My guest today is a member of Northwest Independent Writers Association (NIWA), and one of the authors published in NIWA’s new anthology. I’ll be hosting four of the authors over the next few weeks. Today’s guest is Maggie Lynch. Please enjoy the author, and buy her books! Links below.
Maggie Lynch loves to learn. With careers ranging from counseling families with special needs children to leadership in academic computing, she has had plenty of opportunities to learn, meet new people, and travel widely. Throughout it all, writing has been her first love. Her publications include four non-fiction books, over 35 short stories, and nine novels. She now writes full time as Maggie Jaimeson for adult fiction and Maggie Faire for young adult fiction. Her fiction is often cross-genre including SF, Fantasy, Suspense, Women’s Fiction and Romance. She continues to write non-fiction under Maggie Lynch. Learn more about Maggie’s novels and other anthologies and short stories at http://maggielynch.com
Maggie describes her story included in the anthology by NIWA:
In “The Beckoning” I imagined a being whose sole purpose is to give its knowledge to all living things on earth. The way in which this knowledge is acquired and dispersed, as well as its impact on humanity, is the central action of this story. I also play with the idea of how the human psyche deals with messages that seem to be coming from outside our consciousness.
My young adult to middle adult career path was in counseling individuals and families in a variety of situations. One part of that work was a year working with severely mentally ill individuals who had horrific personal experiences related to spiritual beliefs. Some of these people heard voices, others saw angels and demons, others had suffered trauma at the hands of religious leaders or their followers. It led me to question what happens when we hear or see experiences that we deem as coming from a source (God or otherwise) outside of ourselves–a source that seems to be all powerful and where we have little control in terms of our response to it. How do we process that? Can we process that and remain sane?
And now for the writing advice:
From 2003 to 2006 I submitted three novels to agents and editors all over the place. Though I had already published three non-fiction books with a big NY and London Publisher, as well as numerous short stories in science fiction and fantasy magazines, getting a novel published seemed impossible. I often received a request for a full manuscript, it always ended up with rejections worded something like: “Solid writing. I really liked your concept and your characters, but in the end it didn’t propel me through the story enough to buy it.” I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what it was. I asked other well-published authors to take a look and they couldn’t pinpoint the problem either. Then I took Margie Lawson’s “Immersion Master Class.” After that I got a NY agent, procured a contract with a NY house (though in the end we didn’t sign) and my writing took a quantum leap in craft.
Though those four intense days focused on lots of things that helped me, like deep editing and understanding literary devices, the thing that made the biggest difference in my writing was learning how to empower character’s emotions. Margie is a trained psychologist and she has spent years analyzing stories to devise her system of making sure emotions are authentic and writing takes full advantage of them to propel characters and readers forward. Even though I also have a background in psychology and counseling, my characters’ emotions were more on the surface. Like many writers, the emotion was happening in my head but not on the page.
I cannot possibly give all the details Margie covers in her four day class, but I will share the two that made the biggest difference to my writing.
- Visceral responses. This means those things your body does automatically in reaction to a stimulus of some kind. For example, if I’m alone in a dark alley and I hear a loud sound I will jump. My heart rate will speed up. I might even begin to shake with fear. You don’t use visceral responses with every reaction in the book, but you save them for really important times. That doesn’t only mean scary times. It might also be intimate times, times where a character is revealing something very important or a secret, or times when a non point-of-view character’s reactions are important to the story. Describing these visceral responses will always up the tension. Be sure to only describe the visceral response. Do not precede or follow that description by telling the reader what to think. Her are two examples.
Good: The door slammed and she jumped. Her heart rate slowed as the tapping heels moved away from the door.
Not as Good: The door slammed and she jumped. It scared her. Her heart rate slowed because she could hear the heels moving away from the door. The woman hadn’t found her. Now she could relax.
In the first one the reader is there with the character in that moment. Because you’ve set up the scene, the reader already knows she was scared when the door slammed. If you’ve written it really well in the setup, the reader may even jump with the character. The reader already knows the footsteps moving away from the door means the villain had not found her. You don’t have to tell the reader or remind him.
