Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

storm moving across a field
February 21, 2018

Emotion Commotion: Getting Emotion Right on the Page

Margie Lawson

There’s a lot of commotion about getting emotion on the page, but getting it right is tricky.

Most writers do a great job getting in their POV character’s head, telling how they process emotions. Writing thoughts.

But most writers aren’t great at sharing their POV character’s physical reactions, showing how they experience emotions physically. Writing visceral responses.

Visceral responses. That’s what this blog is all about.

You may be wondering, what is a visceral response?

Margie’s Definition of a Visceral Response:

A visceral response is an immediate, emotionally triggered, involuntary physical response anchored in the body experienced by the POV character.

  1. Immediate
  2. Emotionally triggered
  3. Involuntary
  4. Physical, anchored in the body
  5. Experienced by the POV character

Visceral responses are always immediate. An emotional stimulus presents, and a visceral response happens within a picosecond. Picoseconds are fast. Wicked fast. One-trillionith-of-a-second fast.

Hmm…  Visceral responses are immediate. What does that mean for the writer?

An emotional stimulus presents. BOOM.

If you give your character a visceral response to that emotional stimulus, the visceral response usually needs to be the next thing on the page.

There are exceptions. If the POV character has had some kind of special forces training, they may have had biofeedback. If the POV character is in shock, on occasion you may give them a delayed visceral response. You’d need to share that they’re numb.

But when a huge emotional stimulus presents, most of the time you’d be smart to give your POV character a visceral response. You’ll make the scene more credible.

And you’ll have fun writing visceral responses in a fresh way.

Beware:  Clichéd Visceral Responses

Avoid overused phrases. We’ve read them too often. They’re boring. Predictable. Skimmable.

You don’t want to write anything that invites the reader to skim.

Enjoy these examples from my Immersion Master Class grads. They wowed me, and I bet they’ll wow you too.

I’ll Deep Edit Analyze the first seven examples.

My SouKennedy Ryanl to Keep, Kennedy Ryan, Immersion Grad

He leaves behind a silence so heavy I’m suffocating under it. It smothers me, sits on my face, blocks my air, squeezes my throat.

Deep Edit Analysis

Power Words: leaves, silence, heavy, suffocating, smothers, blocks, squeezes

Rhetorical Device: Asyndeton – No and after last comma. Makes it more imperative.

My heart has atrophied in my chest. A muscle that has forgotten how to work, it doesn’t bother beating. I’m not ever sure it’s pumping blood.

Deep Edit Analysis

Power Words: atrophied, forgotten, doesn’t bother beating, not pumping blood

Compelling Cadence


Like Father Not Son, Kristin Meachem, 3-time Immersion Grad

My stomach hardens into day-old gum.

Deep Edit Analysis

It’s a simple line written in a fresh way. And it feels true. Compelling Cadence too.

My heart kicks at my chest, not a scared beat, but a fight-through-the-pain beat. A beat that for once has nothing to do with Sophie.

Deep Edit Analysis

Power Words: kick, scared, fight-through-the-pain beat, Sophie (because the reader knows Sophie is dead)

Hyphenated-Run-On: Always an opportunity to write fresh.

Compelling Cadence


Merlin’s Children, Becky Rawnsley, Immersion Grad

Blood rushes in my ears and everything recedes, as if I’m caught in a riptide and dragged out to sea.

Deep Edit Analysis

Power Words: blood, rushes, recedes, caught, riptide, dragged

Rhetorical Device: simile, amplified

Compelling Cadence

Terror kicks inside my chest. Adrenaline-dumping, heart-pumping, cliff-jumping terror.

Deep Edit Analysis

Power Words: terror, kicks, adrenaline-dumping, heart-pumping, cliff-jumping terror

Rhetorical Device: Assonance (rhyming vowel sounds)

Compelling Cadence – Carries a powerful punch!

My heart vrooms hard against my ribcage, a single jolt like a defibrillator’s high voltage shock. Something very strange is happening here. Adrenaline courses through my body, my muscles primed to fight or run-like-hell. Whatever this is, I want nothing to do with it.

Deep Edit Analysis

Power Words:  heart, hard, jolt, defibrillator, voltage, shock, strange, adrenaline, muscles, primed, flight, run-like-hell

Rhetorical Device: Onomatopoeia – vrooms

Rhetorical Device: Simile -- like a defibrillator’s high voltage shock

Rhetorical Device: Structural Parallelism -- primed to fight or run-like-hell


Babette De JonghAngel Falls, Babette De Jongh, Immersion Grad

  • My guilty conscience pounced, landed in my stomach, tried to claw up my throat.
  • My throat tightened as if he’d grabbed it with his long fingers and squeezed.

Threaded Visceral:

  • My heart did a crazy little twirl that ended with a splat on the sidewalk in front of me.

Two Paragraphs Later

My heart ooched back into my chest and collapsed.


Fae RowenP.R.I.S.M., Fae Rowen, 2-time Immersion Grad

  • Electricity shot through him like he’d put his foot on a hot wire.
  • Her heart beat harder than it had anytime during the Battle.
  • Her jaw locked on words she couldn’t utter. The ground slanted and her knees seemed to melt.

Pursued, Megan Menard, 5-time Immersion Grad

  • Dread sent snakebite shivers up my legs, up my spine, to the tips of my fingers. My heartbeat tanked and I forgot to breathe.
  • Heart stopped, breathing stopped, world stopped.

