A big lovey Thank You to Laura Drake for inviting us back to WITS. Surprise! It’s a mother-daughter duo blog!
What happens to characters when they are in a high emotion scene? They experience emotion. Duh.
What happens if the writer keeps the POV character in their head, intellectualizing about what they’re feeling, instead of experiencing the emotion physically too? It doesn’t ring true. The scene is not as credible. The reader will fail to become fully immersed in the moment, the character arc, and the story.
Um…that’s not good.
So what do we mean by experience the emotion physically?
Emotion almost always includes a visceral response.
Most of the time without the visceral, you will have a 1-2 punch without the 2.
You need to become a Visceral Warrior.
Visceral warriors push themselves to write visceral responses in ALL of their emotional scenes. They put visceral responses in the right places. They amplify the visceral responses appropriately for that scene. And they don’t write clichéd visceral responses, they work hard to write original and fresh.
Quickie review of visceral responses: Involuntary physical responses to emotionally triggered stimuli. Responses like accelerated heart rate, sweaty palms, tight throat, dry mouth, clenched stomach, flushed neck and face, pumped up adrenaline, tunnel vision.
If a writer neglects to have the POV character experience a visceral response after an emotionally-loaded stimulus, the scene is usually not as powerful. Not a page-turner.
Today, we are using examples from a few of the hordes of Multi-Margie-Grads (and some Tiffany-Grads) who are visceral warriors.
Analysis of Visceral Responses:
Nausea punched into my stomach and pushed hard, but I was getting used to the massive adrenaline dumps. I tensed and fought the surge of bile, forcing it down and holding it there.
Analysis: Fresh writing. Empowered visceral response. Power words: nausea, punched, hard, massive, adrenaline dumps, tensed, fought, bile, forcing. Perfect cadence.
The colossal adrenaline dump that had overloaded my system now needed a place to go. With every ounce of strength I had, I pushed him off, rushed to the wall, and emptied the contents of my stomach onto the concrete foundation.
Analysis: Fresh writing. The power of three. Power words: colossal, adrenaline dump, overloaded, strength, rushed, emptied. Compelling cadence.
Then I hear the car door slam and my heart rides up my throat with spurs.
Analysis: Powerful! Fresh writing. Shared stimulus and response. Amplified visceral response twice. Backloaded with power word: spurs. Compelling cadence.
The second example from Romily Bernard shares a well-written incongruency. The dialogue cue is incongruent with the visceral response.
“We have a visitor.” Weird how my voice sounds flat and confident when my insides are churning and liquid.
Read that example again.
The dialogue cue, the way she speaks, cues the reader regarding the subtext. Her voice sounds flat and confident. But she’s really terrified. We know she’s terrified because her insides are churning and liquid. She’s covering up her fear for her little sister.
Analysis: Incongruent dialogue cue and visceral response. Fresh writing. Complex dialogue cue. Complex visceral response. Parallelism. Compelling cadence.
Fabulous example of using incongruence (which happens multiple times a day in the real world) to deepen character and enrich the scene.
I rub my thumb over the frayed binding, irritation pinching all my insides like I’ve got mosquitoes eating their way out.
Analysis: Wow! Clear action, clear visual: Thumb over frayed binding (of diary).
- Fresh writing: irritation punching insides. Compelling cadence.
- Power Words: irritation, pinching, insides, mosquitoes, eating their way out.
- Backloaded with powerful four-word phrase.
- Fresh simile: mosquitoes eating way out. That fresh simile could give readers visceral responses!
Threading Visceral Responses:
This is not the real passage. It will not flow. Several paragraphs and pieces of paragraphs are missing. We included some lines that are the triggers for her visceral responses.
Katie McGarry, Dare You To, Margie-Grad
“So it’s true,” someone says from the front of the class. “Your last name is Risk.”
Clank. Clank. The sound of chains squeezing my lungs echoes in my head.
Two paragraphs later:
Everyone in the class watches me. My hands start to sweat.
The next paragraph includes this visceral:
Panic pushes my heart past my rib cage.
Two paragraphs later:
Sweat forms along the hairline on my neck as the world sways. It’s been too much: the changes. Losing Mom. Losing Isaiah. Losing my home. I’ve tried. Really I have. I’ve roamed the halls as the reclusive freak show. This answer will change everything again. “Yes.”
Whispers and comments rush through the class like wind from an oncoming thunderstorm.
Skip a few paragraphs, and we’ll find these two sentences in a paragraph:
The bell rings and my teacher’s expression gives new meaning to the term wrathful. A couple of more pounds of chains settle in my stomach.
Kudos to Katie McGarry for empowering this high-emotion section with five visceral responses.
1. The sound of chains squeezing my lungs echoes in my head.
2. My hands start to sweat.
3. Panic pushes my heart past my rib cage.
4. Sweat forms along the hairline on my neck as the world sways.
5. A couple of more pounds of chains settle in my stomach.
The first and last lines are fresh, fresh, fresh. Love the way she used chains in the first line and amplified the chains in an unexpected way in the last line. Powerful.
