The AUTHORNOMICS Interview Series with Margie Lawson

By: Andrea Hurst

With a publishing industry that is ever in flux, it can be hard for an aspiring author to figure out what information is relevant and what she needs to do to be successful. Recognizing this, literary agent Andrea Hurst and writer and blogger Katie Flanagan present a series of weekly interviews with publishing industry specialists. The AUTHORNOMICS Series features literary agents, editors, authors, marketing experts and more talking about their opinions on the publishing industry, writing, and what a writer needs to know.

Interview with Writing Coach Margie Lawson

Margie Lawson —psychotherapist, writer, and international presenter—developed innovative editing systems and deep editing techniques for use by writers, from newbies to NYT Bestsellers. She teaches writers how to edit for psychological power, how to hook the reader viscerally, how to create a page-turner.

Thousands of writers have learned Margie’s psychologically-based deep editing material. In the last six years, she presented over sixty full day Master Classes for writers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

For more information on Lawson Writer’s Academy, lecture packets, on-line courses, master classes, and the Immersion Master Class sessions offered in her Colorado mountain-top home, visit:  www.MargieLawson.com.

Margie is giving away one of her online courses (value of $40) to a reader of this blog. Comment on the post within one week to be entered into the drawing. [See bottom of this post for winner of last week's drawing.]

1. How did you first get involved with writing?

I’ve always loved writing, but pursued psychology instead. When I decided to put energy into writing fiction, I applied my psychological expertise to make my writing stronger.

I wanted to learn how to write emotion that locked readers in your story. I took online courses, attended conferences, and annotated every how-to book ever written. The topic was talked up, talked around, talked into the ground, but no one could say how to capture emotion on the page.

I analyzed hundreds of books, and learned what style and structure and strategies authors employed to glue the reader to the page. I developed deep editing systems and techniques for myself – and created an online workshop for writers. Empowering Characters’ Emotions weighed in at 303 pages, and rivaled the graduate courses I taught post-masters psychology students for six years.

Within two months, ten writing groups had booked me to present one and two-day master classes across the country. My non-fiction writing career was launched.

2. What advice would you give to an author who’s trying to make it in this ever changing publishing world?

Hone your storytelling and hone your writing craft. Write a darn good manuscript. Then deep edit your writing and take it from darn good to stellar.

3.  What do you mean when you tell an author they need to “Power Up” their writing?

They need to add power because they lost the reader. The content may be important, but the way it presented on the page didn’t keep the reader engaged.

Writers have hundreds of options to add power. They can nix or tighten or tweak. They can add a fresh visceral response, fresh body language, or a fresh dialogue cue. They can add one of thirty rhetorical devices. They can add humor. They can add power with cadence or backloading or by making one component scene-themed or emotion- themed.

4. In your classes you teach all kinds of devices that a writer can use to improve their writing. Which ones make the “Margie Lawson Top Ten?”

I vote for sharing the “Top Five.” I’m always thorough (euphemism for long-winded, chatty, verbose!).  I’ll cover some of the points I mentioned above and share examples when appropriate.

1) Write Fresh Visceral Responses – They may be a short response, or medium, or what I call super empowered. I’ll share examples of both, from Tana French’s THE LIKENESS.

A Short Visceral Response:

My heart was going slow and hard; I could feel it right down to the soles of my feet.

A Super Empowered Visceral Response:

Set Up:  The POV character, a female detective was called to a murder scene. When she arrives, all the cops and techs react to her like something’s wrong with her. Read this super empowered example, and you’ll know why. This is the first time she sees the murder victim.

For a second I was confused—Sam lied?—because I knew her from somewhere, I’d seen that face a million times before. Then I took a step forwards, so I could get a proper look and the whole world went silent, frozen, darkness roaring in from the edges and only the girl’s face blazing white at the center; because it was me. The tilt of the nose, the wide sweep of the eyebrows, every tiniest curve and angle clear as ice: it was me, blue-lipped and still, with shadows like dark bruises under my eyes. I couldn’t feel my hands, my feet, couldn’t feel myself breathing. For a second I thought I was floating, sliced-off myself and wind currents carrying me away.