Esther Scott’s Grand Adventure, Megan Menard, 5-time Immersion Grad

Watching that man move made Esther’s heart do that new dance the fitness lady showed her. Her breathing did the whip, her stomach did the “nae, nae.”

Of Kings and Crowns, Brynn Spears, Immersion Grad

  • A primal warning skitters up my spine.
  • My stomach churns like a shallow sea hit by a strong storm.
  • And though my heart thrashes against my ribs, screaming for me to run, I stay rabbit-facing-the predator still.

More Than a Kiss, Brynn Spears, Immersion Grad

  • Her heart pounded as if it tried to rattle the letter tucked in her corset.
  • Heat crawled up her neck and into her cheeks with the slow, slinking pace of a shamed dog.
  • The people, the conversation, the noise . . . They twisted his stomach into a knot that not even a sailor could dream of making.

Three Days MissingThree Days Missing, To Be Released 6/26, Kimberly Belle, 4-time Immersion Grad

When she learns her son is missing:

I respond with legs of jelly and lungs of concrete, no air moving in or out. My skin goes hot and my blood goes cold and my vision goes blurry with tears or lack of oxygen or both. Something sharp and biting tears into my stomach, doubling me over at the waist.

Seven lines later – A Visceral Recovery

  • I lurch upright, my breath returning with a series of choked sobs.
  • My body goes hot like a furnace, and my eyes sprout instant tears.

Twelve lines later --

Whatever she says next, I can’t hear it over my own sobbing. Big, ugly sobs that burn in my chest and convulse my body like a seizure.

Eight lines later –

The tears are still flowing, my hands are still shaking, and my lungs can’t quite suck enough air.


Wow! I’m so proud of these Immersion Grads and their stellar writing.

Wish I could share more teaching points and more amazing examples with you all. But I can’t cram all the teaching points and examples from 200+ pages of lectures into a blog.

If you want to learn more, drop by my website – www.margielawson.com --  and check out the lecture packet for Visceral Rules: Beyond Hammering Hearts. You’ll learn lots more deep editing tips and techniques for making your writing strong. You’ll learn how to power up emotion and get it right on the page.

A BIG THANK YOU to all the wonderful WITS gals. I always have the best time with your blog guests!

THANK YOU ALL for dropping by the blog.

Please post a comment or share a ‘Hi Margie!’ Let us know which examples you wish you’d written. Post something of your own -- and you have two chances to be a winnerYou could win a Lecture Packet from me, or an online class from Lawson Writer’s Academy.

Most of my courses are 250+ pages long. Each course is loaded with deep editing techniques I developed, as well as lots of stellar examples, dig-deep analyses, and teaching points. Please drop by my web site and check out the full line-up of courses offered by Lawson Writer’s Academy.

Lawson Writer's Academy – March Courses (click the LWA link to sign up!)

1. Empowering Characters' Emotions
Instructor: Becky Rawnsley, teaching Margie Lawson’s course  

2. Editing Magic: The 10K 
Instructor: Lori Patrick

3. How to Write a Novel in Evernote 
Instructor: Lisa Norman

4. Diving Deep Into Developmental Edits 
Instructor: Rhay Christou

5. Virtues, Vices, and Plots 
Instructor: Sarah Hamer

6. Revision Boot Camp or Revision Retreat
Instructor: Suzanne Purvis

7. The BrainMap: Create Intricate Plots and Unforgettable Characters 
Instructor: Shirley Jump

Post a comment. Let me know you’re here.

I’ll draw names for the two winners Thursday night, at 9PM Mountain Time, and post them on the blog. And – I’d love it if you’d give the blog a social media boost. Thank you.

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Margie

Margie Lawsoneditor and international presenter – teaches writers how to use her psychologically-based editing systems and deep editing techniques to create page turners.

She’s presented over 120 full day master classes in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and France, as well as taught multi-day intensives on cruises in the Caribbean.

To learn about Margie’s 5-day Immersion Master Classes (in 2018, in Phoenix, Denver, San Jose area, Dallas, Yosemite, Los Angeles (2), Atlanta, and in Sydney, Melbourne, Bellbrae, and Coolangatta, Australia), Cruising Writers cruises, full day and weekend workshops, keynote speeches, online courses through Lawson Writer’s Academy, lecture packets, and newsletter, please visit: www.margielawson.com

157 comments on “Emotion Commotion: Getting Emotion Right on the Page”

  1. So happy to have you back, Margie (though I know you weren't eating bon-bons, watching the snow fall out of your window in the interim!)

    Love me some viscerals! For some reason I'm big on those in the guts.

    From my July release, The Last True Cowboy:

    My stomach jitters like a drunk with DT’s.

    I push down on the emotion that’s bubbling like a lava lamp in my gut.

    A bomb’s tick-tick-tick echoes through me, flash-freezing my guts.

    My guts vibrate in a tsunami of wrong, wrong, wrong.

    A whiff of Manny’s booze-tainted sweat washes over me, and my stomach rolls in a greasy wave. I’m suddenly shaky. The babble of talk recedes to the sound of bees, humming, getting louder. I turn the stool to see where it’s coming from and the room keeps spinning off kilter.

    Spots dance on the edge of the room. The humming gets louder. A flush of heat spreads up from my chest. I’m hot. Sweating hot. I can’t breathe. Gotta get out of here.

