Writers in the Storm

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August 22, 2014

Margie's Rule # 4: Add Power To Blah

Margie Lawson

Margie Lawson


A huge THANK YOU to Laura Drake for inviting me to be a guest blogger, and big miss-you hugs to all the WITS gals!

If you wish review the rule that started it all... Margie-Rule #1: Never Take Any Word for Granted


Are you an NCIS fan? A Jethro Gibbs fan? A Mark Harmon fan?

If you said YES, you know Jethro Gibbs has rules. Smart rules. I wanted smart rules too.

Margie’s Rule #4: First things first. Add power to blah.

None of us want to read blah.

I’ll share five examples, and show how you can give blah a boost.

We’ll focus on an interaction between characters most writers have written several times.

A hug.  Bron Jones and Lisa Miller Tight Hug in Immersion Class, April, 2013 287 (966x1024)

That’s right. Just a hug.

We’ve read sentences like:

  • They hugged.
  • She gave him a quick hug.
  • He pulled her into a tight hug.
  • She threw her arms around him in a quick hug.
  • He grabbed his brother in a one-armed hug.

Nothing special there. No subtext. No power.

Check out these examples of hugs:

Live Wire, Harlan Coben, 3 examples

Mom hugs grandson and son:

Mom was at the door. She hugged Mickey first, the way only Mom could. When Mom hugged, she gave it her all—holding nothing back. Mickey closed his eyes and soaked it in. Myron waited for the kid to cry, but Mickey wasn’t one for waterworks. Mom finally released him and threw the hug at her son. Then she stepped back, blocked their entrance, and fixed them both with a killer glare.

Deep Editing Analysis:

The first hug is amplified. The second hug is shared in a fresh way:and threw the hug at her son. We feel her intense love.

But between those hugs, Harlan slipped in two goodies for the reader. First, Harlan felt his mom’s love for her grandson:

Mickey closed his eyes and soaked it in.

Second, he slipped in a hint of a Humor Hit that deepened characterization:

Myron waited for the kid to cry, but Mickey wasn’t one for waterworks.

It’s barely a snicker, and it’s quintessential Harlan. Plus, it informs the reader how close Mickey is to his grandmother, that Myron expected Mickey to cry.

The last sentence carries news-of-a-difference power. It’s backloaded with killer glare.The emotional set of the scene shifts.

Did you notice that Harlan slipped in three words in the middle of that last sentence, three words that add power?

…blocked their entrance…

We all know what is implied with that little hit of choreography.

Mom is strong. And she’s not letting them in the house until she knows everything.

Look at all Harlan Coben accomplished with that paragraph.

Harlan showed the love mom had for Mickey and Myron, they’d done something dangerous and she’d been crazy-worried.

He showed the depth of the relationships.

Harlan also showed that after mom knew they were safe, her anger surfaced, big time, and now she’s crazy-mad.

Emphasis on the word SHOWED.

Harlan didn’t give us a paragraph that TOLD the reader that Myron knew how much his mom loved Mickey, and blah-de-blah-blah-blah…

You all know those TELLING paragraphs. If it’s more than four or five lines long, you probably skim. You get the gist. You don’t miss anything important.

What if Harlan had written it like this.

Nikki and Margie, Dreamin In Dallas (Medium)Margie’s Blah Rewrite:

Mom was at the door. She gave Mickey a hug and held him close for a long time. Mom finally released him and pulled Myron into her arms. Then she stepped back and fixed them both with a cold stare.

The same message is shared in my version, but that paragraph wouldn’t rank high on interest. Nothing fresh. If longer, definitely an invitation to skim.

Would you skim Harlan’s paragraph?

I’ll share four more hugs, but I won’t dig deep. I’ll just add a few points.

Live Wire, Harlan Coben

Girl hugs guy friend:

She came over to him, spread her arms, and hugged him. Myron held her tight, feeling the warm belly against him. He didn’t know if that was weird. But as the hug lasted, it started to feel good, therapeutic. Suzie lowered her head into Myron’s chest and stayed there for a while. Myron just held her.

What did Harlan accomplish?

  • Shared fresh writing
  • Deepened relationship
  • Took what could have been blah, and added power!


Hug between two best guy friends:

Myron hugged Win. Win hugged back. The hug was fierce and tight and lasted a long time. No words were exchanged—they would have just been superfluous.

  • Short and powerful!
  • Masterful writing.
  • Fresh content. Compelling cadence.
  • Used polysyndeton: The hug was fierce and tight and lasted a long time.

Polysyndeton -- one of thirty rhetorical devices in my Deep Editing class.


He pulled his brother into an awkward embrace. His arms trapped at his sides.

