Deep editing

Wednesday, August 5, 2015
Margie Lawson interviewed by Erin Halling

headshot of Margie Lawson
Margie Lawson

An expert in editing, Margie Lawson merges psychology and writing to produce best results every time. She's given a preview of her topics for her upcoming workshop in an interview with Erin Halling.

How much has your writing career been integrated with your career in psychology?

Psychologists see clients react to incredibly strong emotional stimuli. We see their joy, their, shock, their pain. I analyzed clients’ reactions, their body language, their visceral responses, hour after hour for almost three decades.

In my writing world, I analyze how writers capture emotional reactions including body language, dialogue cues, and visceral responses on the page, and teach them how to make them fresh and natural.

Psychologists know the power of words. Word choice. Word placement. The timing of words. Pauses can be as powerful as words.

I used my psychological expertise to analyze and dissect how some authors use white space, structure, rhetorical style, and cadence to add power. I teach writers about power words and timing, as well as thirty rhetorical devices, and how to make sentences and paragraphs cadence-driven.

How did you start forming clear methods for teaching writers how to make their writing stronger?

I started writing fiction and wanted to learn how to capture emotion on the page. I read dozens of how-to books, took online courses, and went to conferences. Those books, courses, and workshops stressed the importance of writing emotion, and they shared emotional passages, but didn’t share any how-to information.

I analyzed over a thousand books. Dissected them. Scrutinized passages that worked and passages that didn’t work. I learned what made some books winners, and other books skimmers. I used my psychological expertise and learned what writers can do to build tension and hook the reader viscerally.

I created an EDITS System, created Four Levels of Powering Up Emotion, created six categories of dialogue cues, created dozens of deep editing techniques and tips. Newbies to award-winning authors can use these deep editing tools and make their writing more compelling.

It was natural for me to shift into teaching writers. I taught college for six years, from undergraduate to post-graduate courses. Teaching Research Methodology, Group Dynamics, Psychology of Learning, Abnormal Psychology, and more, gave me a strong foundation to teach writers. 

Not that writers are abnormal. ;-)

I used to fly around the country and present four-day workshops for psychologists on strategic therapy techniques I developed. Now I fly around the world and present one and two-day workshops for writers, and five-day Immersion classes, on deep editing techniques I developed.

What have you learned that writers do that fails to be captivating?

Writers know to avoid clichés, avoid overused word pairings, and avoid being predictable.

What some writers may not know is how to write fresh. They can write fresh lines like Margie-Grad Kimberly Belle, in The Ones We Trust, released last week, MIRA.

I’ll show and tell.

These are separate examples. Not juxtaposed.

1. My father fixes me with a stare stony enough to make the thundercloud on his face settle onto my chest, pushing down like an elephant-sized weight.

Deep Editing Analysis: 

  • Double alliteration -- father fixes, stare stony
  • Metaphor – thundercloud on his face
  • Kimberly used the non-POV character’s facial expression as a stimulus for the POV character’s visceral response.
  • She amplified that visceral response with a simile
  • Strong cadence

2. “Okay.” The word comes out like silly putty, long and stretched thin.

Deep Editing Analysis: 

  • Dialogue Cue with an amplified simile
  • Strong cadence.

3. A jolt of something creepy shoots through me, knotting my shoulders and wringing my stomach like a wet rag.

Deep Editing Analysis: 

  • Vague visceral response – A jolt of something creepy  Sometimes vague works with visceral responses, facial expressions, and dialogue cues.
  • Kimberly used that visceral response as a stimulus for two specific responses—knotting shoulders, wringing stomach
  • Amplified with a simile
  • Strong cadence.

4. Gabe sounds so sad and confused and lost, and my heart heaves for him, just rises up in my chest and rolls over. I want to reach through the phone and wrap myself around him in a tight hug, hold on until this awful day has passed and it’s tomorrow.

Deep Editing Analysis: 

  • Polysyndeton – sad and confused and lost
  • Two heart-based visceral responses
  • Showing What’s Not Happening – she shares what she wants to do, but can’t – amplified with five Emotional Hits
  1. Reach through phone
  2. Wrap around him
  3. Tight hug
  4. Hold on until this awful day has passed
  5. And it’s tomorrow

Kimberly could have written the last sentence with just two Emotional Hits. One option:

I want to reach through the phone and hug him.

Not as interesting. Not as powerful.

The Context: He’s talking about his brother who died. The paragraph deserves the amplification.

Deep editing tools help writers write fresh. And writing fresh keeps readers hooked.

I love giving writers so many deep editing tools they have to build more drawers for their writing toolboxes.

About Margie Lawson

Margie Lawson used her clinical psychology expertise to develop deep editing techniques used by new writers to ‘New York Times Bestsellers’. Writers credit her innovative EDITS System and deep editing techniques for their writing success. Margie created Lawson Writer’s Academy, which has over thirty online instructors. You can find out more about Margie on her website.

About Erin Halling

Erin Halling is an intern at Writers Victoria. She’s completing her bachelor’s in English Language and Literature in the United States, and she vents her stress out on Twitter.