Home    Workshops    Members Only    Contests    Join    Contact us                       RWA Chapter

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

New York Times Writing

Please welcome guest blogger Margie Lawson

Margie Lawson —psychotherapist, writer, and international presenter—developed innovative editing systems and deep editing techniques for writers.

Her Deep Editing tools are used by all 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 five years, she presented over fifty full day Master Classes for writers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

For more information on lecture packets, on-line courses, master classes, and her 3-day Immersion Master Class sessions offered in her Colorado mountain-top home in 2010, visit: www.MargieLawson.com.

New York Times Writing

By Margie Lawson

A big THANK YOU to two FF & P’ers!

Sharon Pickrel for inviting me to be your guest blogger today—and Jennifer Ranseth for setting up the blog. I’m pleased to be here.

Today I’m diving into how to write so well, that your strong writing craft and fresh writing boosts you toward the New York Times Bestseller list.

NOTE: I included a promo piece for Brenda Novak’s Diabetes Auction below the blog. You’ll see my diabetes auction donations – that include:


I do like to have fun!

Check out the fun cartoon Dare Devil Dachshund Contest on my web site. You could win one hour of my Deep Editing brain. www.MargieLawson.com

New York Times Writing

By Margie Lawson

If you’ve taken some of my editing focused courses on-line, you may recall I recommend adding NYT to your margin tracking list for your WIP.


Because when your writing is powerful, it gives you a boost toward the NYT Bestseller list.

How do you learn how to strengthen your writing? How to make it fresh?

I developed four editing courses – and each are loaded with dozens of Deep Editing techniques that teach writers how to add power to their writing. One of those techniques is the EDITS System.

When creating the EDITS System, my goal was to determine what components of a scene set the strongest emotional hook.

I wanted to know what made a book a page-turner.

I dissected hundreds of scenes. Hundreds.

Dissecting scenes means breaking down a scene by what function a phrase or sentence or paragraph serves. What did the writer accomplish by including that piece?

I created categories – and assigned a highlighter color to each category.

I had fun creating MY SYSTEM. I had no plans to turn it into a teaching tool.

I developed MY SYSTEM to help me be a better writer. To help me capture emotion on the page.

To help me hook the reader.

To help me write a page turner.

A propitious thing happened in the process of developing and validating this highlighting system for me. I realized the system could help all writers understand what they have on their pages, if the passage or scene contains the optimal components to hook the reader . . . and a gazillion other feedback points.

My Ah-ha was so strong, I had a visceral response. :-))

Plus – here’s a fun piece. I also realized I could make the name of the system spell EDITS.

Ha! I did the Snoopy Dance!

Okay. I’ll quit with the how-it-came-to-be piece, and tell you what it is.

The EDITS System is the ultimate SHOW DON’T TELL power tool. Writers use the EDITS SYSTEM to analyze scene components. It shows writers what they have on each page. It shows writers where to add power. It shows writers what’s working, what’s not working, and what’s missing.

When writers use this highlighting system, patterns emerge for each scene. They may be surprised to see that in an emotionally-driven scene, they kept the POV character in their head, locked in internalizations. All thoughts, no visceral responses.

If the writer slipped in a few visceral responses, they’d take the scene from the POV character’s head, and the reader’s head, to the reader’s heart.

The EDITS System helps writers find a compelling balance of Emotion, Dialogue, Internalizations, Tension/Conflict, Setting, as well as dialogue cues, action, body language, senses, and more . . . that works for their specific scene dynamics.

Given that the story is compelling, the plot is strong, and the characters live in your heart or dreams or nightmares – what writing craft processes could make the difference between a skimmer and a winner?

What can writers do to keep the reader so committed to the read, that they’d rather finish your book, than sleep in, eat chocolate, or have sex?

The answers?

Write fresh.

Add psychological power.

Include the incontrovertible power of the visceral response at emotionally heightened points– accelerated heart rate, sweaty palms, dry mouth, tight chest, clenched stomach, weak knees, blood rushing to chest, neck, and face, adrenaline pumping, heart pummeling rib cage . . . and WRITE THEM FRESH!