She was done—done, done, done. Her goose was cooked. Charred. Gino would know where she was now. But where was Joey? Her stomach flopped over and fisted under her ribs.
Analysis: WOOT WOOT! Epizeuxis – done, done, done. Goosey cliché twist. Alliteration. Alliteration. Visceral kick with flopped over and fisted under – fresh fresh fresh! Cadence galore.
Now – for examples from Multi-Margie-Grad Laura Drake!
The sobbing admission burned like drain cleaner as it burst from her throat.
Analysis: Words like sobbing, burned, and burst create a clear emotional visual to the reader. Drain cleaner pops out as an original and dangerous simile. Kick butt cadence.
When black dots shot across her vision, she remembered to breathe.
Analysis: Used visceral action to show visual impairment and by saying remembered to breathe – told reader she wasn’t breathing. Two viscerals in one line! And again, clever cadence.
Delicious flames licked the inside of her skin, urging her on. “Well, then, you go on and lie in that bed, Jimmy Denny. I don’t want to see your face on this property again. Do you hear me?”
The freed flames roared in her ears, and her body shook with righteous crackling heat.
Analysis: Poetic punch of cadence with words like delicious and licked to describe flames on one’s skin. Brilliant and fresh writing.
Then slamming the last line with power words: flames, roared, shook, righteous, crackling, and backloading with heat. How sad would this have been if she had written, “ She heard the flames crackle and her body was hot to the core.” (cliché alert!)
- Shared stimulus and response.
- Amplified visceral response twice.
- Backloaded with power word: spurs.
- Compelling cadence.
One more example. This one is from Laura Drake’s August release, Her Road Home.
The first paragraph below is the stimulus for the visceral response. Viscerally creepy.
At the low, creepy tone, her head jerked up, though she knew what she would see. The concentrated, unfocused stare. Ruddied cheeks. His lips glistening, as if he’d just licked them.
She stood in flash-frozen shock, heart fluttering in scared-rabbit beats. Not again.
Analysis: Alliteration, flash-frozen, fluttering, parallelism. Fresh, fresh, fresh writing. Kudos to Laura Drake!
Thanks for joining us (Margie and Tiffany) today. We had fun writing this blog together, and we even experienced some mother-daughter visceral hits. Wish you all could have been here!
Before you leave this blog, please know that this was an itsy-bitsy teensy-weensy sliver of our writing-visceral-responses pie. Sorry, this was NOT a quick glance a guide. It’s not even a Cliffs Notes Version. It’s more like 1/30th of a Cliffs Notes version.
What are we saying?
There is SO MUCH MORE TO LEARN in order to become a Visceral Warrior. But don’t worry, we know you can do it!
Margie’s online course, Visceral Responses: Beyond Hammering Hearts, is loaded with dozens of teaching points, a slew of dissected and analyzed examples, hundreds of learning opportunities.
POST A COMMENT on the blog and you could win a spot in the Visceral Responses course. The class runs August 15 – Sept. 15. We'll draw the winner's name Thursday Night, 8 PM, Mountain time. If you win, and you're already registered for the course, your registration fee will be refunded.
Check out all the online courses offered by Lawson Writer’s Academy.
WITS own Laura Drake teaches on online class for LWA in September, Submissions That Sell! She should know. She got contracts for seven books before her first book was released!
Lawson Writer's Academy -- Upcoming Classes:
1. Visceral Rules: Beyond Hammering Hearts, Aug. 15 - Sept. 15
Instructor: Margie Lawson
2. Fab 30: Advanced Deep Editing, A Master Class, Aug. 12 - Oct. 20
Instructor: Margie Lawson
3. Story Structure Safari, Sept. 1 - 30
Instructor: Lisa Miller
4. Submissions That Sell!, Sept. 2 - 27
Instructor: Laura Drake
5. World Genesis: Building a World from the Ground Up, Sept. 2 - 27
Instructor: Suzanne Lazear
Margie Lawson—editor, international presenter— teaches writers how to use her psychologically-based editing systems and deep editing techniques to create page turners.
Margie has presented over eighty full day master classes in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Writers who have studied her material credit her innovative deep editing approaches with taking their writing several levels higher—to publication, awards, and bestseller lists.
To learn about online courses through Lawson Writer’s Academy, Margie’s 4-day Immersion Master Classes (in 2013: in Colorado, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Columbus, and on Whidbey Island), her full day and weekend Master Class presentations, keynote speeches, Lecture Packets, and newsletter, visit www.margielawson.com.
Tiffany Lawson Inman (NakedEditor) claimed a higher education at Columbia College Chicago. There, she learned to use body and mind together for action scenes, character emotion, and dramatic story development.
She teaches Action, Choreography, Physicality, Violence, and Dialogue for Lawson Writer’s Academy, presents hands-on-action workshops, and will be offering webinars in 2014. As a freelance editor, she provides deep story analysis and dramatic fiction editing services. Tiffany will be off maternity leave and back on-line before the end of the year! Stay tuned to WITS to see Tiffany’s upcoming guest blogs, contests, and lecture packets.