New Year's Giveaway: Day 14, Margie Lawson

>> Thursday, January 20, 2011

(Don't miss Margie's mini-lesson in writing body language and dialogue cues at the end of this post.)

Margie Lawson touched my life long before I actually met her in person.

I've always believed in on-going education.  Firmly believe that anyone can be anything they want to be or do anything they want to do given enough drive and perseverence. 

I tuned into on-line courses a few years ago when they were just breaking out, taking anywhere from 3 to 5 per month for about a year and a half.  I discovered a lot of useless information, some good instructors, but only a few outstanding courses.  Margie's courses fell into the outstanding category.

Aside from being a cosumate instructor and extremely knowledgeable in her topics, Margie is empathetic and compassionate.  She is warm, understanding, accomodating and so extremely patient.

But the key that kept me going back to Margie's courses was the way the information she shared in each class and the way she taught us to apply that information took my writing to a new level.  I know, without a doubt, Margie's instruction brought my writing from good to publishable. 

Margie is a true gift to my life in so many ways.  She's gone from anonymous instructor to mentor and friend and I'm constantly reminded of how grateful I am to have not only crossed paths with Margie, but to have forged a lasting connection.

In her ever-generous style, Margie has offered TWO of her powerful lecture packets for giveaway today.  She's also giving us a mini-lesson in writing body language and dialogue cues (see below).

If I could give any writer only one reference for writing instruction, it would be Margie Lawson.

Up For Win Today:
2 Lecture packets.  2 winners will get to choose from the array of Margie's Lecture Packets listed below:

Empowering Characters’ Emotions
Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors
Deep Editing: The EDITS System, Rhetorical Devices, & More
Dgging Deep into the EDITS System
Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist
Powering Up Body Language in Real Life

To enter:
Follow me on Twitter: @joanswan & send me a tweet with #MARGIE in the message. (Tweet Here)

Margie's Services:

Contact Info:

Tomorrow, a very special day: spotlighting my UBER critique partner, Elisabeth Naughton!!!

********Now...on to Margie's lesson:********

A Few Words About -- Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues
By Margie Lawson

When writing body language:
  • Nonverbals are difficult to fake.
  • Nonverbals emphasize or contradict what is being said.
  • People always believe the nonverbals, even when they contradict the verbal message.
Nonverbal Communication:
  • 93% of communication is nonverbal
  • 55% is visual - most conveyed through the face
  • 38% is how we say it - conveyed through vocal cues, for writers, dialogue cues
  • 7% - the words themselves
EXAMPLES: Writing Body Language with Psychological Power

Jodi Picoult, THE PACT
“Em,” he said, swallowing, his voice just another shadow in the car. “Are you . . . is this about killing yourself?” And when Emily looked away, his lungs swelled up like balloons and the bottom dropped out of his world.
Brad Meltzer, THE BOOK OF FATE (two examples)
Closing the file folder, Boyle sank back and shot me the kind of look that would leave a bruise.
Lisbeth should be wearing a smile so wide, there’d be canary feathers dangling form her lips. Instead, she rubs the back of her neck as her front teeth click anxiously.
I smile when the rest of the class laughs, but Morley’s words have raised a welt on my heart.
Stephen White, DEAD TIME (two examples)
I thought I saw Alan nod as I was talking. Alan’s nods weren’t much. Sometimes you’d need a motion detector to be sure he’d actually shifter his head. I’d developed the right radar while we were together. I could tell.
She was fidgety. Not pathologically so, like Jonas’s Uncle Marty. But Stevie was taut, like an overstressed string on a violin. She carried the tension of someone who just realized she’d run out of nicotine gum.

Dialogue Cues share subtext. They inform the reader how to interpret the dialogue. Dialogue cues are one part of writing nonverbal communication. They’re one part writers often overlook.

Since 38% of nonverbal communication is conveyed through paralanguage (how the words are delivered) in real life, it behooves writers to include a significant percentage of dialogue cues in their scenes, as long as they are written fresh.

