Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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January 20, 2012

Writing Naked Will Take You To The Top!

A guest blog by Tiffany Lawson Inman

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to Laura Drake for inviting me to join WITS today.  And a BIG congrats on her 3 book deal!  Even though she’s a big star now, I hope she signs up for another one of my classes 😉  Hint hint.

There it is.  LARGE bold print peering out at me from underneath the Life and Home section….THE NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLERS LIST, nagging me to grab my Kindle and start downloading fabulous fiction at lightning speed through the whispernet. Sounds magical doesn’t it? No, not whispernet, although it kinda does…

Right now I’m talking about that list.  You know the one. The list that, if you are on it, says without saying: You are a really-really-GOOD-writer-and-being-on-this-list-makes-you-special!

What makes that  writing so darn special? 

My mom, Margie Lawson, creator of deep editing, and I have discussed on end why bestselling authors are bestselling authors. Using my background in theatre and hers in psychology, we probed the question:

No… bestselling authors are NOT walking around with fairy dust in their pockets.

Nope… they don’t have magic beans either.

The answer: It’s the words they use, the order they use them in, and how they tell their story.

 Sounds easy, right?

Of course there are stylistic differences surrounding how each author of each genre approaches action, movement, and tension.  Some are minimalists when it comes to dialogue cues and body language and visceral. Others push our senses to the max. And a select few authors out there have the gift to use every aspect of scene writing to show evolving character relationships.  All are golden tools of scene writing!

While teaching Triple Threat Behind Staging a Scene last year, I asked the class members to pick out an action/movement, heavy dialogue, or multi-character scene from their favorite author. And to include an explanation on why they thought the scene kept them hooked and kept them reading. Here are a few of the words and phrases my class used to describe their favorite bestselling scenes:

  • moves the story forward
  • natural dialogue, showed relationship and kept pace
  • understated dialogue  punctuated by bits of physical movements
  • visible tension in the body language
  • get to know the characters without losing interest  or forward momentum.
  • fluid internalization
  • seamlessly weaving all the elements of story together
  • multiple switches in tone
  • easy to read, no description or info dumps
  • tight choreography

Similarities: Tension, tight dialogue, show not tell, fluid internalizations, emotive body language, and smooth choreography.

Can you describe your writing with the words and phrases above?  (After taking my class you will be able to say, “Yes-yes–yes-yes-yes!”)

Learning to train our reading brains to see emotional and dramatic patterns can awaken the bestselling writer within all of us.

The question is, HOW?

This is one of the many tools I use to awaken the bestselling authors within my students, so read carefully, this is privileged information  🙂

What if bestselling authors forgot about tension, tight dialogue, show-not-tell, fluid internalizations, emotive body language, and smooth choreography in their scenes?

What if I stripped their writing down to its birthday suit? Yup. Naked Writing.

What if, indeed…

Grab hold of your seats folks, I have stripped and re-written this scene and it’s not going to move you one inch.

This scene is a HUGE turning point in a well known YA fantasy. The protagonist thinks he is confronting a known serial killer, a man that betrayed his parents and that betrayal led to their death.  He and his two best friends are secluded in a room with this known villain and the protagonist is the only one with a weapon. This is his opportunity to avenge his parents and commit murder.

Black was on the ground at that point and he was out of breath. He watched Harry as Harry walked toward him slowly.  Harry’s wand was pointed at Black.

“Are you going to kill me, Harry?” he said.

Harry stopped walking, his wand was still pointing forward. Black’s face showed an ugly bruise and he had a bloody nose.

“You killed my parents, “ Harry said.

Black paused."I don't deny it," he said. "But if you knew the whole story."

"You sold them to Voldemort. That's all I need to know." Harry said.

"You've got to listen to me," Black said quickly, "You'll regret it if you don't."

"I understand a lot better than you think," said Harry.

Hermione’s fat cat jumped onto the front of Black’s coat. "Get off," he said, trying to push Crookshanks off of him.

Crookshanks was an ugly cat with a squashed face and yellow eyes. The ugly cat continued to sit on his chest. Hermione started crying.

Harry guessed he would have to kill the cat too.  Harry still held the wand out in front of him towards Black, but he was having a hard time with this decision. Ron’s breathing was loud. He was sitting by the bed next to Hermione.

Harry heard a noise from down the stairs.

Hermione loudly yelled for help.

Black tried to get the cat off of his chest again. He was unsuccessful.

