to speak out surface details while holding onto personal thoughts.))

"MeeMee and PaPaw are going to stay here for a few weeks. I can't stay for Thanksgiving, but I'll call you every night and then we'll move together. We'll be together by Christmas. Okay?"

((RH: I’m not sure where we are? Are we in North Carolina? Time of day? Time of year? We need a bit more story world.))

Emma nodded then broke ranks. She ran to me, flung her little arms around my neck and the body-wracking sobs began.  ((RH: ß Good!)) I folded her into my embrace, tears leaking down my own cheeks. Three-year-old Colby scrambled onto the couch next to me. ((RH: ß Are there three children? I was thinking only two?)) I expanded my reach to include my nephew. Through tear-filled eyes, I could see Tyler sitting on the other couch. And Kalie was barely a year. She had no idea what was going on.

"I jus' wan' my mama and daddy back." Emma's whisper broke my heart.

"I know, punkin. I know."

((RH: Love this premise. Love this opening. We have immediate empathy for the hero as well as the children. ))

Work on adding story world and the five senses. What time of day? What does the breeze smell like? What sounds? Where are they? Time of year?

You did a good job with pacing, but I think you could slow down a bit and add some layers, weave in some internal emotion.

We have a good glimpse of his obstacles and insecurities, but can you beef those up? Why hasn’t he settled down? What do the children mean to his life, his job? They provide a huge obstacle to what he wants.
As you develop the opening pages, we need to get a glimpse at what this story is going to be about and what Andrew’s journey will entail. So: What does he want?

I can see his dilemmas. His struggle. But I’m not sure what he wants.

Greatest fear needs to conflict with his secret desire.

For example: If his greatest fear is failure on every level – relationships, work, with God, but his secret desire is to be at peace, to love, to be secure enough to fail, then what problems do inheriting his sister’s children cause? How do they highlight his fear but tap on his desire.

If he’s all about himself and his work, then inheriting children would be a big source of emotional turmoil. Yet, we get a glimpse of his love for them.

Rachel Hauck
You have all the pieces in place. Love it! Nice writing too! Now, rewrite and ramp up the tension, the obstacles and the hint of the journey.

Good job!!! Thank you for letting My Book Therapy have a shot at your piece. J


Thank you, Rachel! It was a privilege to have you here on the Alley and we are so glad we can learn from your expertise!


Unknown said...

Wow, I can't wait to read that story some day! It sounds wonderful. :) I appreciate the general writing tips and the specific suggestions Rachel offered. Thanks, Rachel! Thanks author, and thanks Writer's Alley!

Joanne Sher said...

Ooh - boy - Rachel - you're GOOD! (and I'm so very, VERY curious who the author is!! :D) Thanks.

Lindsay Harrel said...

Love the tip about adding more movement. This is something I struggle with. I've got a lot of laughter, wiggling of eyebrows, and gulping, but not as much other movement that speaks to the characters' feelings. Thanks!

Love the story too. Very touching. Hope to read more some day! ;)

Susan Anne Mason said...

Great critique, Rachel!

The first thing I noticed was lack of setting. Where are these people?

I really like the idea of one of the grandparents talking to him. This would draw out more details in real time and definitely add conflict - especially if they want to fight for custody. Or consider Andrew incompetent as a father.

Great story premise! Thanks for sharing!

PS. How come it's so much easier to know the right thing to do with someone else's wip and not our own!


Rachel Hauck said...

Sue, it is always easier to see the weakness OR strength in another person's writing.

Susie Warren and I often joke, "Hey, I'll write your story, it's awesome! You write mine, it stinks!"

It's why we have editors.

I loved the premise of this story and what the author had done already! Really great.

Thanks Writer's Alley for having me!


Mary Vee Writer said...

Great tips for all of us to watch in our own writings. Thank you Rachel for teaching us today. Thank you bold, brave writer who shared your fabulous story opening with us.

Casey said...

JEANNE, a great learning experience isn't it? Great tips that are down-to-earth editing practices to apply to our writing!

JOANNE, maybe she'll leave a comment and identify herself. ;-)

Casey said...

LINDSAY, did you crawl into my story and learn all my secrets?? LOL! Seriously, I know what you mean. It's an easy default, something that editing works wonders with.

SUSAN, Join. The. Club. I love to edit. People tell me my crits are helpful, now I just need to learn that for myself. ;-) Setting is huge for adding motivation, tension, grounding the characters and seeing them interact with their world. I love setting. It's not the easiest thing for me to write fresh, though.

Casey said...

RACHEL, thanks for BEING here and offering your talents in such a way! We're happy to have you. :D

MARY, isn't this story a fun premise. I'd be interested and see how the author makes the whole Craig's List angle work. ;-)

Beth K. Vogt said...

OH, it's so, so helpful to see book therapy -- to get a glimpse of how an experienced author sees a scene.

Naomi Rawlings said...

It's refreshing and informative to see this crit. It doesn't matter how many crits you see, there's always a chance to learn more from a different one. Thanks Rachel and Casey!

And I love the Craigslist thing in the pitch. Made me laugh. Plus I'm really interested to find out what happens next. How DOES this poor guy take care of all those kids???

Casey said...

BETH, excellent way of putting it. Incredibly true, we can learn so much for from those who are willing to teach us!

NAOMI, it has the ultimate angle to keep the reader's attention doesn't it? Who doesn't want to read more about a single guy with three kids to take care of. ;-)