Weasel Words

Writers tend to have words that they use over and over without noticing. If you don’t think you do, go back and read your scenes out loud. See if you can pick up on a repeated word or two. Mine are:

anyway, just, well, sure (like “he sure does smile a lot” rather than “he smiles a lot.”), suddenly, really, even.

After I write the first draft, I look for these, and stuff like “he sat down” and get rid of the “down.” I also need to be aware of “Have to’s” and look to see if I can change the phrase to “Must.” Of course, I watch for duplicate words and try to think of synonyms. And I watch to see if I vary my sentence lengths, and vary the structures.

One thing I wanted to note, is that when I write my Regency novels, I use “rather” because that is what the Regency gentlemen and ladies used — a lot! ;) So when I am writing a Regency, I have to go back and make sure I have my Regency character say “I feel unwell” rather than “I feel sick.” If I have my character say “It’s cold outside,” I will usually change it to “It’s rather cold outside.” Ah, Regency talk is so much fun! ;)

What are your weasel words?


Character Motivation

You can have your character want anything as long as it’s strongly motivated. More importantly, you can make your reader believe almost any goal you set up as long as you justify it with motivation.

When I think of this, I think of the movie, Romancing the Stone. Remember when the main characters were running from the bad guys and they are surrounded by rough-looking men in the village they wend up in? Michael Douglas says, “Write us out of this one, Joan Wilder.” The leader suddenly freezes and with a wide-eyed expression says,”You’re Joan Wilder? The American author, Joan Wilder?” Come to find out he is a fan of hers and all the guys have read her books. The script writers made that scene completely believable, which gave the townsmen proper motivation to go through all the trouble to help them escape the bad guys.

When you consider a goal, make sure you think up the why, or motivation, and make it very strong:

  1. Is the goal important to the character?
  2. Is the motivation urgent?
  3. Is the goal within the realm of possibility?
  4. Does the character have skills and flaws to make this story unique?
  5. Can you use this characters goal, motivation and conflict to help the reader understand the character?

In the movie Ever After, Danielle, (who is played by Drew Barrymore), has the goal of wanting to save her farm, which includes all the servants. When her stepmother sells off one of the servants to pay for her debt, Danielle dresses as a court lady to pay for his release with money the prince tossed her for “borrowing” her beloved deceased father’s horse.

Her motivations are:

  1. The servants have become her loved ones, i.e., they took the place of her parents. How could servants become so dear to her? Because the servants were kind to her and gave her love and acceptance after her father died. Her mother died at childbirth. She was very much loved by her father when she was a child. When her beloved father died suddenly of a heart attack, she lost his love and was subjected to the cruelty of her stepmother and stepsister.
  2. She wants to hold the farm together. Why? Because that’s all she has left of her father. The farm represents better days, days when she was loved and accepted by the world.

Make sure when you set up your goals and motivations that you don’t make it coincidental.

When someone tells you that your story isn’t believable, it isn’t because you sent the characters to a planet in another galaxy. It isn’t because your character survived a two thousand yard plunge to earth. It’s because your GMC wasn’t logical. Your GMC wasn’t appropriate to your characters. What the reader is telling you is, “I didn’t believe these people would find themselves in this situation or make these decisions.”

Example — you will have a hard time convincing readers that an accountant could do emergency surgery in the jungle with matches, a flashlight and a Swiss Army knife. A fireman is better, someone who trained as a paramedic, who walked away from an internship, now you have slipped that character into the realm of possibility. Give him a downed plane’s emergency kit, and you are well on your way to fixing the problem.

Or, if you want to stick with the accountant, have the victim be his 8 year old daughter. They just survived a plane crash and they are the only two alive. His daughter is choking and needs an airway. Give him a Swiss Army knife and a half-full ink pen. Since she is going to die for sure if he doesn’t do anything, I think he would be motivated to try to create an air passage for her. Don’t you?

Sometimes books start off with coincidences, like a chance meet. This is okay as long as you have the characters react to results of the meet within their GMC’s that you have set up for them. In Ever After, The prince does happen to ride through Danielle’s farm in an attempt to escape his father’s men, (he’s rebelling against an arranged marriage) — which is the heroine and hero’s first meet. But it’s how they react to that coincidence — that is, they keep within their character that makes this coincidence all right. Danielle always has her goals in mind. She doesn’t use the money to buy food or improve their lot. She uses the money to rescue a servant, which supports her main goal of preserving the farm, keeping the place intact with all of the original servants.