Dialogue Cues include:
  • Tone – angry, sarcastic, abrasive, fawning, cajoling, teasing
  • Inflection – monotone, sing-song, drop or lift at end of words or sentences
  • Pitch – high, low, deep, booming, resonant
  • Quality – sophisticated, nasal, squeaky, reedy, enunciates or slurs words
  • Volume – soft, loud, whispered, yelled
  • Rate – a breathy rush, pressured speech, long pauses
EXAMPLES: Writing Dialogue Cues with Psychological Power:

Marie-Claude Bourque, ANCIENT WHISPERS, (2 examples)
Amplified, Cadence: His voice was rich, entrancing, a caress on her beaten spirit.
Incongruence: Her voice was dead calm, completely different from the fury and sadness she felt inside.
Brenda Novak, BODY HEAT
Volume: They haven’t been getting along so great since he lost his job,” she explained, after which her volume edged up to normal again.
Jeri Smith-Ready, SHADE
Volume: “I really have to go,” I whispered, like I’d hurt ex-Hazel less if I lowered the volume.
Interpretation by POV Character: Mr. Evans chuckled, the sound as inappropriate to Charles as giggling at a hanging.
Amplified Simile: “Josie.” That sharp, half-whispered voice, the way you call a dog, to get it out of a room, fast, but she heard it.
Caridad Ferrer, ADIOS TO MY OLD LIFE
Amplified: Sosi's voice was squeaking — a sure sign she was nervous. The nuns at school always knew when she was up to something because she'd start sounding like Mickey Mouse.
Fresh: In her calmest pre-saloon-brawl voice, she said, “I don’t want any trouble.”
Lynda Sandoval, UNSETTLING
Hyphenated Run-On: A sort of I’m-too-dignified-to-openly-plead tone had crept into Alba’s voice.
Two Dialogue Cues: She kept her voice brisk, impersonal. “I’ll need to speak with him. You are welcome to be present, Mr. Bromley.” She put all the I Am An Agent Of The Law insistence she could in her voice.
Stephen White, DEAD EVEN
Fresh Simile: “Listen,” he said in a voice that cut off the small talk the way a sharp knife takes the top off a banana. “I need a favor. A big . . .favor.”
Marcus Sakey, THE AMATEURS
Fresh: “I will get it for you. I promise.” His voice coming from a ragged place people liked to pretend didn’t exist.
Cherry Adair, BLACK MAGIC (Dad and POV Character)
“If you’re too damn busy to listen, then I wipe my hands of you.”

Jack didn’t bother keeping his dislike out of his voice. “Thought you already had.”
Fresh: “Yes, well,” he said, his voice stripped of life . . .
Robert B. Parker, SCHOOL DAYS
Fresh: His voice was so thick, he seemed to be having trouble squeezing his words out.
Joan Swan, FACING THE FIRE (to be released April, 2012; 2 examples)
Using dialogue cue as stimulus and showing response: The low, smooth timber of his voice gave her belly an uncomfortable twist.
Humor Hit: She didn’t attempt to quell the duh in her tone.
Simile: His voice was hoarse, like he’d smoked a dozen packs a day for a millennium.
Anna Campbell, TEMPT THE DEVIL
Amplified: “Olivia . . .” he said on a long sigh. The murmur of her name in that deep voice soaked through her skin right to her bones. He sounded like an angel had pointed him toward a heaven he never thought he’d attain.
Rosemary Clement-Moore, THE SPLENDOR FALLS (2 examples)
“Why are you making like a guidance counselor?” I could hear the venom in my voice, but couldn’t seem to control it.
Humor broadened his accent, exaggerating the roll of the r and the length of the vowels until it was almost unintelligible.
Tana French, THE LIKENESS (4 examples)
All the laughter and fa├žade had gone out of his voice, and I knew Frank well enough to know that this was when he was most dangerous.
“Rafe,” I said, hurt. I was mostly faking it: there was an icy cut to his voice that made me flinch.
There was something in his voice, something precarious as the smell of petrol, ready and waiting to ignite at the first spark.
His voice didn’t sharpen, but it had an undertow that made my shoulders go up.

Hope this mini-lesson gave you an idea of just how Margie's courses are PACKED with information!


Robin Kaye 4:59 AM  

Fabulous as always, Margie! I love all your classes and they've made all the difference in the world for me and my career. You gave me the push I needed to be published.

Hugs...Robin Kaye :)

Barbara 5:51 AM  

Wow, impressive. Love that she includes Tana French whose books I heartily recommend.

Joan Swan 8:51 AM  

Aw, Robin - so great to hear! She's made all the difference for me too!

Joan Swan 8:52 AM  


I was at her Immersion class in Colorado a few months back and Margie LOVES Tana French. Loves, loves, loves her. Uses her work as examples all the time--in a variety of different ways.

Very cool!

Anonymous,  9:16 AM  

I had a chance to take a two-day workshop with Margie and wish I could do it again. In fact, I would especially love take Margie's "Writing Body Language" class a couple more times.
Not only do I learn new cues and phrases, I get excited about writing all over again.
Margie's greatest gift is her ability to empower each and every one of her students (and friends).