“Know her?” Franks asked, somewhere. “Any relation?

It was like going blind; my eyes couldn’t take her in. She was impossible: a high-fever hallucination, a screaming crack straight across all the laws of nature. I realized I was braced rigid on the balls of my feet, one hand halfway to my gun, every muscle ready to fight this dead girl to the death. “No,” I said. My voice sounded wrong, somewhere outside me. “Never seen her.”

Here are the visceral responses:

. . . the whole world went silent, frozen, darkness roaring in from the edges and only    the girl’s face blazing white at the center;

I couldn’t feel my hands, my feet, couldn’t feel myself breathing. For a second I thought I was floating, sliced-off myself and wind currents carrying me away.

2)  Write Fresh Body Language–including facial expressions and flicker face emotion. I’ll skip the examples for this one.

3)  Write Fresh Dialogue Cues–a term I coined to describe the subtext of the dialogue.

A dialogue cue informs the reader how the words were spoken, sharing the tone, inflection, pitch, volume, quality, or rate of speech.

Here’s an example of a dialogue cue from multi-Margie-grad Lisa Miller. It’s from her contemporary YA novel, Can’t Take It Back, which is in the query phase.

Before Deep Editing:

“Hurry up,” her sister called out.

After Deep Editing:

“Hurry up.” Her ten-year-old sister’s whine reached pain-in-the-butt level.

I love Lisa Miller’s fresh writing. It’s fun, it’s YA-speak, and it has two hyphenated-run-ons which work well. A less obvious point that gives the line power is the cadence. The cadence drives the reader from the first word to the last.

Please read it out loud.

Her ten-year-old sister’s whine reached pain-in-the-butt level.

That sentence is a great example of the rhetorical device, parallelism. The two halves of the sentence are not just close to parallel, they have the same number of beats.

Her ten-year-old sister’s whine – 7 beats

reached pain-in-the-butt level.  – 7 beats

I’m not saying writers have to count beats. I’m not saying writers have to use parallelism.

I am saying cadence is important. Read your work out loud. Train your Cadence Ear.

4)  Backloading – Placing the power word at the end of many sentences, and most paragraphs. A power word is the word that carries the most power. No surprise there!

This backloaded example is from Harlan Coben’s CAUGHT. It’s the last sentence before a page break.

And the life of Dan Mercer, just as I somehow knew it would be when I approached that door, was destroyed.

The backloaded word – destroyed.

Harlan Coben could have written the sentence like this:

And the life of Dan Mercer was destroyed, just as I somehow knew it would be when I approached that door.

Harlan is a master of writing craft. The word ‘door’ doesn’t carry any power. He wouldn’t have written it without the power of backloading.

5) Rhetorical Devices – Most writers use these six basic rhetorical devices: similes, metaphors, analogies, alliteration, onomatopoeia, and rhetorical questions. In my Deep Editing course, I teach writers how to use thirty rhetorical devices to strengthen a scene with rhetorical style.

One of my favorite rhetorical devices is anaphora. It’s one of Lisa Gardner’s and Harlan Coben’s favorites too. Lisa and Harlan almost always use anaphora in their prologues and/or first chapters of every book.

Example: From THE WOODS, Prologue, first page, third paragraph

I have never seen my father cry before—not when his own father died, not when my mother ran off and left us, not even when he first heard about my sister, Camille.

Analysis: What did Coben accomplish?

He slipped backstory into anaphora. He gave the reader four hits of powerful backstory in one sentence. Four hits of powerful backstory in thirty-three words.

Read it out loud this time:

I have never seen my father cry before—not when his own father died, not when my mother ran off and left us, not even when he first heard about my sister, Camille.

Strong cadence. Informative. Fast-paced. Intriguing. Enticing.

No chunk of backstory the reader is tempted to skim.

Plus – that one sentence introduces story questions. Why is his father crying? Why did his mother run off and leave them? What happened to his sister, Camille?

