Margie Lawson Workshop–Empowering Characters’ Emotions

On November 20th, I attended the all day Margie Lawson Workshop sponsored by CTRWA. The topic was Empowering Characters’ Emotions. The training was intensive and well worth the cost.

Margie is a psychologist and helps individuals to write the story to where the reader gets to experience what the character experiences.

She can teach writers how to stretch the brain and have readers crawl inside the POV character’s skin and reside there. She has other online courses as well as lecture notes available for purchase from her website:

Here are some of the key points from her workshop:

  • In order to make your work a page turner, it has to be viscerally empowering: character’s heart races and reader grabs their chest
    • Visceral is what happens to the body
      • Involuntary physical responses
      • Shortness of breath, flush or blush of face, pupils dilate, stomach clenching, heart pounding, sweating palms, dry mouth
      • Disbelief is a cognitive response not a visceral response
      • Characters’ visceral responses hook the reader viscerally
  • Editing speaks to the reader’s subconscious
  • Be careful about sequencing problems: She turned her head at the knock at the door (Knock happened prior to turning head)
  • People are victims of patterns
  • When you identify the stimulus and the response make sure they are in the correct order
  • She employs a color coding methodology that shows the patterns and voids on the page. It also shows what isn’t there.
  • Nonverbal communication–body language is very important
  • Cliche busting–either eradicate cliché or rewrite to specificity by adding a twist on a cliché
    • Steer clear of trite
      • Example: Quirking an eyebrow
    • When we read clichés we know what the next words are. Our minds take a cognitive break and pull out of the story. We think about chores and may put book down
    • Be careful that dialogue isn’t loaded with clichés
    • Play with a cliché, amplify it and give it punch
      • Example: “Drinking was a mad dog on a chain, when it got loose, it chewed through our lives”
  • Power Words
    • Depends on context–can be a power word in 0ne sentence and not in another. They add psychological power for story
    • Never power words: it, them, they, that some
    • Love, lust, rage, rape, dead, throb–usually power words
    • Power words should be backloaded
      • At the end of the chapter there is an important thing to share–the last word carried power
      • Put power words at the end of sentences to boost reader into the next sentence
      • Power words can be anywhere in sentence
      • Not required on every page
  • Anadiplosis is a rhetorical device involving the repetition of power words
    • Example: She was jealous. Jealous of her job. Jealous of her hair. Jealous of her life
  • White space on the page is important
    • Ping pong rapid dialogue
    • Increases pace
    • Readers devour it like cotton candy
    • Readers need it to fully experience am emotional reaction
  • Cadence is important and you can develop an ear for it
    • A pause that adds meaning
    • Rhetorical devices often use cadence to improve a line
  • Facial expressions carry emotion but are not a visceral reaction
  • Backstory must be managed
    • What is critical/imperative to reader
    • Make a list, then break it into tiny pieces to insert in an active way
    • Avoid clumps of backstory that invites reader to skim or put down the book
    • Writer needs to build the world, readers do not need to know all that
    • Mini flashbacks are okay 4-6 lines if desperate to show something
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4 Responses to Margie Lawson Workshop–Empowering Characters’ Emotions

  1. I appreciate this information, as I am working on character development in my novel! Thanks!

  2. Rhonda Lane says:

    Excellent post hitting many of the high points of an informative day. I was reading through Margie’s handouts while I was on the treadmill today.

    • Thanks! I had so much in my notes, but I tried to go over stuff that wasn’t in the handouts. I downloaded her packet on Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist–very informative and structured like the workshop (minus the interaction).

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