During March, I took an online course taught by Margie Lawson. "Empowering Characters' Emotions" is designed to help a writer add psychological power to her writing, improve the pacing, and hook the reader viscerally. Here are the highlights:
- Basics of writing the full range of body language: the physiology of emotion, kinesics, facial expressions, proprioceptive stimuli (visceral), paralanguage (dialogue cues), haptics (touch), proxemics (spatial relations), nonverbal gender differences, communication accommodation, cross-cultural nonverbals, levels of intimacy, love signals, and how to convey primary emotions.
- Levels of Powering Up Emotion: writing basic, complex, empowered, and super-empowered levels of fresh emotion, escalating intensity, providing emotional authenticity, and creating complex emotional states.
- Foundations of the EDITS System: recognizing and analyzing dialogue and different parts of the narrative in your manuscript for patterns and voids, and improving your work.
- Introduction to psychologically-anchored editing: backloading, emotional hits, cliché twists, backstory management, cadence, white space, projecting emotion for a non-POV character.
That's a load of stuff for one month. Margie teaches chunks of it in workshops during conferences. I received a sampling of her EDITS system when I took her abbreviated workshop at the Moonlight & Magnolias conference last year. What I learned and was able to apply to my own writing, just from that three-hour workshop, so impressed me that I decided to take this month-long online course.
I planned to participate fully in each class exercise last month by applying lessons to the completed first draft of book five, Regulated For Murder. Great idea, right? However, when the first day of class rolled around, I didn't have a completed first draft for Regulated for Murder.
Grasshopper has learned another lesson this year. Taking classes online while writing a first draft conflicts with writing! Duh!
So I continued writing the first draft, lurked in class, absorbed the lessons, and applied concepts straight into my writing.
Caution #1: I don't recommend that you take this course unless you can apply it to a completed manuscript. If you're a writer who never finishes first drafts because you keep obsessing over what you've written in the early chapters, this course will encourage your obsessions, feed your insecurities. So buck up, complete your manuscript, then sign up for Margie's course.
Caution #2: I don't recommend that you take this course until you're prepared to dig in and apply the ideas to your work. I wasn't the only published author taking the course. No matter what stage your writing is in, "Empowering Characters' Emotions" contains concepts to help you polish your communication.
The greatest insight I learned from Margie is that there's a huge difference between body language that carries an emotion, and visceral/involuntary reactions to that emotion. One isn't a substitute for the other. I also realized that I need to "people-watch" more and note for myself the types of quirky, subconscious actions that they perform. And I learned how to focus on my most basic, sometimes boring, sentences and, when appropriate, hike up the intensity on them. All this has somehow freed my imagination, such that in my first draft, I incorporate more lovely rhetorical devices like alliterations and anaphoras that normally wouldn't show up until a third draft.
Three cheers for Margie Lawson!