5. One of your favorite terms is “NYT Writing.” What are some things that make writing NYT caliber? What things do you see authors do that keeps their writing from being NYT?

NYT writing refers to any sentence or paragraph or passage that is so fresh, so perfect, that the writing will boost you toward the NYT bestseller list.

Here’s an example of NYT writing from Lisa Unger’s NYT bestselling

thriller, BLACK OUT.

My mother liked to drink. It was a mad dog she kept on a chain. When it got loose, it chewed through our lives.

Analysis: Lisa Unger played off the cliché: acted like a mad dog. She empowered that cliché with twists, amplification, and backloading. She also turned it into a stimulus and showed the response. Twenty-four words. None wasted. Every word drives the reader toward the next word. Every word drives the reader deeper into the scene terror.

Here are two examples of NYT writing posted in the Deep Editing Fitness Center in Lawson Writer’s Academy yesterday. Both writers are multi-Margie-grads and have also completed an intense 4 ½ day Immersion Master Class with me.

Darcy Crowder writes poignant contemporary romance with a small town flare.

Before Deep Editing:

That voice. The bittersweet memory of that voice left no doubt as to who this little guy belonged to.

After Deep Editing:

That voice. Liquid and lazy. That voice. Flowed around me like a mountain river—cool, shocking and just a bit dangerous. That voice left no doubt as to who this little guy called daddy.

Darcy’s example carries power. Look how she took her blah before and channeled Sue Monk Kidd and Angela Hunt to create her lyrical after. It has a compelling cadence too. Her after includes an amplified dialogue cue, a power internalization, and three backloaded words:  lazy, dangerous, and daddy.

L. A. Mitchell is a two time Golden Heart finalist who writes psychological suspense and time travel thrillers.

Before Deep Editing:

So he focused again on the wheel, the fifty-degree sway of the top car, the stillness of the others. A foot emerged beneath the bucking safety gate. A ponytail swatted the brass number plate.

After Deep Editing:

He turned back, focused again on the ride. Thirty-nine cars settled. The top car swung a good fifty-degrees. Above its safety gate, a white sneaker stabbed the night sky. He didn’t see a ponytail swat the brass number plate or a naked ass become the moon or a bikini top catch like a windsock, but he knew it was the boardwalk version of the Mile High Club.

L.A. Mitchell took her example from nothing special, to a fun read backloaded with a humor hit. She also used the deep editing technique of showing what’s not happening. Read her example again. The POV character doesn’t see a ponytail. The POV character doesn’t see a naked ass. And the POV character doesn’t see a bikini top. But smart L.A. Mitchell placed those power words on the page and the images in the reader’s mind to add interest and power. And it worked. Note the heavy backload: Mile High Club.

I encourage writers track their NYT writing in the margins of their WIP [work in progress]. Fresh writing gives readers an uplift.

6. What’s one thing that authors do that keeps their writing from being NYT?

They use clichés. They use overused word pairings. They don’t write fresh.

Dean Koontz is a master of writing craft. He avoids clichés like vegans avoid haggis.

Caution:  Too much fresh writing, and too many rhetorical devices too close together, creates an overwritten, overpowered nauseating read. You don’t want the writing so extreme that the reader notices.

Somerset Maugham said: The best style is the style you don’t notice.

I agree. Great writing is like chocolate mousse on your tongue. You don’t stop and think about it, you just want more.

7.  What online courses do you teach? How often do you teach each class?

I teach eight online courses each year, one time each. Three courses deal with the psychology of the writer:

1.  Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors

2.  DSDB Power Punch

3.  Powering Up Body Language in Real Life: Projecting a Professional Persona When Pitching and Presenting

Six courses focus on writing craft:

1.  Empowering Characters’ Emotions

2.  Deep Editing: The EDITS System, Rhetorical Devices, and More

3.  Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist

4.  Advanced EDITS System: Turning Troubled Scenes Into Winners

5.  Fab 30: Advanced Deep Editing, A Master Class

My writing craft courses are loaded with deep editing systems and techniques and tips that I developed. I include a lot of examples and analyses and teaching points. Most of the courses are 300+ pages. Deep Editing is 390 pages.

