I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Friday, June 1, 2012

Confessions from a Left-Brainer

Copyright 2006 by Sam Morrison blogspot.com/2007/12/free-cartoon-usage-great-for-blog.html
by Paula Boire, writing as Sara L. Jameson

We all want to write compelling stories and wish-I-could-meet you characters. Maybe even ones we’d like to take home with us. But how to create them. . . .

After recently taking Margie Lawson’s month-long, online writing course, Writing Body Language Like a Psychologist, I discovered several things about my WIP. Disturbing things. Like eighty pages of emotions and body language and dialogue cues that often suffered from wimpy writing and repeated effects. Sometimes two or three times on the same page. Yikes!

This outstanding course teaches writers how to use a psychologist’s perspective to enhance characters’ emotional layers in ways that reveal inner psychology, ratchet the tension, and hook the reader viscerally. Thirty days of focusing solely on those factors in my manuscript was extremely revealing. Revealing in what wasn’t on the page (but I thought was there) and . . . ahem . . . those three emotional hits using lips in some way. All on the same page.

As a devoted left-brainer, (I know, I know, the right-brainers among us are probably freaking out by now) I decided to make a table of all body language, dialogue cue, emotional hits and my “favorite” power words (BL/DC/EH/FW table). The course and the table made me realize my search-and-find approach was not forcing me to dig super deep into my characters. And when analyzing and editing a chapter, weak writing wasn’t always apparent when viewed in context.

Seeing those sentences isolated in table format quickly reveals repetitions, their frequency, and equally critical: whether or not they are carrying their weight in the word count. He shrugged. He cocked a brow. She smiled. She grinned. Anticipation laced her words.

Yes, simplicity is essential at times. But do many of the hits illuminate character psychology, motivations, and subtext? Are multiple characters expressing emotions identically? Is that really the way that person would behave or have I gotten into a rut? Are sentences simply being used as beats?

With the hope of becoming a more efficient writer, I've decided to start the BL/DC/EH/FW table at the onset of a new manuscript, to eliminate the daunting task of compiling it afterwards.

As a devoted fan of writing a fast first draft, doing this may slow it down somewhat, but if it enables knowing my characters far more intimately before the editing process, and ultimately deepen readers’ involvement in the protagonist’s black moment, greatest dream, fear, and the big lie, etc., then it will be worth the effort. 

With each manuscript I try to incorporate at least one new technique to push me to write a more polished first draft. Once an author is working under deadline, growing one’s craft and topping the quality of one’s last release becomes even more challenging. So a writer must become more efficient. More proficient. One way or another.

How do you deal with these issues? I’d love to learn new ideas from you.     


  1. Paula, great thoughts! I just finished my first fast draft last night. As I wrote like a crazy woman for the last five weeks, the thought that my body language cues, etc, are quite limited. I need to go back through and think it through more.

    Since this is my first, I don't have suggestions, but if you do, I'd welcome them! :)

  2. Hi Jeanne, I think HUGE congrats are in order for you!!!!!!! It's a wonderful feeling to get that draft done. Now the fun part of editing begins. If you start your file now chapter by chapter as you edit and insert some emotion, body language, etc. and work for power words that capture the mood of the scene, you can ask your character what he/she's really feeling about what's going on in that scene. Again, congrats on finishing that first draft. It's an enormous accomplishment. Have a great day. :-)

  3. Great post, Paula. Are you going through your ms and picking out the BL/DC/EH/FW s? I'm working on a fast draft now and not anguishing yet over the visceral beats. I've taken Margie's course and gone to an all day workshop in Birmingham where she taught on emotional hits, dialogue cues and lots of other stuff.

  4. Great stuff, Paula. I get caught by those "hits," too. I try to let it go during the first-draft stage--"try" being the operative word--and then focus on making changes in the next go-through. But sometimes, like you said, it's so good to take the time in the first draft round, because it helps you get to know your characters and their emotions before going on an butchering them later in the book. :)

    Good stuff!!

  5. Hi Pat, Congrats on finaling in the Genesis!!!! Yes, I went through the ms after taking the course and made the 80-page table. I hated taking some 60-70 hours of my time to do that so I decided to try making the table as I go next time since I do tend to write BL and emotions in a rough draft. Since I suffer from a lack of originality, the same effects, same words crop up a lot. When I have to stare at she smiled out of context in a table, it really forces me to examine the passage in context and then again out of context to try to dig deeper in the character and bring those revelations into the smile, for example.

    I've tried doing a fast draft with none of them in there (certainly much faster to write that way)but for me, I didn't get to know my characters well enough and it made for so many more weeks of doing that afterwards. Then I still faced examining how often I'd written an emotion, BL, or dialogue cue.

    So, I've decided to at least try to compile my table as I write a chapter. Do my word count in the rough draft for the day and try to set aside some time to reread it and compile the table as I go. I hope it will force me to subliminally think about my characters as I go.

    I'm doing her Fab 30 in 40 days online deep editing class this month.

  6. Loved your "butchering" image, Melisa. BTW, I tried to post on your blog today but it never accepts any form of ID from me. I went anonymous to at least be able to respond. Any types on how to solve the problem?

  7. I took a course from Margie at ACFW a couple of years ago. She really does help you dig deeper and use body language. It goes along with "show, don't tell".

  8. I thought I'd read the P blog this morn. but see I'm actually just getting to it.I can't tell you how totally I relate to this post & how much I need it. Are you going to provide/define the BL/DC/EH/FW for us needy writers? I haven't heard of Margie or this method but want to hear more.

  9. I'd like to, but her stuff and system is copyrighted. I wonder if we could invite her to do a guest blog? She likes to do those and usually gives away a free admission to one of her courses. I learned so much in the month-long version. The half day and hour long classes really don't begin to delve into the material the way the online classes do.

  10. Such an intriguing post, Paula.
    Sounds like you are putting a lot of hard, hard working into ramping up your writing -- I've heard good things about Margie's courses.

  11. Hi Beth, yes working hard at it. Margie's online courses are excellent. Very, very intensive. And as she says about them, grad school course work.