The first piece of writing I submitted was to Mills and Boon in 1996. Not unexpectedly, it received the standard rejection letter of the time: ‘Lacks emotional punch.’
Mmh, I thought, if I can’t write emotion, I shouldn’t be writing romance. But the fact is, whatever you write, the reader, on some level, needs to be emotionally engaged.
Now, many years later, more experience later, I am embarking on a second attempt at a writing career. This time I’m doing my research which is how I came across the Margie Lawson Lecture Packet: Empowering Characters Emotions.
This runs as an online class, but as it isn’t currently available, I purchased the notes for $22. It comprises of 10 lectures, averaging 20-25 pages each, at the heart of which, is the Margie Lawson Edits System.
The Edits System provides a visual way of checking the components of your writing by highlighting the page in different colours.
There are six components:
Emotion (visceral responses only),to be highlighted in pink.
Dialogue in blue.
Internalisations (including narrative, exposition, backstory, flashbacks, or narrator’s comments) in yellow.
Tension and Conflict in orange.
Setting and Description in green.
Nonverbal Communication (including dialogue cues, action, body language, and senses) in red.
The beauty of this system is that when analysing an emotionally charged scene, it may show up blocks of internal thoughts, but no visceral reaction. Without this, Margie maintains, the scene will not be as powerful.
The lecture notes also cover the importance of rhythm, body language, backstory management and, in particular, fresh writing. Those trite visceral reaction that we all churn out, such as the pounding heart and dry mouth, should be used sparingly, and fresh, original phrases used in their place. So armed with these new tools, I eagerly attacked the latest chapter of my WIP. I didn’t have to read far before I came across an example of ‘un-fresh’ writing.
The pov character in this extract suffers from PTSD and worries excessively when the people closest to him go away. His surrogate father has gone on holiday at a difficult time.
‘Where is Donald?’ Melissa asked.
His stomach dropped. ‘He’s gone on holiday,’ he said.
After reading all ten lectures, this line jumped out immediately. Not only is the writing boring, but it carries no emotion. For the pov character, the stomach dropping is actually a big improvement to the panic attack he was experiencing earlier in the story, but it doesn’t show. A little more thought and I came up with:
His stomach dropped. A potholed-sized drop, as opposed to its usual skydive.
Better. In fact I was initially quite pleased with it. But using the highlights system revealed a lack of internal thought, and whilst not obligatory, visceral response plus internal thought, Margie explains, is a good pattern to have. So here is my third attempt.
‘Where is Donald?’ Melissa asked.
His stomach dropped. A pot-hole-sized drop as opposed to the usual skydive. And no head pounding. In fact, with the Riley situation, he hadn’t given Donald much thought at all. Perhaps he should get blackmailed more often. ‘They’ve gone on holiday,’ he said.
A further improvement, I think. But could I do more?
Well, yes. The lecture notes look at many ways of adding emotion to your writing, such as backloading, power words, rhetorical devices and emotional hits. A significant portion of each lecture is given way to analysing extracts from best-selling authors. Examples of deep editing analysis can be seen on the Margie Lawson website.
So do I recommend Empowering Characters Emotions? Most definitely, yes. These lecture notes have revolutionised the way I look at my writing. They are easy to follow, provide plenty of examples and inspire you to do better. I hadn’t realised I was settling for lazy writing and now refer to them all the time. The ‘sock-it-to-‘em’ emotional punch may not be on the page yet, but hopefully, I can achieve more of a kick.
Margie Lawson is a psychotherapist, writer, and international presenter. For information on lecture packets and online courses see http://www.margielawson.com.