Chip MacGregor

March 9, 2012

And the winner of the "My Book Therapy" is…


A Guest Post from Rachel Hauck of My Book Therapy

 Hey everyone. I’m back with My Book Therapy Live. Thanks to all who commented on the blog for a chance to win.

I picked Amy Simpson because not only did she leave a funny comment, but several of you voted for her to win, too.

Amy shows great promise as a writer and many of the craft points I highlight in her piece are craft points I see in almost every book therapy I do. In fact, I learned from doing this therapy myself.

Leave a comment if you have a question or a thought to add. Amy, I applaud your work and your bravery to be the live therapy guinea pig. Also, for your willingness to learn!

Thanks to Chip, Sandra and Amanda for lending us this cyber space.



 And here is the winning entry, complete with Rachel's notes…


Log line: The only thing more dangerous than the man bent on taking her life, is

the risk of living and losing her heart to her sworn enemy.

I like this. It’s a bit awkward. And it kind of sounds like she’s going to fall in love with the man bent on taking her life.

So, maybe…

The only thing more dangerous for HEROINE than the man determined to take her life is falling in love with a man who might lose his.

Something like that. Gives a hint of the story problem and question, gives a window onto the journey, raises questions. Indicates a romantic suspense. Nice!




Chapter 1

            “I’m all in.” Finn Carson shoved the heaping stack of poker chips to the center of the table, challenging anyone to cross him. The pocket aces in his possession were just about a sure thing, considering Ryker and Jones couldn’t bluff to save their lives and Wally, well, he could lift a ton, but he sure couldn’t spell it.  LOL.

            The past few months had been pretty uneventful. Kirkwood, the quaint suburb in West St. Louis County, was one of the few towns yet to be hit by the “5-Alarm Arsonist.”

            “Jeeze, ß Believe it or not, any time of Jeeze or Sheez might not pass in CBA. It’s a derivative of “Jesus.” Finn, why do you always have to push it to the limit?” Jones threw down his cards. “I hate poker.”

            Finn couldn’t help but laugh. Okay, I like this. I get the feeling we’re watching firefighters, but I’m not sure. We need a bit more story world. Where are we? What time of day. Sights? Sounds? Clinking of the poker chips? A cold fluorescent light overhead. “All right, any takers?” Poker always provided a nice distraction. And of course, winning didn’t hurt matters either.

Teaching point: Instead of saying “Finn couldn’t help but laugh,” show is the action of scraping the chips across the table, adding to his pile. Let us see his actions, see his winnings. We can feel and see that he’s smiling because he’s winning.

Dialog point: What’s Finn’s response to his co-worker/friend? “All right, any takers?” is a good line, but said too soon. Jones threw down his cards and said he hated poker. A good response for Finn might be:

“No you don’t, Jones, you just hate losing.”

“Especially to you.”

“All right, any takers? Carter, what about you? Do you have more guts than Jones?

This rounds out the feel of the room and lets us get a bit more of Finn’s character and personality. Don’t cut us off too soon. Add some action and senses and you have a good opening.

Ryker folded and all eyes zoned in on a bewildered Wally.

            “I, uh . . . I guess I’ll . . . call?”

            Finn slapped his cards down with satisfaction, ready to rake in the spoils.

            “Aww, you win. I just got these five and seven of hearts.” Wally shook his head.

            Finn’s smile faded in disbelief. “Are you kidding me? You have a flush.”

            “I do?” His dopey expression morphed into something akin to enlightenment. “Does this mean I won’t be on bathroom duty for once?”

            Finn rolled his eyes. There was no money on the line, but he still hated to lose. And very seldom did. 

Teaching point: Again, give us action. Eye rolling doesn’t show us any of his character or emotions. Show us he hates losing by pushing away from the table and uttering a “low hot word.”

Also, by now, we need to get a bit of Finn’s internal struggle. Hint at his fear and lie. Can he be a bit more on edge? He really wants to win. Needs to win. Not because he wants off of bathroom duty but because something underneath is broiling and winning would prove he’s… not such a loser? Or wimp? Or brute? Or something…

What’s going on beneath the surface with him? Great that we are seeing his “surface” world – playing poker with fellow FF but he also needs to be struggling beneath the surface.

            The ribbing and heckling commenced as the guys scrawled “J.P. Wallace” on the wall, knocking Finn’s long standing streak off the record board.