Test of Faith, Christa Allan, multi-Margie-grad, 2 examples

Carried by the irrational current of the moment, Julia embraced her. As could be expected, there was a reciprocal effort—the teacher treated hugs like a contagious illness—but Julia didn’t care

  • Fresh writing
  • Deepened characterization
  • Compelling cadence
  • Humor Hit
  • Universal theme. We know this feeling. Most of us have been super excited, and hugged someone we wouldn’t usually hug.


She passed around her signature faux-hug, one hand on your shoulder and enough forward body movement to suggest hugging.


  • Fresh writing
  • Compelling cadence
  • Clear choreography – not always easy to convey
  • Deepened characterization

You can see the difference between a shares-no-power hug, and a makes-your-scene-strong hug.

I could have focused on any scene element for this blog—facial expressions, dialogue cues, proximity, internalizations, dialogue, setting, action, character descriptions, visceral responses….

If it’s important, add power!

You can add power with subtext, internalizations that deepen characterization, rhetorical devices, humor hits, choreography, fresh writing, and cadence, cadence, cadence.

You can add power with everything I teach.


Want to share a fresh hug?

Or comment on these hugs?

Or just say Hi?

Post a comment, and you’ll be in the drawing to win an online course from Lawson Writer’s Academy!

Due to a health issue, Margie will be not be here to comment today but she will answer your comments when she returns. Her drawing for a class will still be chosen using the comments on this blog.

Check out the courses we’re offering in September:

  1. Submissions That Sell, Instructor: Laura Drake
  2. Story Structure Safari, Instructor: Lisa Miller
  3. From Blah to Beats: Giving Chapters a Pulse, Instructor: Rhay Christou
  4. The Hero’s Journey in YA Fiction, Instructors: Jennifer McAndrews and Linda Gerber  
  5. Mastering the Synopsis, Instructor: Jennifer Archer
  6. Virtues, Vices, and Plots, Instructor: Sarah Hamer
  7. Getting Serious About Writing A Series, Instructor: Lisa Wells

The drawing will be Sunday, August 24, 8:00 PM Mountain Time.

See you on the blog!

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


About Margie

margie-lawson-1-readingMargie Lawson teaches writers how to use her psychologically-based editing systems and deep editing techniques to create page turners. Margie has presented over ninety full day master classes for writers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Margie is excited to share that Romance Writers of Australia is bringing her back to present at their conference next summer!
To learn about Lawson Writer’s Academy, Margie’s 4-day Immersion Master Classes (in Denver, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Dallas, Seattle, San Antonio, Columbus, Jacksonville, 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.


53 comments on “Margie's Rule # 4: Add Power To Blah”

  1. You know - I went back over my writing, and can't find one empowered hug! Thanks for the reminder, Margie - I've put a note in the file for the next book!

  2. Hi, Margie! Miss you (throws an empowered, if virtual, hug at her writing mentor and guru hoping to soak up more Margie wisdom). I love Margie's rules and save every one. Gosh, now I need to go back through and highlight hugs in my WIP. Later! (getting back to deep editing).

  3. Margie always has a way of reminding the difference between good and great! Now that I've had my daily dose of great writing inspiration (thank you Margie!), I'm off to the drawing board and plan to write a hug my readers will feel through the pages.

  4. You always make me think! I write a lot of blah, especially in the first draft. (Oh, the first draft!) I'm learning to edit it out, and your packets and posts are really helping. 🙂 Thank you!

  5. What great timing. I just wrote a hug between my heroine and her former maid and thought it fell flat because it should have shown the difference between two worlds. All I have to do is compare the hug of her rich, stuffy grandmother with the warmth of the maid.

    Thanks, Margie.

  6. I'm not much of a hugger myself, but I send one your way as thanks for this post. It can be daunting to go through a WIP line by line to find subtle little gems like a simple hug and empower them, but the results are more than worth the effort.

  7. Well, as usual, you've made me go back and look at my WIP and kick myself for not empowering the body language! I have a couple minor powered-up hugs, but not enough. I'll now be embracing these fabulous tips!

    Thanks, Margie.

    1. Hi Julie. Margie's blogs are always great EXCEPT I learn about stuff I missed and have to go back and rework them. More Work. A good and bad thing. Ha! I guess it's good to catch them all before a book hits the shelves.

  8. Here's a sample hug from my WIP Trinity's Wrath that will be out in October:

    He offered a smile and pulled me to his chest, wrapping his arms and wings around me. His warmth saturated my skin, taking the shake from my cold limbs.