Laurel N

Isabelle 9:34 AM  

Margie, you are always a wonderful wealth of information. :)


Joan Swan 9:42 AM  


I too feel as if I could take Margie's courses several times and learn more ever time. Her teaching builds on whereever you are in your writing level, taking you to the next.

After going through immersion with her, I wanted to go back and reread all of the notes from previous courses I'd taken. Of course, I'm still trying to find time for that.


Joan Swan 9:42 AM  


I second that. Thanks for coming by!

Dawn Chartier 9:49 AM  

Wow! This post was wonderful. I'm looking forward to joining one of Margie's classes.

Thanks for this post, Joan.


Joan Swan 9:51 AM  

Hi Dawn,

It will be one of the best things you ever did for your writing!

:-) Thanks for coming by.

Marie-Claude Bourque 10:25 AM  

Hi Margie,
So nice to see all the examples (thanks for including mine). You make everything so clear, seeing it all here makes me want to take more classes from you again!!!
Marie-Claude :)

Anonymous,  11:39 AM  

Great info here. Thanks so much for sharing. You can bet I'm going to enter to win one of those packets!

Joan Swan 12:05 PM  

Thanks, Arlene! I've got you entered!

Jordan McCollum 12:18 PM  

Margie's classes are amazing!

And you can count me as another Tana French fan. (Margie, have you read Faithful Place yet?)

Charlotte Omillin 12:28 PM  

I'm actually following the Self Defeating Class with Margie, and it's turning me upside down!
What a great idea to schedule this course in January!

Margie Lawson 3:52 PM  

Hello Everyone!

A THANK YOU and a lovey hug to JOAN for inviting me to be her guest today.

Joan's writing is fabulous -- and I can't wait for April, 2012, to read FEVER!

Jordan -- I read Tana French's FAITHFUL PLACE and loved it. But my favorite TF novel is THE LIKENESS. It's stellar.

Thanks to all for chiming in today!

If any of you are suckers for wedding pictures, drop by my web site and check out pics of my daughter's wedding. She got married on Dec. 26th, at our home. Beautiful -- and fun!

Amy 6:38 PM  

This is a huge help for me. I'm editing now and I'm struggling with the nonverbal communication of the dialogue. Especially getting the emotions across to the reader. Thanks for the 'aha' moment.

I'm taking Margie's Defeating Self Defeating behaviors and learning a ton. I will definitely have to add this class to the list.

Amy Pfaff
Charlotte NC

Joan Swan 7:00 PM  

Hi Amy,

I'm so glad her mini lecture helped. It's a great base just to see what it is in the examples, because even if you don't have her whole lecture, now you can pick up a book and start looking for your own examples or looking at your own work with fresh eyes.

Her DSDB class is (I think) the only one I haven't taken, but need to :). One more thing on my to do list.

Thanks for coming by. Good luck with the edits. Think fresh :)

mjmuse 7:15 PM  

Thanks for a wonderful blog. So helpful. Just like Margie's DSDB class. It's very eye opening. Thanks for your willingness to share all you have learned. And congrats on your book deals!

Joan Swan 7:31 PM  

Hi MJ,

I like you name...muse. My mom got a new puppy and named it scooter, but I'm at her house every weekend (b/c I work near her) and I call the puppy Muse. :)

Yes, Margie is quite amazing. After this month with the giveaway, I hope to do a bit more sharing of craft topics on the blog. Hope you'll stay tuned.

Take care!

Colleen MacLeod 3:16 AM  

Thanks, Joan. The body language course is the only Margie-course I've not taken...but after this it's on my list for this year. I'm rapidly becoming a Margie-junkie!


Anonymous,  4:31 AM  

dropping by from the DSDRB course. I love the Tana French quote "as precarious as the smell of petrol."

Gives me shivers!

Thanks for another great Mini-lesson, Margie.

Audrey 5:24 AM  

Wonderful blog post! I'm currently taking Margie's DSDB course right now and it has sparked something new in me. I never thought I'd have such a great time slaying dragons! Thrilled to hear she has impacted your life as well :)

Nancy Jackson w/a Audrey Cole

Joan Swan 6:42 AM  

Thanks for coming by, girls. It's wonderful to be able to get the help you need to be the best you can be at something you were meant to be. (There is a rhetorical device in there somewhere, but I don't have them memorized.)

Anna 8:16 AM  

Excellent blog post, Margie! I love your DSDB class. (I'm in it now.) I'll have to save all this info in my Margie Classes File.

Thanks again!

Anna McLain

Anonymous,  8:20 AM  

Wonderful post. I'm doing Defeating Self-Defeating Behaviours right now. I learned heaps from Writing Body language last year- want to do it again!

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