Harry shook his wand. A voice in his head told him to kill Black soon. He could hear          footsteps on the stairs. This decision was hard and he didn’t know what to do.

 Someone opened the door. It was Professor Lupin and he had his wand out.  When he came through the door, he scanned the room.   Harry still had his wand pointing at Black who was on the floor in front of him. 

 Lupin then yelled, “Expelliarmus!”------------------------------------------------

OH, my goodness….did anyone stop reading after line 4? And you guessed it – that was an altered scene from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. That’s right.  This children’s book has adult size muscles packed into its action scenes.

I have to admit, it was kind of fun to strip the magic away…so-to-speak… 🙂

I WISH I could show you the whole scene, fully clothed. Alas, it is too large of a sample for me to retype without copyright infringements. If you have your own copy (and I know you do) crack it open and read this scene.  Not only is this a turning point for the book, but it is a turning point for the entire series.  Must read!

Here are the highlights:

  • Emotive Physicality:

Black was sprawled at the bottom of the wall. His thin chest rose and fell rapidly as he watched.         

  • Active Description:

A livid bruise was rising around Black's left eye and his nose was bleeding.

  • Underlying Emotion:

"You killed my parents," said Harry, his voice shaking slightly, but his wand hand quite steady.

  • Quickening Pace:

"You've got to listen to me," Black said, and there was a note of urgency in his voice now. "You'll regret it if you don't... You don't understand..."

  • Natural Dialogue and Emotive Dialogue Cues:

 "I understand a lot better than you think," said Harry, and his voice shook more than ever. "You never heard her, did you? My mum... trying to stop Voldemort killing me... and you did that... you did it..."

  • Smooth Choreography and Active Description:

But Crookshanks sank his claws into Black's robes and wouldn't shift. He turned his ugly, squashed face to Harry and looked up at him with those great yellow eyes. To his right, Hermione gave a dry sob.

  • Gripping Cadence and Visible Tension:

Harry raised the wand. Now was the moment to do it. Now was the moment to avenge his mother and father. He was going to kill Black. He had to kill Black. This was his chance...

The seconds lengthened. And still Harry stood frozen there, wand poised, Black staring up at him, Crookshanks on his chest. Ron's ragged breathing came from near the bed; Hermione was quite silent.

And then came a new sound  

  • Fluid Internalizations and Seamless Transitions:

Black made a startled movement that almost dislodged Crookshanks; Harry gripped his wand convulsively -- Do it now! said a voice in his head -- but the footsteps were thundering up the stairs and Harry still hadn't done it.

  • Active Descriptions and Smooth Choreography and Emotive Physicality:

The door of the room burst open in a shower of red sparks and Harry wheeled around as Professor Lupin came hurtling into the room, his face bloodless, his wand raised and ready. His eyes flicked over Ron, lying on the floor, Hermione, cowering next to the door, to Harry, standing there with his wand covering Black, and then to Black himself, crumpled and bleeding at Harry's feet.

"Expelliarmus!" Lupin shouted.

By stripping away the Rowlings bestseller qualities we are able to see what is missing. And by putting them back, we can see the quality and quantity of what she used.  Yes, there can be too much of a good thing and readers will put your book down if they can’t see what’s happening.

Look at your own writing with Naked Editor Vision and ask yourself these questions:

  • Does your writing already look like it’s been stripped?
  • Is your writing wearing too many layers of clothing? Is it hard to see what is really happening under there?
  • Have you overdosed the scene with one or two elements and scrimped on the rest?
  • If you stripped it down, can you still see what is happening? What do you see?  Does your scene still have all of its body parts?

Sound like fun? 

Comment below and tell us about your favorite scene writing author. How do they do it?  Have you ever studied their writing? Dare to strip one of their scenes to see what is underneath? 