Check out the course descriptions at Lawson Writer’s Academy.

Since I only teach each course once a year, lecture packets are available for each course through Paypal from my web site.

8. You offer classes in non-traditional ways, including online courses and lecture packets. What advantages does this format have over classroom teaching?

I teach all my online courses in a cyber classroom through Lawson Writer’s Academy from my website. I have the same teaching software that many universities use.

Writers from all over the world take my classes. I presented full day master classes in Australia and New Zealand, so have a lot of Aussie’s and Kiwis in my courses. The LWA classrooms are open 24/7. Students can go to the classroom when it fits their schedule.

In our classes, assignments are posted to a forum set up just for that assignment. For example, in my Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist course, students can click on the forum that holds all the examples for writing dialogue cues that included a stimulus and response. Each assignment forum is a veritable virtual learning lab.

Lawson Writer’s Academy currently has 10 instructors and offers twenty-five online courses for writers. And it’s growing.

The LWA cyber campus has a Coffee Shop, a Resource Center, a Multi-media Center, Margie-grad forums, and a Deep Editing Fitness Center. LWA campus is always open.

I also teach Immersion Master Classes in my Colorado mountaintop home. The classes are limited to six writers. They stay in the lodge next door. So handy to have a lodge next door when you need one.

The Immersion classes are five day events, with 4 ½ days to work. I have had seventeen Immersion classes in the last two and a half years, and all sessions sold out.

9. Are there writing books you recommend as important for any writer to read?

This time, you get my “Top Twelve.”

1. Revision & Self-Editing, James Scott Bell

2. Plot & Structure, James Scott Bell

3. Writing Fiction for Dummies, Randy Ingermanson

4. Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, Donald Maass

5. The Fire in Fiction, Donald Maass

6. On Writing,Stephen King

7. Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors, Brandilyn Collins

8. Scene and Structure, Jack Bickham

9. Techniques of the Selling Writer, Dwight Swain

10. Break Into Fiction, Mary Buckham and Dianna Love

11. Making a Good Writer Great, Linda Seger

12. Spunk & Bite, Arthur Plotnik

10. Being the proud owner of two mini-dachshunds myself, Basil & Chloe, I would love to hear more about your Da

re Devil Dachshund Contest.

Too fun!  My mini-dachshunds inspired me to offer a Dare Devil Dachshund Contest.  I hide a different Dare Devil Dachshund cartoon on my website each month. To enter the contest, writers email me and tell me where they found the cartoon. I draw a winner’s name on the last day of the month. The winner emails me the first fifteen pages of their WIP, and I dig in and deep edit.

Thank you for interviewing with our blog series.

Andrea Hurst has over 25 years experience as a published author, developmental editor for publishers, and skilled literary agent. She works with both major and regional publishing houses, and her client list includes emerging new voices and New York Times best-selling authors. Andrea represents high profile Adult Nonfiction and well crafted fiction. Her clients and their books have appeared on the Oprah Show, Ellen DeGeneres Show, Good Morning America, National Geographic network and in the New York Times.

Katie Flanagan is a fiction major at Northwestern University. She is currently an editor with Booktrope and a reader for Pink Fish Press. In the past, she has interned with Andrea Hurst Literary Management and the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. Her favorite genre is women’s fiction, but she reads any fiction put in front of her. Check out her blog about the writing life at katieflanagan.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter at @K_Flanagan.

The winner of last week’s random drawing for a one-year subscription to WritersMarket.com is Keri! Comment this week for the chance to win an on-line class with Margie Lawson, and come back for more contests as our series continues!



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Comments

  1. Charlotte Morganti says:

    Wow! I’m late to the party but still had to comment on this interview – concrete pointers and examples – just what is needed. Bravo!

  2. Marcia Wells says:

    This was one of the best interviews I’ve read in the series yet! I am going to recommend Margie’s website to my classmates at Gotham- and I plan on checking out her services. Thank you!!

  3. Terri Porta says:

    I’m excited to learn more from you. Thank you for this great indepth post!

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