Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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March 26, 2014

Margie-Rule # 1: Never Take Any Word for Granted

Hot News Flash!  Multi multi Margie Grad, Laura Drake, has just been announced as a double RITA Finalist (for those who don't know, that's the Oscars for Romance)!  See what a little Margie can do?

 By Margie Lawson

A big THANK Margie LawsonYOU to Laura Drake and Fae Rowen for inviting me on WITS , and hugs to Sharla for loading it on the blog.

Do you watch NCIS?

I love giving my brain a weekly dose of NCIS. Millions of others love the show too. The stories are intriguing. The characters are deep and quirky. And Jethro Gibbs, aka Mark Harmon, has rules.

Gibbs has lots of rules. Over 50 rules.

I’m spinning-off Margie-Rules from Gibbs’ rules. My next fifteen (or fifty) blogs will feature a different Margie-Rule.

I appreciate the NCIS writers for their award-winning writing, and for giving Gibbs rules.

Gibbs’ Rule # 8: Never take anything for granted.

Today’s Blog: Margie-Rule #1: Never Take Any Word for Granted.

Writers like words. Writers like how words sound, how they look, how they roll. They select words for their connotations, their subliminal messages, their power. They choose words that fit their characters like “that ain’t no matter” fits Huck Finn.

Writers also play with word-play.

Snicker, snicker. That last sentence was a SHOW and TELL sentence. I played with words in my word-play sentence.

Yep. I’m playing with you.

I just talked to you. Talking to the reader is what I call Intentional Authorial Intrusion.

I’ll share an example of Harlan Coben playing with words, and playing with the reader, in an Intentional Authorial Intrusion.

Long Lost, Harlan Coben, NYT Bestseller

From Page 1:

Terese Collins. Imagery flooded in—her Class-B-felony bikini, that private island, the sun-kissed beach, her gaze that could melt teeth, her Class-B-felony bikini.

It’s worth mentioning the bikini twice.

Hear Harlan talking to you?

Harlan Coben shared two Humor Hits too.

  • Gaze that could melt teeth
  • It’s worth mentioning the bikini twice.

Now that we’ve had some fun, we’ll dig deeper into never taking any word for granted and we’ll have more fun.

These authors used just the right words to make their writing strong.

Nothing Sweeter, Laura Drake, Immersion Grad

  1. The shiny, pink baby-doll dress hit her upper thigh, and her clunky heels made her feet look like canapés on the ends of toothpicks—tattooed toothpicks.

Fresh writing! Humor Hit! Strong visual!

The Sweet Spot, Laura Drake, Immersion Grad

  1. Disaster had hit them like a Kansas cyclone, and instead of her and Jimmy hunkering down together to weather the storm, it tore them apart. She’d poked her head in a Valium bottle, and Jimmy’d lit out for another woman’s bed. Worse yet, a girl’s bed.Frozen frame pictures of Jimmy, knocking boots with the little blonde shot through Char’s brain like machine gun fire.

Deep Editing Analysis:

Laura loaded that paragraph with psychologically powered words and phrases: disaster, cyclone, tore, apart, Valium, another woman’s bed, worse, girl’s bed, knocking boots, shot machine gun fire.

She contrasted what could have happened, hunkering down together, to what really happened, it tore them apart.

She used three rhetorical devices:

1.  Simile: like a Kansas cyclone 2.
2.  Simile: like machine gun fire
3.  Parallelism: She’d poked her head in a Valium bottle, and Jimmy’d lit out for another woman’s bed.

She used story-themed words:hunkering down, poked, lit out,knocking boots

Compelling cadence.

 Dirty Magic, Jaye Wells, 2-time Immersion Grad 

1.  The lightning-fast change in topic nearly gave me whiplash.

 Jaye could have written something predictable like:

He changed the topic too fast.

 But she gave the reader a line that carries a Humor Hit and lots of energy.