  9. I love the advice about digging deep, but the first example from Harlan is what showed it and helped it sink in. My Blah-to-Wow edits so far have been finding places where the plot takes the easy way out and inserting tension instead. Now I need to do a body language edit! Thanks so much, Margie.

  10. The examples you gave help so much. Harlan Coben and Lisa Gardner are masters at this.

    I have a hug in my WIP but I'm on vacay and don't have it with me. It was something to the effect of a man hugging his Grandfather who is always stiff and proper, but the tight muscles of his Grandfather's back soften during the embrace.

    Thanks Margie!

  11. You've done it again, Margie. No wonder your students are publishing and winning prizes left and right> 🙂

  12. Hi, Margie! I tend to write short and simple and need to take the time and add that emotion and thought. Good reminder for me. Hugs!

  13. I went back through my romance WIP and my hugs are SO cliche. Blah blah blah. This will all be fixed as I work through Margie's current Visceral Rules on-line class. Get well soon, Margie!!

  14. Feel better soon, Margie. And this post is another remind to check your blahs at the door--or cover, as the case may be.

  15. I keep wishing you were teaching a master class nearby. In the meantime, I have plenty of blahs to revise. Hope you are feeling better soon.

  16. Boy is this an eye opener, Margie! Thanks for giving us clear examples to see how much difference there is in blah vs. powerful! Boy do I need to go back and hunt for these. Hope you feel better soon. Here's a hug...heartfelt.

  17. Margie,

    Feel better. I love your blogs, great reminders. I did a hug quick search. I'm surprised to see how much hugging is in my sci-fi WIP. I have simple hugs and more involved interesting hugs. I think powering up all hugs is too much for me. Is that OK?

    Thanks and hugs,


  18. As always, you made me think! I have to remember to go back and look at each instance of blah and power it up, find ways to make it unique. Love the examples!

  19. after doing so many of your courses I always read your blogs and feel like you kicked me in the butt and said "see here, you can make this better" - great reminder - Thanks.

  20. HELLO EVERYBODY............

    I had my appendix out yesterday.

    Several people have emailed or called, worried about me.

    Surgery is never fun. But I'll bounce back to my bouncy self, later.



    1. This blog - not just about hugs. It's about ADDING POWER TO BLAH.

    I used hugs. I could have used smiles or stares or razor-sharp tones. Or a gazillion scene components. A touch of hyperbole.

    2. I included a line in the blog, somethimg like - Add power when it counts.

    I didn't amplify those points.

    I should have. But abdominal pain ruled.

    I'm on my phone. Typos or clarity issues are from phone or narcotics.

    Gentle hugs,.....Margie

  21. Hi Margie, hope you're feeling better now, scary thing appendix's. This is from my WIP,

    She’d know his swagger anywhere. With a squeal of delight she flew down the stairs and launched herself into his tattooed arms, suddenly seventeen again instead of a twenty-seven year old interning heart surgeon.
    What do you think?

  22. I just had a Deep Immersion class with Margie at the end of July amazing awesome wonderful woman. Learned so much it still has my mind boggled. Margie get well soon. Sending Texas sized hugs to you from the Fort Hood area.

  23. I have loved listening to Margie Lawson's workshop at the RWA conference about TIPQVR and dialogue cues. With my edits tomorrow, I'll be looking out for fresher approaches to dialogue cues and now body gestures. Thank you, Margie, for your post, your wonderful workshop, and your April visit to Georgia Romance Writers. I hope you are able to get some rest and recover from having your appendix out.

  24. Thanks for the Power Writing tips - my WIP is first draft. They're walking through, trying to get their lines straight. Pretty blah. But now I'm alert to getting their power on next draft. Get well quickly and then we'll virtually hug!

  25. Brilliant and helpful as always, Margie. And thanks Laura for hosting such a great post.

  26. Get well soon. When I give my grandson a hug he asks, "Nana you want a regular or a bear one?" I choose the bear one every time because they are longer than a moment.:)

  27. Margie, you're an amazing teacher. I always learn something new from you. A hug deepening characterization - who would've thought?! Thanks for the post and the examples of great writing!

  28. Margie finished greeting her class when the door slammed and boots hammered across the floor. Before she could drop into a proper Kung Fu stance, a balding giant hug was on her, whipping her into the air with “Howdy girl.” She looked frantically around, but everyone stood grinning, no help there. Just as she cupped her hands to slam them on his ears, he bellowed. “Margie, it’s me, WriterBob I’ve been waiting a year to take this class.” He eased her to the floor on the second waltz, looked down into her face as she gasped for breath, once, twice and he was pounding her back by the third gasp. “I’m…just…fine.” He held her at arms length, “Lord in heaven, you do look just like my Ma.”

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