    When I stand, I’m looking down the wrong end of a telescope. “I’m not . . .”

    The dots get bigger, blotting out the lights, one by one.


    Hugs Margie, Miss you!

    1. Wow. Those are phenomenal! And for just a moment, I thought to myself, "Hey, maybe I'm a little tiny bit like Laura! Because I have a lava lamp visceral too." From my YA: "Anxiety swirled my stomach like a lava lamp." 😀

      Most of the time, though, I'm like Jenny -- having to work hard for those viscerals.

      1. Dual lava lamps!! I might have to put that somewhere, just to join the club. 🙂 Freaking viscerals...so hard to do them well. Laura makes it look easy, but it's NOT.

      2. Ha! Laura and Julie both have viscerals with lava lamps?

        Jenny -- Surprised you don't have one too!

    2. Hugs to 2-time Immersion-Grad Laura!

      Love all your examples! But these two shorter ones show that shorter can be fresh and powerful.

      -- My stomach jitters like a drunk with DT’s.

      -- My guts vibrate in a tsunami of wrong, wrong, wrong.

      All the others grabbed me too!

      Kudos to you!

      So glad I get to visit you in Midland, Texas in October - and present a full day workshop at the Permian Basin Writer's Workshop. I know I'll have fun with you and Christie Craig!

  2. Another "gut" visceral from my WIP (hoping to win something): "We’re going to prison. I expect it to look awful, but when we turn the corner and the brick building comes into view, a little furry thing with scrabbling claws starts doing laps inside my stomach."

    1. Hello Irtrovi --

      Love your furry little thing with scrabbling claws doing laps in a stomach. Fresh writing! And painful too. Good for you!

      Random.org selects the winners. Good luck!

  3. Merlin’s Children, Becky Rawnsley, Immersion Grad. Her: Blood rushes in my ears and everything recedes, as if I’m caught in a riptide and dragged out to sea. This rang true for me.

    From my current WIP: I break down, face buried in my hands, sobbing so hard I can’t catch my breath and yet, only someone who knows me would understand that in silence my heart is breaking.

    It would be a bit of serendipity to get picked. Margie, you got sick when I tried to take a class from you. I take your EDITS system to all first chps and anything that isn't working!

    1. Hello Morgyn --

      Becky Rawnsley's riptide grabbed me too.

      Your example is strong. I'd nix -- that in silence. Throws off the cadence. But you may love it your way.

      Yay! You're an EDITS System fan. You know how to analyze your scenes. Good for you!

      Random.org selects the winners. Thanks for posting!

  4. Love these! They all hit me hard, but this one especially: "Blood rushes in my ears and everything recedes, as if I’m caught in a riptide and dragged out to sea." I felt that whoosh!

  5. Hi Margie! Love this blog post. I was a lurker in an online deep editing class last year. Just viewing from the sidelines I learned a lot. Here's a snippet from a WIP. "She had him so hemmed up in the friend-zone it was cutting off his circulation."

    1. Jayna --

      I love that sentence from your WIP! Strong and fun!

      FYI: It's not a visceral response. And it doesn't matter. It's awesome writing!

  6. Love me some Margie! I'm still learning, but this is from my WIP: "My stomach grows a fist and it's choking my heart." Looking forward to your class at WTWA!

    1. Hugs to West Texas Writer's Academy Grad Vanessa Foster --

      Yay! I get to work with you for another week in Canyon, Texas!

      Your line -- My stomach grows a fist and it’s choking my heart. -- earns an NYT!

      Impressive. You wowed me!

  7. Love, love, love me some Margie examples. They're all terrific. I love watery stuff so I really enjoyed Brynn's. . .

    My stomach churns like a shallow sea hit by a strong storm.

    The people, the conversation, the noise . . . They twisted his stomach into a knot that not even a sailor could dream of making.

    And Becky's. . .

    Blood rushes in my ears and everything recedes, as if I’m caught in a riptide and dragged out to sea.

    Here's a quick hit from my MG Hertz Gets Fused. "A jagged blade of anger slices up my spine, and I bleed vengeance. "

    Thanks again for sharing, big hugs.

    1. Hugs to 2-time Immersion Grad Suzanne Purvis!

      Your example WOWED me!

      --- A jagged blade of anger slices up my spine, and I bleed vengeance.

      Look at all those power words: jagged, blade, anger, slices, bleed, vengeance.

      And -- your cadence is super compelling.


      BLOG GUESTS -- Read Suzanne's example OUT LOUD.

      Hear that power?

      Power words and power cadence. And a powerful message too!

      Kudos to Suzanne Purvis. Strong writing, and strong instructor for Lawson Writer's Academy.

      Suzanne is teaching her Boot Camp Revision class in March. Check out the testimonials about her class on my website. They'll wow you too!

  8. Wow. Just wow. That was a powerful post, and I learned a lot from it. THANK YOU for sharing this with us. You could have been talking about me -- getting the inner thought process down without a problem, but forgetting to underscore the emotional-physical connection, or not making it as strong as it could be. 🙂

    1. Hello Dani Harper --

      Glad you learned a lot from my blog.

      Hope you check out my online courses and lecture packets. Lots more cool deep editing techniques that would make your writing unputdownable.

  9. I always, always learn from the examples you give us Margie!

    From my new untitled story: When he finally stopped (running) his breath was like razor blades in his lungs ripping and tearing, bleeding out all the oxygen. He sucked in another breath and another load of razors over and over and over. He glanced at Travis. His younger brother's mouth was open, his chest heaving. Ian couldn’t hear anything but the rasp of air in and out of his own lungs until the fear monster in his gut finally had his fill.