 2.  A quickening began in my middle and expanded outward, heating my limbs and hardening my resolve.

 Deep Editing Analysis:

Jaye opened that sentence with a fresh visceral response: A quickening began in my middle

 She amplified that basic visceral three times:

 1.  Made the visceral larger: expanded outward
 2.  Added another visceral response: heating my limbs
 3.  Added what I call a Power Internalization: hardening my resolve

Jaye Wells used three rhetorical devices:

Parallelism:   heating my limbs and hardening my resolve.
Alliteration: heating, hardening
Zeugma: heating my limbs and hardening my resolve

 Compelling cadence.

 Crash Into You, Katie McGarry, Multi-Margie-Grad

1.  My throat tightens and I ignore it. Nausea is not welcome in my car. Nor are shallow breaths and sweaty palms and disoriented thoughts.

 The reader knows the POV character feels like she’s going to throw up.

 Katie McGarry uses the key words, but she structures her sentences in an unexpected way. Fresh writing!

2.  Most people underestimate the bleached-blond, skinny son of a bitch, but that mistake could prove lethal for your billfold and your health.

Deep Editing Analysis:

Shares a character description in a character assassination.

I played with a play on words again. 😉

Psychologically Powerful Words: bitch, mistake, lethal, billfold

Rhetorical Devices:

Alliteration: bleached-blond, bitch, but, billfold
Zeugma: for your billfold and your health

 Find Me, Romily Bernard, Multi-Margie-Grad

 1.  Now that Carson is gone, my skin is trying to shiver loose from my bones.

 Fresh, fresh, fresh writing.

Romily could have written lines like:

I shivered.
Goose bumps covered my arms.
I pulled my sweater around me, but I kept shivering.

We’ve all read those clichéd lines dozens of times.

Romily gave the reader a fresh line that carries interest and power and a fresh visceral response that could make them shiver.

2.  Weird how my voice sounds flat and confident while my insides are churning and liquid.

 Deep Editing Analysis:

 Romily included a visceral response: my insides are churning and liquid.

 She used Double Parallelism: the first half of sentence to the last half of sentence, and flat and confident to churning and liquid.

She also showed the incongruence in her body language (dialogue cue) to her visceral response.

Wick kept her voice strong. She was scared but she didn’t want her little sister to know.

 Enjoy the examples below from Christa Allan and Joan Swan. They don’t take any words for granted. They select words that add power.

 Test of Faith, Christa Allan, Multi-Margie-Grad

1.  One of those emotions must have busted past my logical self because, in the corner of my brain, it jumped and clapped its hands at the notion of “get together soon.”

2.  He mirrored his mother’s one-size-fits-all face, and between the two of them, I could have been on a tour through the wax museum.

 3.  My mother and her attitude arrived close to ten o’clock as expected. She must have asked Cam what to wear because she looked uncharacteristically unfrumpy.

 4.  My anxiety elevator went to the tenth floor, but left my stomach on the ground floor.

 Four paragraphs later:

My heart constricted and the elevator swooshed to the penthouse, leaving me in the basement. Her news torched the hopeful future I’d built and placed under my pillow every night. I was collateral damage, and no one was going to come to my rescue.

 Rush, Joan Swan, NYT Bestseller, 3-time Immersion Grad

1.  That damn fire had destroyed everything good in her life—stolen her husband, split her team, annihilated her sense of security and purpose.

2.  His voice curled around her, as soft and warm as the room.

3.  A hole pricked in the bubble of her serenity. Her peaceful inner world pulled away from the walls of her mind like ripping wallpaper.

4.  Whether dream, alternate universe, or reality, he wasn’t in it alone. And his gut told him he wasn’t safe. His team wasn’t safe. Jessica wasn’t safe.

5.  Q didn’t know if it was the words or the emotion behind the words, but something reached in to his gut and yanked hard. Then something else swept in. Overwhelming affection. Crushing gratitude. An awesome sense of brotherhood.

Wow. Talented writers.

 I recommend reading all those examples again, out loud. The cadence in every example is incredibly compelling.