            “All right guys, I’m out. I think I’m gonna go get some shut eye. See you losers later.” Finn climbed the stairs to the room he shared with Ryker, chuckling at the insults following his retreat.

            After turning out the lights, he stared into the consuming darkness, praying that a dreamless sleep would come. Most nights, he’d get an hour or two before the nightmares kicked in. Then he’d spend the remainder of the night waking at thirty minute intervals in a cold sweat. Finn was a grown man, he shouldn’t be afraid of sleep. But he was. Fear of the terrors to come strangled his even breaths as he settled in for slumber.

Good. We see something bothering him. But instead of delivering it here in one graph, weave it into his emotions.

Let’s flip this. If he’s nervous to go to sleep, having him staying up, calling for another poker game, trying to get the guys to stay up later and later to play poker. Or watch a movie. Or work out. The Captain can ask, “You okay?”

“Yea, sure, just hate losing. I’d rather clean Ryker’s dirty dishes than clean bathrooms.

            He hadn’t told the captain, but the lack of sleep was starting to affect his performance, a shadow of weariness had become his constant companion. Doubt and fear wormed through the cracks in his armor, taunting him for his weakness. The only person who knew about his insomnia and night terrors was Ryker. And Finn wanted to keep it that way. He didn’t need the guys badgering or second guessing him. He was doing enough of that all by himself.

Guilt pricked Finn’s conscience, he squeezed his eyes shut and prayed that no one else would lose their life because of him.

Great, but we still don’t know he’s a fire fighter for sure. A bit more of his world. One or two lines.

* * *

            The blaring alarm jolted Finn upright, balmy sweat glued the sheets to his legs as he struggled to disentangle his feet. ß Oo, I can see that. Good. 

Moving auto-pilot, he darted out of his room, wrapped himself around the pole and descended to the garage. ß Do they call it a garage? Isn’t it a bay?

Fighting back the panicked rhythm in his chest, he stepped into his boots and pulled on his Turnout gear, vaulting up to his spot on the truck.

            In the blur of a few moments the fire truck left the safety of the Kirkwood Fire Station and found its way to an infernal blaze consuming a small craftsman home.

Actually, I think this scene is your opening scene. I love jumping into the action like this. All the detail of the above scene can be woven into this scene. Because all we need to know is he’s struggling with nightmares. You could write something like, “his nightmare became reality at the sound of an alarm.”

Finn shook his head, drew a long hard breath, desperate to free himself from the feeling of dying in his sleep. This was real life. He had to focus or die for real.” Something like that….

            Even after seven years as a firefighter, Finn knew he would never get used to seeing someone’s home burn to the ground. As he watched ß Why? I like the hint of his heart here, but why does a house burning down bother him so deeply? the flames leap into the sky, fear paralyzed him. It was the same feeling that kept him sidelined, working the hose for the past four months. It wasn’t where he belonged, yet he couldn’t find his way back. His courage had been stripped from him and his fear held him hostage. ß Love this. A hint of his fear and problem, of his lie and if this is our first scene, you’re hitting it by the end of the first page! Excellent.

            As orders were barked to exceed the sound of the roaring flames, Finn trekked into position. Then, like a cry in the night, something tugged at him. Something beyond the realm of reason wove through the chaos and pierced his heart with unwavering resolve.

An undeniable force set his legs in motion. His heart stuttered in his chest, his skin tasting the flames even from a distance. But he couldn’t turn back, even as every fiber of his being begged him to retreat. Before he could change his mind, he radioed the chief, and entered the house.

Lord, guide my steps. ß This is okay, but not great here. His adrenaline is flowing, his heart his pumping, he’s engulfed in fear, I’m not sure he’d form a full prayer here.

Also, we need a lot more drama before he goes into the house. He needs to be on the hose, doing his job and then something happens, something big and now he’s faced with his big fear. Being called on to go in. He’d not want to go. He’d resist. We need a confrontation – quick one – with his Captain – telling him to “do your job.” Then we see him go in, feel his fear, wondering what is going on with this guy.

You might have some dialog with the Captain, “Finn, I need you. Get a hold of yourself. The bla-bla fire was six months ago. Now go.

So we get more of a hint of what’s going on with our hero.

Another thought is to start in the heroine’s point of view. Most women are readers and sometimes connecting with the heroine first is best. Plus, you log line is Her story. Not His.

Nice writing! Good set up. Interesting opening. A frightened firefighter? We instantly feel for him. Good job!!!








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