    1. Hugs to Immersion Grad Lynette Burrows!


      And you added amazing power with your fear monster ending. Powerful! NYT!

  10. Thanks for including P.R.I.S.M. in your examples, Margie. There is so much of your writing wisdom in that book! Thank you, thank you!

    1. Hugs to Multi-Immersion and Cruising Writers Cruise Grad Fae Rowen!

      I love P.R.I.S.M.!

      Can't wait to work with you in another Immersion this summer!

  11. I alway love a Margie blog reminder before I start every new book.

    The writing examples are fabulous, priceless, inspiring. They feed my creative soul and make me want to push harder, feel more, get freshness on the page.

    Thanks Laura for hosting, and Margie for sharing your wisdom.

    Laura...do you have a new book coming out soon? Love your writing!!!

    1. Hugs to 2-time Immersion grad Lyz Kelley!

      Ah... Thank you!

      Your comments were perfectly cadenced. Good for you!

    1. Hello Diane R --

      You could be an Immersion grad from September. I had a Diane R.

      Whoever you are, I'm glad you have a Margie file. 🙂

      Thanks for chiming in!

    2. Hugs to Immersion-Grad Diane R!

      Thanks for letting me know it's YOU!

      And -- random.org liked you. You're one of our WINNERS! You won an online course from Lawson Writer's Academy!

  12. Oh wow, all those example are great!! I looked through my own writing to try to find a visceral reaction, but none of them are very good... I'd still like to share it though.
    The following is taken from the highest emotional point in one of my WIPs (he just watched his parents get murdered):

    He heard one final scream, whether from his own throat or from his mother’s, he didn’t know.
    Then silence.
    A soft, gut-wrenching sob.
    His own.

    Thanks for the post! It inspired me!

    1. Hello Talia —

      Your character just watched his parents get killed. Definitely high emotion!

      I love the way you used white space to add power. Good for you!

  13. I love the ones that sound simple, but tap into universal experiences to express a visceral. Like this one: "My stomach hardens into day-old gum." Perfect.

    From a rewritten chapter in SHARING HUNTER (a title you might recognize, Margie!): "The chill from outside hit me full on the face, but heat flared through my body. The lump in my throat now like scorched coal."

    1. Hugs to Multi-Immersion-Grad and Multi-Cruising-Writers-Grad Julie Glover!

      You know I love SHARING HUNTER! Can't wait to see that book in print!

      Wow! You just earned -- NYT! NYT! NYT!

      Kudos to you!

      1. Julie--

        Love ya too!

        Hope you're coming to RWA National this summer. I need my Julie-fix!

  14. Hi Margie, FANTASTIC examples.

    From my WIP:

    Her answer was a boxer's glove, my diaphragm the punching bag.

    All I wanted was to hurt one person, not cause hundreds of deaths. Guilt’s hellhound would trail me to my last breath, and beyond.

    1. Hugs to 2-time Immersioner Carlene!

      Great to cyber-see you. Would love to see you in person again.

      WOW! The two paragraphs -- award-winning writing! NYT! NYT! NYT!

      Your visceral response is stunning:

      -- Her answer was a boxer’s glove, my diaphragm the punching bag.

      Kudos to you!

  15. Great post, Margie! A taste of what makes the LWA such a great place to learn writing craft. And an excellent reminder that I should go back and look over my viscerals 🙂

    "My heart stopped. The next beat was an earthquake in my chest."
    "I swallowed around the knot of shame in my throat."

    1. Hugs to Multi-Immersion-Grad and Multi-Cruising-Writers-Grad Edwina Darke!

      You know I love THE BONE BREAKER'S DAUGHTER!

      Love that knot of shame in her throat. Awesome!

      Kudos to you!

  16. Two baby viscerals from my heroine: nun, nurse, former soldier:

    Her heart rate spiked, a snare drum of terror boom-booming in her ears. Every hair on her body stood and saluted the blue-steel barrel of that gun.


    ..her patient's penis hardened like instant plaster, growing from harmless to heart-pounding in seconds. A chorus of oh-sweet-Jesus sang in her head before waves of fear washed away all sound. His chart slipped from her numb fingers.

    1. Hugs to Immersion-Grad Jenny Hansen!

      Those are Papa Viscerals!

      Lots of power in those examples. Kudos to you!

      1. Oh, YAY. I was thinking they were just baby pinks. Especially as compared to some of the amazing giant viscerals I saw in the post. Man, that Kimberly Belle knocks me out.

        1. Jenny --

          International bestseller Kimberly Belle's writing WOWS everyone, including MIRA, and reviewers. She's a 4-time Immersion Grad. She learned deep editing soooo well!

          If you haven't read Kimberly Belle's first three books, you should. Highlight or sticky tab any lines or paragraphs that I could use in lectures - and you'd have over 500 highlights or tabs. I do. Her books are wow-me impressive.

      1. Babette -- I love that example too. Jenny's writing is Immersion-grad strong, like yours. 🙂

  17. Hey Margie...you and your grads inspire me like sunshine shredding steel-grey clouds on a stormy afternoon. Thank you. Here are a few tidbits from my WIP that's set in 1958:

    After a few awkward moments of silence while my heart rat-a-tat-tatted my eardrums, Marilyn flashed an ivory grin.