Post a comment and you could win an online course from Lawson Writer’s Academy!

Check out the courses we’re offering in April:

1. Story Structure Safari -- Instructor: Lisa Miller

2. Taming Twitter and Facebook Too! -- Instructor: Julie Rowe

3. From blah to beats: Giving Your Chapter a Pulse -- Instructor: Rhay Christou

In May, I’m teaching A Deep Editing Guide to Make Your Openings Pop.

I’ll post the name of the winner on the blog on Thursday, 8:00 PM Mountain Time.

About Margie

margie-lawson-1-readingMargie Lawson —psychotherapist, editor, and 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 credit her innovative deep editing approaches with taking their writing several levels higher—to publication, awards, and bestseller lists.

To learn about Lawson Writer’s Academy, Margie’s 4-day Immersion Master Classes (in Colorado, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Dallas, Seattle, San Antonio, Houston, and on Whidbey Island), her full day Master Class presentations, keynote speeches, on-line courses, lecture packets, and newsletter, please visit www.MargieLawson.com.

98 comments on “Margie-Rule # 1: Never Take Any Word for Granted”

  1. These are amazing examples. I've taken a couple of your courses and always come away with learning something new. Thank you for your time and instruction to help us all be better writers.

    1. Hello Vicky --

      Great to see you here!

      You may not have taken my May and August courses. I'm teaching A Deep Editing Guide to Make Your Openings Pop! in May. Powerful course.

      If you're going to National -- come to my Meet & Greet, Hug & Chug in one of the bars after the Literacy Signing. Hope to see you there!

      1. I'm not attending National, but I do plan to get a ticket for the Gala to cheer Laura on! I'll have to add this Hug and Chug into the schedule. You might even see a brief appearance of the Little Bean. 🙂

  2. Thanks for another amazing Margie post! Margie, you're just the bomb, even though I'm going to have to look up "zeugma" so I won't feel too ignorant. Every time I read any of your advice, I bang my head on the table and think, "So simple but so effective. Why didn't I think to do that? WHY?!" Thanks to you, my writing has progressively improved, and I'm grateful.

    Also, my dachshunds Nitro and Hank want to know if they can have your autograph. (They don't write, they just read over my shoulder.)

    Anyway, thanks again. I'll go back to the WIP and see to sharpening it up.

      1. thank you. Hank's name is Harold, but he prefers to be called Hank. (Also, it sounds a little peculiar if I lean out the back door and yell, "Harold, will you PLEASE go potty?") -- And Nitro is short for Nitromethane, a drag-racing fuel. It's totally appropriate for the dog.

    1. Hello Dachshund-Lover Rebecca --

      Ah -- a zeugma fan. I bet you'd love the 30 rhetorical devices I teach in my Deep Editing course. So many ways to boost style and structure and cadence and interest. Power, power, power!

      Nitro and Hank are invited to come play with Calypso on the mountain. They'd love her doggie egress, a ramp up to a window in the walk-out basement and out to her poop patio. 🙂

  3. Margie, thank you as always, for making me sound intelligible (and intelligent!) Your blogs fire me up and inspire me to write fresh! If any of you haven't taken a class from Margie - do your writing a favor...she's like rocket fuel to your craft!




  4. Reblogged this on Daphodill's Garden and commented:
    Brilliant and inspiring examples of strong writing. Man oh man do I want to take one of these classes. I love the deep editing used to dissect each passage. Excellent post. Thanks for sharing. -- reblogging.

    1. Hello Daphodill --

      Thanks for reblogging!

      Glad you liked the examples and the deep editing analyses. Me too!

      I teach most of my online classes once a year. that's why lecture packets are available for each course from my web site through Paypal ($22 / course). The first three courses are:

      1. Empowering Characters' Emotions - January
      2. Deep Editing, Rhetorical Devices, and More - February
      3. Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist - March

      I'm teaching my Make Openings Pop course in May. The three courses listed above are prerequisites.

      Now you know!