LEARN MORE FROM NAKED EDITOR! Join me for my February class at Lawson Writer’s Academy:  The Triple Threat Behind Staging a Scene:  An Actor’s Take on Writing Physicality, Choreography, and Action

Leave a comment and your name will be added to a drawing to WIN a spot in The Triple Threat Behind Staging a Scene:  An Actor’s Take on Writing Physicality, Choreography, and Action

February's Online Classes offered by Lawson Writer’s Academy:

  1. Taking a Book from Good to Sold, by Shirley Jump
  2. The Triple Threat Behind Staging a Scene: An Actor’s Take on Writing Physicality, Choreography, and Action, by Tiffany Lawson Inman
  3. Kills, Chills, and Thrills: Writing the Thriller Novel, by C.J. Lyons
  4. Taming WordPress: Create and Maintain Blogs and Websites, by Tamela Buhrke
  5. Platforms Aren’t Shoes. Start Marketing BEFORE You Finish That Book, by Tamela Buhrke
  6. Empowering Characters’ Emotions, by Margie Lawson

Tiffany Lawson Inman is a freelance fiction editor and writing instructor.  Find out where she’s been guest blogging, where she’s going to be next, writing/editing tips, and her EDITING SERVICES at Naked Editor Blog: http://bit.ly/NakedEditorFictionWritingBlog   http://tiffanylawson.blogspot.com/

0 comments on “Writing Naked Will Take You To The Top!”

      1. I totally agree on this one! A writer for marketing once told me put the most important words at the end of the sentence because readers remember the last words said more readily than the first. I think it makes for stronger writing too.

  1. wow. just when you think you know what you're doing someone points out the critical flaws in what you thought you knew! amazing post. will ponder the class.

  2. Tiffany, a huge thanks for this post. I would say Rowlings is for everyone, though many think of her as primarily YA. That is the other thought circulating in my brain ... that the great ones can transcend genre, category and reach across generations. They have a powerful universal appeal for anyone who loves to read (to0 many wonderful examples in great literature to list). I read that book, the year it was pub. and just now, I was able to recall every emotion and the sense of loss ... Harry the child was no longer. The other list that would be too long are those I still love to read or reread, the ones I discover, often by accident or curiosity. Were I do this lesson with any one of them, my comment would read more like a short story. Alas, I can only speak to ONE aspect ... too many clothes ... or my personal nemisis ... allowing myself to be naked, to get under the skin and hopefully one day, allow my readers, to see and feel the power you speak of in this piece. I read to write, to learn, to escape, to know other worlds and most of all for the pure joy. This is a keeper!

    1. Hello there - Ramblings!

      Thank you so much for stopping by this morning. YES. Everytime I read this particular HarryPotter scene I too feel like I am reading it for the first time. It was such a HUGE moment in the series.

      Sounds like you know what the next steps for your writing should be, just a matter of getting uncomfortable. The great thing about taking these steps within a writing class like mine is that I will help you feel less naked. 🙂 Allowing you to look for specific layers one at a time, then working through my LINE-BY-LINE edits and notes on your scenes.

      You just have to get through that first cool breeze!

    1. IT IS amazing, right?!
      Before I started stripping scenes I felt almost claustrophobic.

      Looking at the blog now, I should have written in a scene with TOO MANY layers of clothing and show you all what it is like to try and see the story beneath it. Hmmm… Maybe tomorrow morning I will post one on my blog.

      Thanks, Natalie! Will I be seeing you around the halls of LawsonWriter’sAcademy?

  3. WHAT!? There are no magic beans!?!? But I just bought some on Amazon... Thanks, Tiffany, for another brilliant post. Looking forward to stripping ~ and rebuilding ~ my scenes with you in February!

  4. IT IS amazing, right?!
    Before I started stripping scenes I felt almost claustrophobic.

    Looking at the blog now, I should have written in a scene with TOO MANY layers of clothing and show you all what it is like to try and see the story beneath it. Hmmm... Maybe tomorrow morning I will post one on my blog.

    Thanks, Natalie! Will I be seeing you around the halls of LawsonWriter'sAcademy? 🙂

  5. I miss your crazy-powerful line edits!!! It's time to get you in on my new book! Thanks for another awesome post - I love reading your guest blogs!

    See you in JULY!


  6. Too bad there aren't any Bertie Botts beans that taste like a NYTimes Bestseller. Wonder what that would taste like anyway? 🙂

    It's never crossed my mind to do this to a turning point or other critical scene. I've deconstructed and reconstructed Margie-style, but I'd love to give this a go. I suspect my scenes fall to the too-many-sweaty-layers side.

    Thanks, Tiffany 🙂 Trying to figure out if I can juggle TWO Margie-U classes in February.


    1. L.A. Mitchell -

      hahahahaha! You got me laughing. That would be an interesting flavor. Maybe like "new book" smell? Love that smell.

      Well if have tried margie-style, then you will like tiffany-style too! I understand if you are busy in Feb. Don't worry - I'm not going anywhere. Oh and if you get out to Colorado for an Immersion Master Class - I am now the second pair of editing eyes (the bonus editor) for those classes!