- Backloading. I had never heard of backloading before my Margie Lawson experience. Backloading is where the actual placement of words within a sentence or a paragraph adds that extra punch. The word you choose to put on the end of an emotional sentence is the power word. The sentence you choose to put on the end of a paragraph is the power sentence and the word at the end of that leaves an image in the readers mind. Here is a very easy and typical example.
Normal: Tears filled her eyes.
Backloaded: Her eyes filled with tears.
They both say the same thing. However, the question is what is most significant in this description. It is not her eyes. It is the tears. By putting the word “tears” at the end of the sentence it gives it more power.
Here are two more complex examples from my book EXPENDABLE. In both examples, the power words are reinforcing the impact of death. The first is from the heroine’s point-of-view soon after she learns her estranged sister has been murdered.
She squeezed her eyes shut and prayed for relief from the pain. The pain of death. The pain of guilt. The pain of being alone.
Notice in the above example two techniques are being used. The first is the emphasis of the word “pain” as a power word. Notice that it is at the end of the first sentence, and then repeated three times in the following phrases. In addition, instead of going from small to large: alone, guilt, death. I chose to go from large to small in my construction. Most people would think that “death” would be the power word—the most scary word. But here, for this character, death is final and therefore less powerful than the pain of those things she has to live with moving forward: her own guilt regarding her relationship with her sister and the knowledge that she will always be alone. Where the writer chooses to put those words creates a notion in the reader’s mind of what is most powerful, most devastating for this character.
The next section relates a flashback from the hero when he was a soldier in Afghanistan.
Reed’s eyes cleared. He scanned the barely lit cave.
Blood. Two men.
Blood. Four women.
Blood. Children—two girls, five boys, two babies.
Every one of them dead.
Dead at Reed’s hand.
In this example there are two power words. The first is “blood” which, with its repetition, builds a distinctive image in contrast to the seemingly cold calculation of numbers. It is the “blood” in that cave that feeds the horrific memory for the protagonist. The second power word, also repeated, is “dead.” With the literary device of putting it at the end of one sentence and beginning the next sentence with that power word. The use of the word “hand” at the end of the flashback is purposeful because it brings the concept of death directly to the agency of the protagonist “Reed’s hand.” That is much more powerful than “He had pulled the trigger.”
Margie Lawson’s Immersion Class can be overwhelming for a beginner. So judge where you are in your writer’s journey. I took it after I had written four novels (the first two under-the-bed types of novels). If I had taken the class while I was still struggling with point-of-view or goal, motivation, and conflict or any of the basic character-building techniques of writing, I think I would have been overwhelmed.
So, judge where you are in your craft journey. If you have the basics down but know you need to take it to another level, consider some of these pointers and add more layers and power to your writing. Get out there and write with emotion that moves your characters and therefore moves your readers. I’ll bet it gives you and your stories more power.
What does “underground” mean to you?
This anthology from the Northwest Independent Writers Association presents fourteen “underground” stories, each with a different interpretation of the titular theme. In these pages, you will visit a murderer’s hideout, walk the road to the afterlife, plunder a dragon’s lair, uncover a mysterious archaeological artifact, glimpse human existence after an environmental apocalypse, and delve deep into dark secretes, crime syndicates, forbidden worlds, sacrifice, and the human psyche.
Featuring stories by:
Mike Chinakos • Amber Michelle Cook • Pamela Cowan • Jake Elliot •
Jonathan Ems • T.L. Kleinberg • Jason LaPier • Maggie Lynch •
Roslyn McFarland • Cody Newton • Dey Rivers • Steven L. Shrewsbury •
Dale Ivan Smith • Laurel Standley • Jennifer Willis
The Northwest Independent Writers Association (NIWA) supports indie and hybrid authors and promotes professional standards in independent writing, publishing, and marketing. Learn more at NIWAwriters.net.