In the EDITS System, VISCERAL RESPONSES are the only things highlighted in PINK. Not a kick in the shins. Not an expletive. Not watching someone get shot.

Everything can carry emotion but the only component of the scene highlighted in PINK is a visceral response.

Dialogue, action, facial expressions, thoughts (internalizations) – all may carry emotion. But it’s the visceral response that carries the biggest emotional punch.

If the writer neglects to have the POV character experience a visceral response after an emotionally-loaded stimulus – the passage is not as powerful, not as credible.

Not a page-turner.

Here’s a passage from MARCUS SAKEY that includes fresh writing and an empowered visceral response.


“I heard someone was asking about you.”

Old instincts tightened Danny’s skin. “Who’s that?”

    Patrick looked up at him, the joking in his eyes replaced by something more serious, like he was watching for a reaction. “Evan McGann.”

    Danny’s mouth went dry, and he felt that tingling in his chest, the sense of his heart beating hard enough to rattle his ribs. He scrambled for his game face, almost got it.

Marcus Sakey makes it look easy. Note the two STIMULUS / RESPONSE patterns.

Since Danny learns critical information in this passage, Sakey gives us VISCERAL with each response from Danny. Plus—the reader is treated to fresh writing in a BASIC response with the ‘old instincts’ line. Five words, and they carry visceral power.

After Danny hears “Evan McGann,” he experiences an EMPOWERED response. Sakey loaded that response set with SIX EMOTIONAL HITS:

1) dry mouth

2) tingling chest

3) sense of heart beating harder

4) amplifies by adding his heart could rattle his ribs,

5) Danny tries for ‘game face’ to block his reaction from Patrick

6) ‘almost got it’ -- Danny failed.

Danny knows his facial expression tipped Patrick that Danny had a history with Evan. And we all know it wasn’t a happy history.

NOTE: Sakey uses some clichéd visceral responses: dry mouth, tingling chest, heart-pounding. And – it works.

Writers have to fall back on some clichéd viscerals, but stacking several together in a creative way, building a COMPLEX or EMPOWERED response, makes it an interesting read. It carries power.

Now – We’ll have some fun with dialogue cues.


Here’s another Deep Editing goodie that can boost you on the NYT Bestseller list.

I coined the term DIALOGUE CUES to describe the phrases and sentences that inform the reader HOW the dialogue was delivered. Dialogue Cues share the RATE, TONE, QUALITY, VOLUME, or PITCH of speech.

Dialogue cues are easy to spot in my EDITS System, they usually come right after the dialogue. If the POV character is describing how he/she is trying to alter their voice when they speak, that dialogue cues is before the line of dialogue.

Writers may write short dialogue cues that describe the voice in a standard way:

    • His tone was rough.
    • Her voice jumped an octave.
    • His voice had a sarcastic edge.
    • Her words sounded more harsh than she intended.

The first three examples above are basic dialogue cues. They provide one piece of information regarding how to interpret the dialogue. The fourth example includes two hits of information regarding the dialogue delivery.

Writers can also write dialogue cues in fresh ways. Here are five dialogue cues from BLACK OUT, by Lisa Unger:

1. I snap back to the conversation and listen for signs of skepticism in her voice. But there’s just her usual light and musing tone, the wide-open expression on her face.

2. I kept my voice flat and unemotional. I didn’t want him to know my heart---how afraid I was, how much I needed him.

3. “You promised me,” I said, my voice sounding childish even to my own ears.

4. Something in his tone chilled me, even as I felt a little lift.

5. Her cell phone rings, and she looks at me apologetically as she answers it. I can tell by the shift in her tone that it’s her husband. Her voice gets softer.

Ten Dialogue Cues from THE LIKENESS, by Tana French:

  1. A guy’s voice in the background, a firm, easy drawl, hard to ignore: familiar, but I couldn’t place it.

  1. “No,” I said. My voice sounded wrong, somewhere outside me.

  1. All the laughter and façade had gone out of his voice, and I knew Frank well enough to know that this was when he was most dangerous.

  1. Maybe it was seeing him again, his grin and the fast rhythms of his voice snapping me straight back to when this job looked so shiny and fine I just wanted to take a running leap and dive in.