    My words exploded like popcorn tap dancing in hot oil.

    My eyebrows rose like runaway elevators.

    "Do I need to skedaddle over there, take you by the shoulders and shake you like an Etch A Sketch?"

    1. Hugs to Immersion-Host-in-September Chris!

      You included onomatopoeia in your first example, the visceral response. Sounds cool!

      Your last example made me laugh! So fresh and fun.

      Kudos to you!

  18. Aw, thanks, Lyz! Yes - book one of my new Chestnut Creek Series releases in late July! Set in the fictional town of Unforgiven, New Mexico!

    Thanks for asking.

  19. Hi Margie! Always wonderful to see your blogs. 🙂 From my WIP: "Relief bubbled through me so quickly my skin tingled. I could breathe again, but my reprieve felt just as painful as my fear, because once again there were people in my life I couldn't bear to lose."

    1. Hugs to Immersion-Grad Rebecca Hodge!

      Wow. Wow. Wow.

      The way you amplified that character's thoughts took that piece from strong to stellar!

      NYT! NYT! NYT!

      Hope I get to see you this summer! Going to RWA National? Hope so!

    1. Hugs to Immersion-Grad Laurie Edwards!

      Thanks Laurie!

      Hope I get to see you this year too!

  20. I love all these examples but my favourite is, "My stomach hardens into day-old gum." Here's the opening of my WIP:

    I know something’s happened as soon as I see Lachie’s crapped-out car fishtailing up the gravel driveway, flinging stones and flashing its headlights at couples hooking up in the bushes. Dread trickles over me - bum puckering, heart strangling, skin pricking, five vodka-and-Red Bull cancelling dread.

    Great post as always Margie.

    1. Hello Littlemissw --

      I love that day-old gum line too. So true!

      Your example is super strong too!

      Your last sentence slayed me. In a fabulous way. 🙂

      Dread trickles over me – bum puckering, heart strangling, skin pricking, five vodka-and-Red Bull cancelling dread.

      Kudos to you!

  21. Of Kings and Crowns, Brynn Spears, Immersion Grad

    A primal warning skitters up my spine.
    My stomach churns like a shallow sea hit by a strong storm.
    And though my heart thrashes against my ribs, screaming for me to run, I stay rabbit-facing-the predator still.


    P.R.I.S.M., Fae Rowen, 2-time Immersion Grad

    Electricity shot through him like he’d put his foot on a hot wire.
    Her heart beat harder than it had anytime during the Battle.
    Her jaw locked on words she couldn’t utter. The ground slanted and her knees seemed to melt.


  22. Hi Margie, I love Kimberly Belle's example: I respond with legs of jelly and lungs of concrete, no air moving in or out. My skin goes hot and my blood goes cold and my vision goes blurry with tears or lack of oxygen or both. Something sharp and biting tears into my stomach, doubling me over at the waist.

    Here's from my WIP: My throat feels like an hourglass with coarse sand. I breathe in a tiny trickle of air, and struggle to draw another breath.

    Always leaning from you! Thanks!

    1. Hugs to Multi-Immersion-Grad Robbin Luckett!

      Wow! Your example impressed me. Big time.

      ---- My throat feels like an hourglass with coarse sand. I breathe in a tiny trickle of air, and struggle to draw another breath.

      Beautiful. Stunning. Powerful.

      NYT! NYT! NYT!

      Kudos to you!

  23. I love that reading this blog post is like doing a workshop. Congratulations grads. Congratulations wonderful WITS. Congratulations Margie the magnificent. ?

    1. Hello Jay --

      Thank you!

      It's like a short workshop. I usually present full day or weekend workshops. 🙂

      Hmm... Maybe your group would like to bring me in to present a full day.

      Love your alliteration!

    2. Jay H --

      I forgot to CONGRATULATE you on using anaphora, what I call Triple Beginnings.

      The repetition doesn't have to be limited to three times. But the opening word, or words, must be repeated three times in a row, or it's not anaphora.

      Love your style!

  24. Thanks, Margie, for explaining visceral responses. I loved Becky Rawnsley's "caught in a riptide and dragged out to sea." My one is: "She was lying. Her own mother. Anne shut her eyes in a shroud of shame. Her mother would never stop lying to protect herself. Those deliberate, calculated lies were like scissors snipping across fabric. Anne could feel the scissors deep inside her soul."

    1. Hello Andrea K --

      Strong writing! Kudos to you!

      Lots more to learn about visceral responses and deep editing. When you have a few minutes, drop by my website. Check out my lecture packets.

      Each of my BIG THREE courses and lecture packets are loaded with hundreds of pages of change-your-writing power.

      Now you know. 🙂

  25. Great examples! Love them all. When I'm working on a rough draft I tend to write (visceral here) then I go back later and punch it up. It takes way too much brain power to get them right on the first draft. 🙂

    1. Hugs to Multi-Immersion-Grad Ciara Knight!

      Thanks soooo much for mentioning that fresh writing isn't usually a first draft thing.

      I always recommend making a note like you shared -- so the writer won't forget to add it.

      They can come back later and add fresh writing.

      I know your writing is impress-Margie stellar!

    1. Hugs to Multi-Immersion-Grad Kelly Collins!

      Great to cyber-see you! Miss you and your fresh writing!