  7. Thank you so much for this article. I'm working on a chapter this morning and I knew It need more emotion. You've given me much to think about.

  8. Tiffany, so looking forward to From Madness to Method. Thanks for stripping down this excerpt. A little make-up, a little bling and a little tailoring, and I too can look better. Woop. Write better. I meant write better.

    1. Where the cluck is Gloria? She's laughing out loud in the middle of Starbucks, Sherry.

      YES! I'm in.

      I TOLD you MasterCard had just cycled. It's my super-secret reverse savings account. I spend with abandon until it reaches hubby's payoff tolerance threshold. Then, I'm "poor " me again until AMEX cycles. Woot!

  9. Great example of a stellar scene, Tiffany. It's that 'seamless' bit that's the hardest. It just keep reading it out loud over and over and over....

    And now back to work to write the bones of my scene and then put the right clothes on it. 🙂

    Cheers and thanks!

    1. It's kind of the "seamless" underwear. I look at them, touch the fabric and just ... wow it's truly amazing 🙂

      I know you can make it work - I have seen you in action! Speaking of... I'd love to see your first few chapters since we worked on them during the fabulous Immersion Master Class. Yes - I still think about your characters 🙂 Good sign, right?!

  10. One of the things I love best is when a writer surprises me with just a touch of humor. It has to be unexpected, but not inappropriate to the scene. But then, I'm a sucker for old Bruce Willis movies. He was the king of defusing just a touch of the tension with a bad one liner before ramping it back up with a surprise left-hook.
    Writers who can pull that off enthrall me.

    1. Hi there Bree!

      Thanks for joining in!

      If you want fresh writing, good plot with humor hits - DARYNDA JONES! She is FABULOUS! Seamless in her delivery and all of the other elements are there too. Her characters can really pull off those one-liners.

  11. Tiffany, Even stripped down, the scene you used is a powerful one. So, I guess you have to start with strong scenes to continue to make them more dynamic. And the way you stripped them down makes it seem elegant. Wish I could do that.

  12. Great example, Tiffany! I would love to spend some time with you -- I'm having naked issues of my own 🙂 I will definitely take some classes from you at some point -- just have to wait til I'm able to do it!

    Out of curiosity, since you strip everything naked, do you also write this way yourself? Write it naked and then go back and add in the details that work? 🙂

    1. No worries, Kari - I will be teaching all year!

      I use this tool to see what my editing clients are or are not putting on the page.

      But i have used it to write bare scenes - these are usually written after I have just woken up or come in from a long drive or in the shower where my brain has been working on the scene but I didn't happen to be next to a laptop. --------I will rush in, grab laptop and freewrite it naked (sotospeak) Then once I feel I have gotten down the basics of what I want to happen in the scene, then I can go back and add the layers. OR I will rush in and write layers only - if I am afraid I will lose the wording on a chunk. Occasionally I will go in to a scene "fully dressed" and will almost lose myself in the words and forget where I was headed in the scene.

      I guess you could say it's a multi-use-tool 🙂

      Hope to see you around! I'll be blogging and teaching and editing and writing.
      Follow me on twitter! @NakedEditor

  13. Thank you for the reminder.
    I often search for the bones of a scene after I write it. I rummage under the layers to figure out what I was trying to say. It usually works.

    Though lately I find only jello with a note to myself to add bones later.

    Gotta love writer's block.


  14. This is great stuff for editing once the scenes are in place... checking for all of these components and asking yourself if the scene is actually necessary in the first place! Going to keep that list of questions and apply it when I edit. Thanks! Would love to be a part of the class.

    1. Hello Bren ~
      Glad to hear you can put this to good use! I aim to put writing
      tools into all of my blogs. Not sure what my next one will be on
      Haven't written it yet 🙂 It will be posted Next Friday!

      Need a another fix, head over to my blog to read about False Hooks.
      **I will be posting the class winner on Sunday night.

  15. Frantically waving "HI," Tiffany!

    Hold a desk for me (within peashooter range of Sherry Isaac). I'll be there.

    I LOVE both your and your mom's teaching styles. Hands on. Upbeat. And, the wisdom. Woot!

    1. We don't play with peashooters in my classroom young lady!

      Oh wow. Maybe I should teach this class face to
      face, I sounded pretty good there, didn't I?

      That was the wisdom talking 🙂 Thanks for poppin on here Gloria!
      See you in February!