  1. “Hey, fair enough,” Frank said, in an equable voice that made me feel like an idiot.

6. There was a different note in his voice, and not a good one.

  1. “Rafe,” I said, hurt. I was mostly faking it: there was an icy cut to his voice that made me flinch.

  1. “Yeah,” Rafe said, but the anger had drained out of his voice and he just sounded very, very tired.

  1. Her voice sounded fine—easy, cheerful, not even a sliver of a pause—but her eyes, flicking to me across Daniel, were anxious.

  1. “Don’t you want to hear what I’ve been doing with my day?” That undercurrent of excitement in his voice: very few things get Frank that worked up. “Damn straight,” I said.

An example from Dennis Lehane, SHUTTER ISLAND:

    “Yes, well,” he said, his voice stripped of life, “all I can say is that I will do all I can to accommodate your request.”

He could have said, HIS VOICE FLAT, but he wrote it in a fresh way.

Here’s an amplified example from Harlan Coben, LONG LOST.

My Deep Editing Analysis is below the example.

    I was about to crack wise—something like “tell all your friends” or “sigh, another satisfied customer”—but something in her tone made me pull up. Something in her tone overwhelmed me and made me ache. I squeezed her hand and stayed silent and then I watched her walk away.


    1. Showed WHAT WASN’T HAPPENING, what he didn’t say

    1. SPECIFICITY – throughout the passage

    1. Rhetorical Device – A DOUBLE. I made up that term – DOUBLE. SOMETHING IN HER TONE is an intentional echo. It’s almost the rhetorical device, anaphora -- repetition of first word or phrases of three phrases or sentences in a row. Powerful.

    1. Second part of the DOUBLE – goes DEEPER. Taps emotion.

    1. TONE is used as a STIMULUS – and the reader gets FIVE RESPONSES from her TONE: pull up (stop), overwhelmed, ache, squeezed hand, stayed silent, watched her walk away (did not follow her)

    1. POV character shared what he intended to do, but didn’t – because of her TONE.

    1. Rhetorical Device: AMPLIFICATION: developed emotion and showed all those responses

    1. COMMUNICATION with HAPTICS – touch

    1. Rhetorical Device: POLYSYNDETON – Last sentence uses multiple conjunctions and no commas. Makes the read more imperative.

    1. CADENCE – strong.


I’ll wrap this blog with an example from the late Robert B. Parker. A genius with putting the fewest words together to empower a novel.

Most people are so immersed in Robert B. Parker’s stories, they don’t notice the power of his writing craft. But his words had the power to drive the reader through page after page—and chapter after chapter—until they read the last brain-picked word.

Robert B. Parker, SCHOOL DAYS:

His voice was so thick, he seemed to be having trouble squeezing his words out.

NICE! Robert B. Parker did not say the character’s throat constricted. But, he conveyed strong emotion.

I can’t resist sharing one more example – a description.

SPARE CHANGE, by Robert B. Parker

He was dark-haired and taller than I was, with dark eyes that looked tired, and a little pouchy. I though he looked like a boozer. Some women might think he looked soulful.

Whew! Lots of reading! I loaded this blog with examples.

FYI: Keep in mind – what I covered in this blog is a bite of the smorgasbord of what I cover in my on-line classes and Lecture Packets.

Consider the full alphabet, A-Z. In the Margie-Deep-Editing-Alphabet – the ideas presented in this blog are 1/20th of ‘A.’

Most of my Lecture Packets have over 300 pages of lectures. ;-)


Post to the blog – and YOU COULD WIN A LECTURE PACKET!

1. You may share your analysis of any of the examples in the blog.

2. You may post an example of fresh writing from your WIP or fresh writing from one of your favorite authors.

3. You may post a comment -- or post ‘Hi Margie!’

For every 25 people who post a comment today, I will draw a name for a Lecture Packet, a $22 value.

Winners may choose a Lecture Packet from one of my six on-line courses:

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. Powering Up Body Language in Real Life:

Projecting a Professional Persona When Pitching and Presenting

5. Digging Deep into the EDITS System

6. Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors

I teach Empowering Characters’ Emotions on-line in March through PASIC. You can access the link to register from the home page of my web site. www.MargieLawson.com

    For writers who are interested in learning more about my deep editing systems and techniques, but cannot fit Empowering Characters’ Emotions in their schedule in March, the Lecture Packet can be ordered through PayPal from my web site.