    1. Hugs to Immersion-Grad Christie Craig!

      Ah -- Thank you! You know I love playing in your mega-powered brain.

      Can't wait to connect at RWA National in Denver in July, and at the Permian Basin Writers Workshop in Midland, Texas in October!

  26. Hi Margie! Immersion grad Kat here, waving hello!
    Wonderful post. I loved getting a refresher course on visceral reactions. And these examples are stellar! Whoa!
    Your students rock.
    Hugs! Miss you.

    1. Hugs to Immersion-Grad Kat Baldwin!

      Your writing rocks too. I know your writing is strong, readers know your writing is strong, reviewers know your writing is strong!

      Hope I get to see you at RWA National this summer!

  27. Wonderful examples and I love your deep-editing notes. I always learn so much from you! I especially like the power words the writers use. Here’s a visceral I wrote today:
    “My lungs felt like they were leaking air. Any minute now, I’d be sucking air on the kitchen floor like a guppy out of water.”

    1. Hugs to Multi-Immersion-Grad Carol Fawcett!

      I love, love, love your example!

      Powerful! NYT! NYT! NYT!

  28. Great examples!! During first draft I tend to use a cliche for the visceral but then go back and replace it with something fresh.

    1. Hello Carrie --

      Yes! Fresh writing doesn't usually fall on the page in a first draft. It's smart to type a note to yourself where you need something fresh -- and come back later.

      I forgot to mention that in the blog. I cover it in my classes.

      Some writers type -- FIX FIX FIX!





      And more, more, more.

      Carrie -- Thanks so much for the reminder!

  29. I will write a scene then go back and make sure the written emotions match what I meant to say because....Margie told me to do this. Big Hugs

    1. Hugs to West Texas Writers Academy Grad Ani S!

      I knew you were SMART! I had fun working with you at WTWA. I know I'll get to work with you again sometime, somewhere! Thanks for chiming in!

    1. Hugs to Immersion Grad Barbara RR!

      You're not too timid -- and you've got the brain power to write fresh. I've read your fresh writing and you WOWED ME!

      So glad you posted!

  30. Aww, Margie, I’m so honored that you used examples from Angel Falls to illustrate visceral reactions! I learned so much from all your classes, both online and immersion. It’s about time for me to take another immersion class—I’m wringing-out the next book in the Angel Falls series. I know I can depend on you ask just the right questions to help me shove something good over the threshold into something better. And if I’m lucky, I can nudge it into something great. Plus, there’s some kind of synergy that happens when a group of writers gathers under your leadership. We all help each other become better than we could ever be when writing in isolation.

    1. Hugs to Immersion-Grad Babette de Jongh!

      I love ANGEL FALLS! I'm proud to use examples from your work!

      Hope I get to see you this year!

        1. Babette --

          Good for you!

          So proud of you for WINNING the New England Readers’ Choice Award and the Aspen Gold Reader’s Choice Award!


          1. Margie!

            I'm sorry I didn't see this right away. We were in Telluride, where my husband broke his hand on the ski slopes, and we've been having fun with doctors and surgeons since then. Now, we're in the ice-packs-and-Advil phase of recovery (but he still needs a lot of shoulder-patting and at least three poor-baby comments a day). I'm only just now catching up on emails and social media.

            I attribute those Readers' Choice wins to two things: my determination to learn the craft, and my good sense to learn from the best teacher in the business, Margie Lawson. For the next book in the Angel Falls series, I'm eyeing the next Immersion cruise. Planning to see you there, and to be ready to toss that manuscript in your lap so you can twist it into shape.



  31. Great blog Margie! Visceral responses, making them fresh can be a challenge. But they finished product is so rewarding. I work REALLY hard for my visceral responses to be fun and themed. Sending hugs! Hope to see you in Denver for RWA.

    1. Hugs to Multi-Immersion-Grad Lisa Heartman!

      I know you work hard to make your writing strong, and it shows! You earn lots of NYTs in Immersion class!

      I'll definitely see you in Denver in July!

  32. Just checked this out and skimmed ... need to dig in and sift my mind through the golden words. Thanks everyone. And Margie, you are awesome! I still live on the fringes of being a writer, but Life is writing its own words in my world. I will comment again once I have ready the entire blog. Beware folks ... no postings on my website/blog since 2016. cyber hugs and congratulations!

    1. Hugs to Immersion-Grad Marion Spicher!

      Ah -- Great to see you here!

      I remember your powerful writing from your Immersion class in 2013. Get your tush back in your writing chair and write.

      Why? Use what Ani (several posts above) wrote. Because Margie told me to. 😉

      And -- because you're good!

      Thanks so much for posting!

  33. Hi Margie! This blog came at such a good time. I'm trying to punch up some emotional scenes that are falling flat. All these examples are brilliant!

    This is from a WIP that' still needs work. But I like it. 😉 A Victorian era psychic walks into a murder scene:

    I scrambled back from the corpse, my feet slipping in blood, garbage and other nameless horrors. My head spun, the shrieking voices died away and the buzzing ceased.
    The silence was profound.

    1. Hugs to Immersion-Grad Belinda McBride!

      Wow! Strong writing. Creepy too! Lots of power words and compelling cadence. Good for you!

      Are you coming to RWA National this summer? I'm counting on seeing you!

    1. Hello Almost Immersion-Grad Jennifer Alexander!

      Can't wait to work with you in Immersion in about 8 weeks -- in Gilroy, California!