  5. Margie, I always love getting these little "brush ups" from you. To me, word choice is definitive to spotlighting the author's voice and revealing character. It's nuance until you train yourself to think bigger, wider, better.
    Always love reading the examples and finding new authors who practice what you preach.


    1. Hey Terri P --

      Yes! Love your comment -- you train yourself to think bigger, wider, better!

      I'm so proud of all my pubbed Margie-Grads. They know how to write fresh. And win awards. 🙂

  6. I ALWAYS look forward to your blog posts, Margie! They're always super helpful. Thank you for your knowledge 🙂

    1. Hello Erica --

      Thank you!

      Glad you enjoy my blogs. Have you taken any of my online courses? Hundreds more learning opps are waiting for you. Hope I get to work with you sometime!

  7. I love all the examples! Great inspiration. The best part of this post? Learning the new word, "zeugma". And then when looking up that word, I learned "syllepsis". Using the right words and having fun playing with them, indeed!

    1. Hello Janet --

      You looked up zeugma -- and learned syllepsis too. Very cool!

      Guaranteed you'd love the 30 rhetorical devices I teach in my Deep Editing course!

      Thanks for chiming in. Hope to see you in one of my online courses sometime!


      Sharon -- I love your writing! So fresh and powerful.
      This is your year! I'll be cheering, cheering, cheering for you!
      I really enjoy working with you online, and hope I get to work with you in Immersion sometime. Maybe 2014!

  8. Margie, I agree with the talented Laura Drake. Every writer who wants to talk fresh, be spicy and burn the tongue .... needs you. We all need you.

    Every time you guest here I save the post. I consider it a free Margie lesson. Oh how great that you have forty-nine more rules to share. BTW, I am also a lover of Gibbs and his rules 🙂

    1. Hello Ramblings!

      I love being needed. 😉

      Gibbs is as smart as he is cool. His rules rule!

      Thanks for chiming in. Maybe I'll see you in the Make Your Openings Pop class!

  9. I'm in the middle of a Margie class right now and LOVING it big time! It's challenging, fascinating, enlivening, inspiring, and it's dramatically changing the flavor and depth of my writing. Write on!

  10. We're an NCIS family--I had the Gibbs and Abby stand-ups in my office until my daughter stole them. Sigh... There was nothing better than looking up from my computer only to find Mark Harmon staring at me with that there's-always-time-for-you,-baby look. Time to kidnap him back.

    As always, every post/lecture/conversation/master's class/immersion/play-date with you puts a smile on my face and gives me an urge to write fresh! Can't wait to see you in May!

    Hugs....Robin 🙂

    1. Oh Robin ... a Gibbs stand-up? Be still my heart!

      Another great post, Margie! And I'm eyeballing your website for the May openings course!!!!

    2. Robin, steal it back from your daughter, 'cuz I'm stealing it next! Hey, I was a fan back when he was playing football in college!

  11. Margie,

    Thanks for the post and the wise words. I'm a big NCIS fan too. Love the rules and the slap upside the head. 🙂

    I had to look up zeugma so thanks for teaching me a new word. I love learning new words.

    1. Carol --

      You liked learning zeugma. I bet you'd love learning the 29 other rhetorical devices in my Deep Editing course (and lecture packet). Lots of fun slaps upside the head!

  12. Margie thanks for another great blog. Your examples explain your points so well. It's not just teaching it's entertaining too. 🙂 BTW, I'm an NCIS fan too. 🙂

    1. Sharla --

      Thank you, thank you! I like having fun. No boring lectures from me.

      So many strong characters on NCIS. Abby personifies loveably quirky.

  13. Every time I read one of your posts, this year's big goal clangs in my head: "Get to the mountain. Do the work, so you can GET TO THE MOUNTAIN."

    (That would be YOUR mountain, Margie. No other mountain inspires me like yours. 🙂 )

      1. Orly --

        Okay -- You and Jenny and Fae (She'll come again!) and Laura (She'll come again too!) and two or three more could book your own Immersion class!