NYT Bestseller, Brenda Novak, donates an amazing chunk of her life to fundraising for diabetes research. She selflessly gives months of her energy, creativity, and what would have been writing time, family time, self-time to her DIABETES AUCTION.

For writers – it’s a warm-your-heart win-win. Bid on one of the hundreds of items – support diabetes research and you may win an experience that changes your life. A plotting lunch with an agent or NYT bestseller at a national conference could contribute to a contract for you.

If you're not familiar with this auction -- it's a gold mine for writers!

My husband and I love to support the Diabetes Auction. With over 1000 donations, if I don’t mention our donations . . . you might miss them.

Yikes – a Missed Opportunity!

Margie’s Donations:

1. A set of six Lecture Packets

2. A 50 page Triple Pass Deep Edit Critique

3. Registration for a Write At Sea Master Class by Margie Lawson on Deep Editing Power, April, 2011. Donation by Margie Lawson and Julia Hunter


You select the destination – any place within 600 nautical miles from Denver.

A weekend, you and a friend, plus my pilot-husband flying our four-seater plane, me, a night in a hotel, and a two-hour deep editing consult. The consult is on the ground, not while we’re flying. ;-))

5. Registration for an IMMERSION MASTER CLASS session!

A $450 value . . .

The three-day Immersion Master Class sessions are designed as a personalized, hone-your-manuscript experience focusing on deep editing. The sessions are held in Margie’s log home at the top of a mountain west of Denver. Participants will concentrate on transforming their manuscript into a page-turner. The winner may attend a session in the fall of 2010 (depending on availability), or one of the four sessions offered in 2011.

THE DIABETES AUCTION runs from MAY 1ST to MAY 31ST. You can tour the
Diabetes Auction site now. http://brendanovak.auctionanything.com/

Brenda Novak is my hero. What a way to give back.


Dorothy said...

Wow, Margie. The Robert B. Parker examples are fantastic and brain packed is an excellent term to describe his writing. I have two questions. You use Shutter Island as an example, is this book the same as the movie being released soon?
Second, how can beginning writers learn how to determine how many emotional cues are enough?

Pamala Knight said...

That was an AWESOME post, Margie. Megan Kelly and Kim Killion spoke to my RWA chapter last year and gave us a flyer for your April workshop in St. Louis.

"What? Margie Lawson is conducting a workshop nearby? Her voice dripped with excitement.
"Let me see that flyer." Her face fell and a muffled groan escaped her lips.
"What's wrong?" Megan asked.
"The workshop is the same time as our chapter conference. Boo!"

Hehe, sorry for the overwrought prose but I thought I'd SHOW you my disappointment in not being able to come instead of just telling you. Maybe you'll come to Chicago some day. Fingers crossed.

Again, thank you for the informative post and I'm off to browse your website to find out when I can fit an online course in.


Lisa Kessler said...

Wow! That was an information-packed blog!!!

Thanks for your time!!!

Lisa :)

Margie Lawson said...

Dorothy --

Glad you liked the examples!

The soon to be blockbuster movie, Shutter Island, is based on the book by Dennis Lehane, the author of Mystic River.

Shutter Island -- a Martin Scorsese film starring Leonardo DiCaprio -- opens Feb. 19th: http://tinyurl.com/movieShutterIsland

How can beginning writers learn how to determine how many emotional cues are enough?

All writers, from newbies to bestsellers, need to pay attention to the amount, placement, and quality of their Emotional Hits.

Writers need to check:

Did they include empower their manuscript with enough body language, dialogue cues, and visceral responses at the right places in their scenes?

AND -- are they written fresh?

My next online course, Empowering Characters' Emotions, covers those bases. Cliche alert!

You can read a course description on my web site: www.MargieLawson.com

Thanks for dropping by!

Margie Lawson said...

Hello Pamela --

So sorry your conference in Chicago is the same time as my Master Class in St. Louis.