      We'll have THE BEST TIME -- and you'll learn more than you thought your brain could hold. 🙂

    1. Hugs to Immersion-Grad Sylvie Kurtz!

      It's been waaaaaaaay too long since I've hugged you! I think you were in Immersion in 2011.

      Sheesh. That's forever ago.

      Let me know if you're going to RWA National this year. I'd love to get together!

      Thanks sooooo much for posting.

  34. As always, golden advice. I would love to borrow your brain someday. Even if only for a couple of hours. I love me some Margie!

    1. Hello Judy McDonough!

      I'll share my brain. But you can't take it out of the house.

      You'll get some Margie time -- and I'll get some Judy time!

  35. Wow, wow, wow, Margie. This knocked me in the head. I see this is exactly what I need to concentrate on. Thanks.

    1. Hello Jeanne Kern!

      Been flying lately? Had such fun with you and Rich when you won our Flying Getaway for the Diabetes Auction years ago. 2012?

      You know my courses are loaded with lots more teaching points and examples than I could ever share in 20 blogs on the same topic.

      Nudge. Nudge. 🙂

  36. It's always smart to do one edit read through looking for those "thought" lines that come in between the emotional trigger and the visceral. Those interruptions love to slide on in. I have to remind myself not to tell the reader what to think when what I'm attempting to accomplish is to make them feel the same thing as my character.

    1. Hugs to Immersion-Grad Judith Starkston --

      So true!

      It's easy to TELL, but way more fun to SHOW.

      I'm sure you have some awesome examples. Please email them to me!

  37. Hi Margie! So exciting to be included in such stellar company!! So many awesome examples in this post - I especially loved Brynn Spear's: A primal warning skitters up my spine. Simple. Short. Powerful! Also Kristin Meachem and Kimberley Belle's examples stood out for me.
    Thank you for a fabulous post and such a great reminder to dig deep and add emotional truth and power to our writing by creating fresh visceral responses 🙂

    1. Hugs to Immersion-Grad Becky Rawnsley from Cumbria, England!

      You're in stellar company because your writing is stellar. Truly.

      So excited that I get to work with you in another Immersion class this summer!

      And -- I'm honored that you teach my BIG THREE courses online for me. I appreciate your talent, and your commitment to help others strengthen their writing. Thank you.

  38. Hi Margie and Everyone.

    I love reading all these examples. So inspriing.
    Mine tend to be geared at the heart.

    My heart beat faster than a jackrabbit at a mating convention.

    Sam’s heart pulsed a machine gun cadence and anger surged like tear gas through his veins.

    My heart pounded with disappointment, my head spun with disillusion, my stomach sickened with despair.

    Her voice paused echoing the skipped beat of my heart.

    My insides coiled like a boa constrictor squeezing tighter, tighter, tighter until my breath came in short stabbing gasps.

    1. Hello skrhodes --

      Wow! Love your fresh viscerals!

      The last one WOWED me. Love the way you used one visceral response as a stimulus for another visceral response.

      Smart. Smart. Smart!

  39. Looks like I need a refresher. I don't remember learning about Visceral Recovery. I guess it's time for me to pull out my lectures and notes. Great post. I love to read great writing and I love to see it deep edited.

    1. Hugs to Immersion-Grad Carol Storey!

      Ha! You and every other Immersion grad forget some things they learned in Immersion class.

      Visceral Recoveries -- only used if you heavily visceralize your POV character.

      If the scene ends, you don't need a visceral recovery.

      I bet you're nodding. Remembering. And nodding some more.

      Hope I get to see you this year!

    1. Hello Shirley Jump!

      I'm so glad I got to meet you in April, 2004, when I presented a full day workshop for your RWA chapter in Ft. Wayne.

      Now you're an NYT Bestselling author -- and you teach for Lawson Writer's Academy!

      Thanks so much for chiming in!

    1. Hello Sue Ward Drake --

      I don't think I've met you. But I'd like to. 🙂

      Let me know if you're attending RWA National this year. I'd love to connect!

      Thanks so much for posting.

    1. Hugs to Almost Immersion-Grad Sandy Wright!

      It will be so much fun to work with you in an Immersion class! I bet your creepy, crawly viscerals are amazing!

  40. I've clutched at courage and posted an example of how I've applied my meagre learning about Margie Magic (in a conference presentation).
    Here goes:
    ... – she knew she was ugly by the change in her mother’s face whenever she got tangled up in her path. Her mother taught her this. Billy Sharp from next door taught her this. The people in town taught her this in their whispers as they passed. Even her father and James, and her sister Pammy - when she was around - taught her this by swiftly whisking her away. She grew accustomed to the panic of being re-directed whenever a dangerous liaison with her mother loomed.

    Thank you all for your inspiration. J

    1. Just realised I didn't include a visceral response. I'll take the advice from Ciara Knight above and put in a bracket (add visceral)! That said, this was the end of a scene where her toddler brother drowned by her mistake of leaving a door open. For a start she peed her pants and her legs no longer belonged to her. (She was only seven at the time.)

    2. Hello Jay H --

      Thanks for both posts. Smart to have her pee her pants -- and feel like her legs didn't belong to her. Great!

      Which conference did you attend?

      Hope to cyber-see you again sometime -- and see you in person sometime too!