        Love your come-to-the-mountain thunderclap. Fresh and fun!

    1. Jenny --

      You keep saying you're coming... I'm teaching 17 Immersion classes this year.

      I have openings in my September and October Immersion classes on the mountain. Book it!

      I have some openings in Immersion classes in St. Louis and Atlanta and Philly and Dallas and San Antonio too. Jacksonville is full.

      Can't wait to work with you!

      1. I want to come to YOUR mountain. That's how I see it in my head. And your January class finally gave me the goose to get there. I was floundering. Now I'm moving ahead. I'm thinking this Fall, before it gets cold.

  14. Love, LOVE reading your posts, Margie.
    I'm deep in EDITS on one of my drafts. My critique partner Bonnie Gill and I are loving how your colors snap our drafts to attention.
    Thanks for sharing your analysis of all those talented authors with us.

    1. Hello Paula!

      You've gotta love working with Bonnie Gill. Smart and funny!

      Sounds like analyzing your scenes with the EDITS System is providing lots of aha moments. I bet you know how to fix your troubled scenes!

      Thanks for reading the blog and chiming in!

  15. Great reminders, Margie! It's so easy to let the words get away from me, to know I'm treading water in a sea of boring, and to feel like I have to let go and drown. Your post pats me on the head and reminds me, "It's okay, you can edit later." HA! Can't wait to work with you in September!

    1. Hey Kelly --

      You can edit as you go or edit later -- as long as you when you edit, you deep edit, write fresh, and add psychological power. 🙂

      It will be so fun to immerse with the Margie-grad Readerlicious bloggers in September in Houston!

  16. Margie thanks for a terrific lesson -- that I sure needed today. How can somebody as young as you be so wise?!

    1. Marcianne --

      Glad you enjoyed the sliver of deep editing on the blog. Hope you check out my courses!

      Seriously. I hope you check out my writing craft courses.

      Seriously. You may need to check out glasses too. 🙂

  17. Every time I read Margie's words or hear her speak, I learn something new. If you have never taken any of her courses, what are you waiting for? Sign up. Do it now! You won't regret it. Margie's insight and deep editing have made me a better writer.

    1. Kathleen --

      I appreciate your enthusiasm! Keep sending people to me!

      I had the best time working with you in Immersion last year. I'm excited that I get to work with you in Immersion in Houston too!

  18. Margie, love NCIS. Have you caught any of The Blacklist? Fresh, fresh writing in that show. I'm in your class right now and your lectures have changed the way I look at words. I can't tell you how grateful I am for your humor and wisdom.
    (Back-loaded power word)

  19. I love reading great examples like these and your analysis, Margie. Fresh, fresh, fresh!

    Can I admit that I sometimes hear you in my head when I'm editing? You push me to use those rhetorical devices, cadence, and fresh writing to keep my story moving and engaging. Thanks so much!!! Your classes and Immersion have been invaluable.

    1. Julie --

      Ah -- I love being in your head. I have the coolest itty-bitty chair swing in there. So fun to nudge you to deep edit and work harder. 🙂

      Can't wait to stretch your brain in your second Immersion class sometime!

  20. Great examples of your #1 rule. I have taken classes from your Academy before and still reference what I learned. Everyone should look into your classes. They are very helpful to writers of all levels.

  21. Great examples, great teaching, great teacher. Reading a Margie lesson is like unwrapping an unexpected present--surprising and enriching. Thanks for all you do!

  22. Read and reread and bookmarked and look forward to reading again in the morning and afternoon and night. A great posting! You rock! Rhay

  23. NCIS and NCIS-LA are must watch on Tuesdays. Gibbs' rules are there for a reason and when one is broken, they pay. Thanks Margie.

  24. Margie,
    I love all the fabulous examples you use in your lessons and blogs.
    Every time I read one I pick up something new.
    I'm looking forward to hearing your other rules.