Thanks for SHOWING your disappointment. ;-)

I'm presenting at RWA National. Hope to see you in Nashville!

Margie Lawson said...

Lisa --

Thank you. Glad you liked my min-lecture.

Happy NYT writing!

La-Tessa said...

Hi Margie, great info sharing as always. I look forward to seeing you in person when you come to St. Louis in a couple of months.


Margie Lawson said...


Yay! I'll get to see you in St. Louis in April.

And -- I'll get to play in your words too. :-)

Can't wait to see you!

Heather said...

Hey Margie!

Heather Howland from the Portland master class stopping by to say hello :-)

I've been steadily revamping my YA WIP since that weekend and WOW... I gave the first 20 new pages to a bunch of crit partners and beta readers. The ones that had read it before all said, "I don't know what you did, but it's *so* much better!" Just like you told us in class... LOL It made my day. And you were right about all this stuff becoming second nature. My paranormal romance is coming out of my head empowered and cliche-free. SO refreshing!

I highly recommend your empowering emotions workshop to everyone who asks what I'm doing different. Good stuff.

Thanks again!


Cindy Carroll said...

Love your blog posts, Margie. I always learn so much. I've been printing them out so I can have them all handy when I start my revisions.

Margie Lawson said...


Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I'm happy (and not surprised!) that the 20 pages you deep edited WOW'd your critiquers.

KUDOS TO YOU -- for writing fresh and adding psychological power.

Ha! You already assimilated the empowering techniques you learned in the two-day Master Class just a couple of weeks ago. Excellent!

Thanks so much for sharing.

Now, you get to deep edit the rest of your manuscript, and get it to an agent. ;-)

Power On!

Margie Lawson said...


Sounds like you take advantage of every learning opp. Good for you!

I'm glad you like my mini-lectures.

Have fun adding power to your manuscript!

Jennifer said...

Thanks for blogging at FF&P today, Margie, and giving us a brief taste of the information in your lecture packets and courses. Lots of great information for making our writing powerful!

Autumn Jordon said...

Hi, Margie, Love reading your posts while I'm editing. Reminds me, I can do NYT fresh writing--white space, dialogue that doesn't need a tag and fresh visceral responses that won't make the reader say WHAT? while scratching thier heads.

Thanks for sharing your talent.

2009 Golden Heart Finalist

Margie Lawson said...


Thanks! Enjoy adding power to your WIP.

Thanks again for being the blog-set-up wizard. ;-)

Margie Lawson said...


I know your writing is deep-editing-powered. You've been immersed in my courses for a few years. It paid off. :-))

Thanks for dropping by FF & P!

Margie Lawson said...


Fun to see you here today. Thank you for posting your comments.

I just did the drawing. Picture names on strips of paper, a big wooden salad bowl, and my fingers dipping in the bowl to pull out the winner.


-------JENNIFER RANSETH!-------


Please e-mail me, margie@margielawson.com, and let me know which Lecture Packet you would like. You can read course descriptions on my web site.

Thanks again to Sharon Pickrel for inviting me to guest blog today. ;-))

I hope to see many of you at RWA National in July!

Julie Robinson said...

Hi Margie,

I know I'm too late, but I just got in for the day and wanted to give you a wave before my curfew at midnight!

Julie Robinson said...

Hey Margie,

Very interesting how your EDITS system came about.
I learned more from you class on wording than I ever did in grad school. But then maybe you and the color code system make it more fun!

Suzanne said...

Great stuff, thank you for posting.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I don't have an editing system. I'm inspired to create one. I can see the usefullness.
Aday Kennedy
The Differently-Abled Writer

Brenda Novak said...

I'm ALWAYS amazing by Margie. Her lectures are fabulous, her blogs are incredibly helpful, and the items she's donated to my auction are spectacular. Thanks, as always, Margie. You're the best!

Vonnie Alto said...

Hi Margie!
As usual, you offer inspiring advice! This is a great review of the editing techniques I learned from your Masterclass on Emotion/EDITS when you recently visited Portland. I'm keeping a copy of this article for reference as I write forward with joy and increased skill. Again, thank you so much for all your helpful articles.