      1. Hey Margie. I met you at Omega Sydney 4 months ago. Even from that small window of opportunity, my writing has made a huge leap. There’s freedom in the knowledge you impart, unlike many writing rules that clip our wings. Hugs J

  41. Hi Margie, great post with wonderful examples. I took your class on visceral reactions a few years ago and I still refer back to the lessons! Great stuff.

    1. Hello Soon-To-Be-Immersion-Grad Carrie Padgett!

      Can't wait to immerse you and your group in May in Yosemite! I'll see you in about ten weeks. That's sort-of soon. 🙂

  42. Awesome advice for making the moment come alive for the reader. I love the way you've broken it down into easy to understand steps, including the stimulus-and-response (action and reaction), followed by the impact on the character.

    1. Hello Barbara --

      Ah -- you like my online teaching style. My courses are loaded with hundreds of pages of teaching points and deep edit analyzed examples.

      Now you know. 🙂

  43. As always, Margie, you challenge and inspire. I highlight my work and find there's very little pink. Need to add those visceral responses. Fresh responses. I need to add the Margie Magic. Takes time and thought and is well worth the effort. Thanks for your help.

    1. Hugs to Almost-Immersion-Grad, Almost-Immersion-Hostess Linda McGinnis!

      I'll be at your house in six weeks! Then I'll get to see if you need a few more visceral responses.

      You're soooo right -- writing fresh takes a little more time. But I'll teach you techniques in Immersion class that help you make writing fresh faster, easier, and stronger.

      Writing fresh is always worth it!

      Can't wait to work with you, Shelley, Sydney, Jenny, Jennifer, Nancy, and Rebekah!

  44. Great post, Margie! Your classes and immersion training are the most useful writing craft instruction I've ever had, even if I still struggle to execute as well as I'd like. 🙂 This post and your future classes will be a great refresher. Thanks!

    1. Hugs to Immersion-Grad Christy Carlyle!

      Thank you, thank you, thank you!

      I can't wait to work with you in another Immersion class. Maybe this year!

    1. Hello Jenn J McLeod --

      So fun seeing you in Coffs Harbor! Loved connecting, but I want more Jenn time. Hope to see you again on my next trip to Australia in October/November.

      A PLACE TO REMEMBER -- released March 1st. Can't wait!

      Thanks sooo much for posting!

    1. Hugs to Immersion-Grad Lori Fulton!

      It's been too long since you were in Immersion class. I've added lots of new deep editing techniques since 2015.

      Let me know if you're attending RWA National this summer. I'd love to get together.

      Thanks for chiming in!

  45. Margie, so many super examples! I am seeing I need to really work on my visceral responses!

    The example that got me the most was this one:
    "My heart kicks at my chest, not a scared beat, but a fight-through-the-pain beat. A beat that for once has nothing to do with Sophie"

    And just for fun, here's something from my current first draft...
    Pushing open the door, she listened. Her eyes burned.
    Blessed silence.
    She grabbed some paper towels from the dispenser. Stood with her back to the mirror as the first wrenching from her heart pushed to the surface. Her eyes heated, overflowed. Her breaths came shallow, in gulps. She covered her mouth with paper towels, muffling the sound.

    1. Hello Jeanne Takenaka --

      Fabulous to get to know you at the ACFW conference in Dallas. And so fun that you came to my New Year's Day Party.

      That heart example from Kristin Meachem is powerful. Love her writing.

      Your writing impressed me too! Great cadence. Powerful imagery.

      Can't wait until my full day workshop at the WRITE IN THE SPRINGS CONFERENCE on April 14th!

  46. Hi Margie, here's one I've been playing around with. The tiny telltale hairs stood on the back of her neck in spite of her attempt to dial back the fear that was building in her belly.

    1. Hugs to Immersion-Grad Debra!

      Love, love, love your visceral response!

      --- The tiny telltale hairs stood on the back of her neck in spite of her attempt to dial back the fear that was building in her belly.

      You used one visceral response as a stimulus for another visceral response.

      Impressive. Kudos to you!



    So many posts!

    So many strong examples of visceral responses!

    Thank you all for taking the time to read that long blog, and for taking the time to share your examples.


    --------------- ANDREA KOEHLER ----- WON A LECTURE PACKET!

    --------------- DIANE RIPPIN ----- WON AN ONLINE COURSE!


    Andrea and Diane -- Please contact me through my website, or Facebook message me.


    I'll be back on WITS on March 21st.

    If you have questions about lecture packets or online courses offered through Lawson Writer's Academy, please contact me.

    Hope you check out the description for the Lecture Packet for VISCERAL RULES: BEYOND HAMMERING HEARTS on my website.

    It's a couple hundred pages of lectures that are loaded with teaching points and examples and visceral rules.

    A big THANK YOU to all the incredible WITS gals. You all carry as much power in real life as visceral responses do on the page.

    See you ALL on line!

    1. Hugs to Immersion-Grad Jennifer Rupp!

      Ah -- I loved working with you in Immersion class! But it's been too long. Three years?

      Hope you're attending RWA National. I'm counting on seeing you!

  48. Excellent post! I'm anxious to learn more at your April workshop in Colorado. I love Megan Menard's visceral responses. Here is my stab at showing emotion in the commotion:
    His words crawled down my back like spiders.
    Lizzie propped her elbows on the desk, then slipped her fingers in her ears. Harold took the small piece of paper he'd been chewing and threw it. As the spit wad landed on her arithmetic book, rippling spasms bit my spine. I gagged and erupted into coarse coughing.

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