  25. As someone else said, I bang my head against the wall when I read Margie's posts. So simple every writer should do it! Of course it's not that simple and further be prepared to wear a very defined path on your carpet as you pace back and forth trying to get those right words. Always an agonizing pleasure to read your advice! Love your classes!

  26. I'm on my third class and I'm attending a one day workshop on Saturday with Margie. This has made such a huge difference in the way I edit. My writing is stronger, fresher and I'm hoping to be a lot closer to being ready for publication.

    I was a skeptic for a long time. I'm a believer now. Thank you Margie.

    Amy Pfaff

  27. Margie,
    Wow. Not only do I get to love you because you help me make my writing stronger, but also because you're a fellow NCIS fan. Love, love, love Gibbs and the gang. Love, love, love the examples you give in your classes and your posts. It's going to be so much fun anticipating how you might use Gibbs' rules in your Margie's Rules posts. I can't wait to hear the Margie parallel of Gibb's Rule #4: Always carry a knife. By the way, I agree with the commenters above -- take Margie's classes. You won't regret it. Margie Rules!

  28. Thanks for the great post, Margie. You reminded me that's it's a while since I've taken one of your courses. I'll have to do something about that. Deep Edits in May sounds like a plan.

  29. Great examples of empowered writing, Margie. Thanks for reminding me of the importance of choosing just the right word, in just the right order, in just the right cadence. Awesome!

  30. It’s Margie Madness, and my bracket always has her classes/blogs down for the win! Keep those lessons coming.Truly, I can’t get enough! Which is why I’m so glad she is always posting new tips wherever she goes, kind of like a knowledge-dropping Johnny Appleseed. Or, in keeping with the theme, a literary Michael Jordan showing us the eloquence of the footwork that gets us to the swish. If you haven’t tried LWA classes, do. It’s nothing-but-net-gains for your writing. 🙂 Swish!

    LAURA! Congrats!

  31. I like to think I never take any word for granted. Great examples of finding near perfect combinations of words to deepen the story, the characters, the emotions. Keep throwing great writing examples at us, Margie. Sooner or later some of it will stick to our brains. 🙂

    Chris Norbury

  32. Margie -

    Thank you for your research and for the ample examples of compelling paragraphs. Over the past three years I've been self-studying writing techniques, and attending workshops and classes whenever possible. Not only were the words used in each example necessary and the cadence stimulating, but I observed techniques such as starting and ending each sentence and paragraph with the most important points. Jaye Wells leaves us with the character's "...hardening resolve"; Katie McGarry's character suffers from "...disoriented thoughts"; and why did Joan Swan end her sentence with the word "purpose" instead of "security". I doubt it was an accident.

    Just as Gibbs' Rules prevent his team from making major missteps, Margie's Rules will hopefully keep my editor from slapping me upside my head. Please keep them coming.

  33. Hello Everyone!

    Thanks for being here for the launch of Margie-Rule #1: Never Take a Word for Granted. I'll be back at WITS on May 29th with Margie-Rule #2.

    Between now and May 3rd, I'll present in Charlotte, St. Louis, Atlanta, and Philadelphia. If you live near those cities, I hope I'll get to meet you!

    I clicked over to random.org, and learned the name of our winner. Congratulations to ERICA!

    Erica won an online course from Lawson Writer's Academy!

    Erica -- Please contact me through my web site and I'll get you enrolled in one of LWA's online courses.

    I love guest blogging for Writer's in the Storm. Smart writers, smart bloggers, and lovey people!

    See you back here on May 29th!

    All smiles.................Margie

  34. Thanks Margie,
    As a writer I thought I was getting into my characters, but after reading this, I'm not going deep enough. I look forward to other posts by you. Thank you.

  35. I thought I'd learn what I needed to learn as a writer when I returned to college, but the only writing classes were more like bobbing for apples. Sometimes I'd get a nibble of something useful, but classes seemed to strengthen skills already in place and left dark and daunting voids that keep me guessing. I'm ready for the whole apple pie. If only . . .

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