  16. I've never thought of it this way. I really liked the whole idea of 'writing naked'. You've given me new eyes with which to go back to my WIP. Thank you!!

  17. Intriguing! I'm going to print out this post so I can use it as a reference for tearing apart my scenes. I'm guilty of being "lazy" (in a fashion) about going back to make sure that all the elements are there for the story. My first book published with minimal revisions and so, I'm not always that good about going back and doing the intensive dirty work. Maybe that's why it's been so hard for the follow up. BTW, it's nice to see a writing article with so much hands on advice. I really appreciate it.

    1. gotghost~
      Yes print it out. Use this tool.
      But...there is MORE to learn from me!
      Why stop here? Come to me writer, come to me in February and
      work your bootie off in my class! Or...yes, just print out this one
      really cool writing tool and tack it to the wall behind your desk. 🙁

      To see more really cool writing tools, I will be guest blogging again
      next friday at http://www.haleywhitehall.com.

      Need more tools right now,
      at this very second? Head over to my blog and learn about FALSE HOOKS

      🙂 day three of on/off/on migraine...my apologies, I fear I might be a bit punchy.


  18. Hmm. I wrote naked and left it naked. Until I met your mom. Now I'm learning from her. I thought I was going to take a month off to see if I have a brain left, but I may have to rethink that. And I may have to break down and start reading Harry Potter. Sigh. Always another book to read out there.

    I was in the Immersion class with Sherry and Gloria. Saw you on the mountain. Now I guess I'll have to find out how your teaching compares with your mother's.


    1. Wonderful! I am up for the challenge 🙂 So I'll be seeing your name on my roster soon?

      *Happy Dance!!

      Will you guys be coming back for a reunion immersion anytime? I am now part of the Master Class and another set of editing eyes for pumping up your writing 🙂 Hope to see you all on the mountain again soon!

  19. Tiffany, I said I would drop by. Reading a well known scene without the magic is very enlightening. It shows what we need to write (and how) to grip the reader. I love your breakdown and edits. I can't wait to work with you again. I want to keep improving on emotive physicality and active description.

  20. Great post! It's funny how annoying it is to the striped down version of Rowling's scene 🙂 You've definitely given me some stuff to look over in my own writing.

    1. Emily -
      Yes, it makes me cringe to strip the greats. But it allows us to see
      if the action is still there and if choreography is clear, etc. Sad thing is,
      there is writing out there that is published naked and it lacks passion.

      Before I start yammering 🙂 Thank you for reading and thank you for posting!

      Check back on Sunday night - I'll be posting the winner of the drawing.

    1. Nina~
      Ooooh I think that is a fabulous idea! Join the rest of us for an insane February full of writing and editing and trying new things. All will point you in the direction of being
      a better writer.

      Thank you for posting! See you soon 🙂

  21. [...] my fav Writers In The Storm Blog this week. I’m going to be re-reading this post for a while. Writing Naked Will Take You To The Top! Share this:TwitterFacebookDiggMoreStumbleUponRedditTumblrLike this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

  22. I think there is good wisdom here: analyze the greats. Your course sounds interesting. Plus you couldn't have picked a better place to guest blog. Laura is awesome.

    Best wishes,


  23. Awwwww.... I just clicked over to S.J. Maylee's blog and in her list of Links for the week she said this:

    "The Lawson ladies are really something special, I hope one day to be able to take one of their courses!! Until then I thoroughly enjoy their posts!! Tiffany Lawson Inman posted at my fav Writers In The Storm Blog this week. I’m going to be re-reading this post for a while. Writing Naked Will Take You To The Top!"

    THANK YOU S.J. Maylee!!! I was having a down moment tonight and this cheered me right up.

  24. And the WINNER OF THE CLASS IS : BRENNA AUBREY !! ! ! ! !

    Thank you for all who commented and I hope to see your faces in
    my February class, Triple Threat Behind Staging A Scene.

    The class where you and me and YOUR WRITING will mingle with more editing tools from the
    NakedEditor arsenal. Along with my line-by-line edits for your scenes. By the end of the month you will be a better writer and a better self-editor.

    Click here to login and register: http://www.margielawson.com/lawson-writers-academy-courses

    1. Glad I could be of assistance 🙂 Come take a class with me and you will see what ELSE your writing is missing and how to kick it into high gear! I'm teaching a YA class Next month -but I strongly suggest other genres join in!

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