Tag Lines and In Medias Res

Note: My approach to discussing dialog, is to write dialog by ‘conversing’ with my imaginary friend, Piper. (I know, I’m strange, and tend to have imaginary friends with me. Good thing I’m a writer, huh?) However, I’ll start the whole article by giving you a glimpse of Sooner or Later by Vickie McDonough:

“How old are you?”
Mason pushed against a supply crate with his foot and shifted to a better position. “I’m twenty-six. How about you?”
Twenty-one? Mason blinked against the darkness. He’d thought for sure she wasn’t a day over seventeen.
“Have you—I mean—you’re not—married, are you?” Rebekah stiffened in his arms.

Piper leans forward to prop her arms on my desk from her seat opposite me. “Ooh, that Vickie McDonough writes so well. So? Why did you stop there?”

I glance at Piper, who scowls as she taps her foot. This makes me smile because I know that was mean of me to stop right in the middle of a scene like that. But I act nonchalant. “Because I wanted to ask if you noticed that Vickie didn’t have to use tag lines?”

“Ah, what’s a tag line?” Piper asks sheepishly.

“A tag line is a couple of words or a phrase that tells you who is speaking. The simplest and least obtrusive tag lines are ‘he said’ and ‘she said,’ or minor variations like ‘she replied’ or ‘he asked,’ as in this conversation between us,” I reply. “Let me give you another example off the top of my head.”

“Hello,” he said, “my name’s Horace. What’s yours?” he asked.
“Hi,” she replied, turning in her chair to look at him. “I’m Gail Adams.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Horace said. “I’ve been wondering who you were for an hour.”

Piper grimaces and shakes her head at me. “Kinda blah. Can’t you put some zing into it?”

“Sure,” I respond. “But it’s best to keep things simple. Using adjectives, adverbs and fancy verbs to describe tone of voice or show what’s going on just gets in the way of the action and characterization. This is what can happen—”

“Hello,” he croaked nervously. “My name is Horace. What’s yours?” he asked with as much aplomb as he could muster.
“Hi,” she squeaked uncertainly, turning in her chair to look at him. “I’m Gail Adams,” she said blushingly.
“Pleased to meet you,” Horace declared. “I’ve been wondering who you were for an hour,” he offered with a quaver in his voice.

“Ugh, that was awful, Gloria.” Piper grabs her throat and pretends to gag. “Can’t we go back to Vickie’s story?”Miss Frog

Piper had an attention span the size of a flea. “Not until I at least make my point. Now, what was wrong with that passage?”

“The dialog was amateurish—sounding stilted and forced. Why is that, I wonder?”

“It’s called author intrusion. The wish of an author is to create the illusion of reality, to make the reader forget he or she is reading a story rather than living it. Therefore, an author tries to hide herself to make the story seem as natural as possible. Adjectives and other sorts of descriptions tend to remind the reader that somebody’s controlling his or her interest.”

“But can’t that scene be livened up another way,” Piper asks, “and still keep the action and characterization going?”

“Absolutely. You can even start in medias res.”

“OK, showoff, what are you blathering about now?” The bunched brows are back.

“Hey, once in a while I can use writers’ jargon. After all, I am an author.”

“You are? Could’ve fooled me,” she retorts with a flattening of her lips.

“I’m doing this as illustration.”

“Uh-huh.” Arms crossed, she gives me a narrow-eyed appraisal.

I return Piper’s look with a frown of my own. Really. “I mean, can’t you give me a little credit?”

“Sorry,” she replies although her smirk tells me she is anything but.

“Do you want me to tell you what in medias res means, or not?”

“If you must.” Piper sighs and slumps against the back of her chair.

“It means ‘in the middle of things.’ And that’s where you’re supposed to start a narrative so as to get the action going and the reader involved as quickly as possible.”

“Yeah, yeah. You’re about as quick as a sloth. Starting in the middle of a scene? I mean, would anyone know what was happening?”

“You be the judge. Here’s another version of the same scene, but starting in the middle of it. Just listen to this . . .”

“Gail Adams,” she replied. “And yours?”
“Horace. I’ve been watching you for about an hour, and I finally couldn’t help approaching you. Forgive me.” Hands trembling, he set his coffee cup on the table before he dropped it and made an even bigger fool of himself. She was beautiful.

“Much better, Gloria!” Piper beamed at me. “See? I knew you were an author, and a rather decent one, at that.”
“Thank you,” I reply, abashed.

What’s Your Body Language IQ?

Margie LawsonBy Margie Lawson

THANK YOU to Joan Rhine for inviting me to join you all today – and to Gloria Harchar for posting the blog. I look forward to having fun with this topic,


Margie Lawson—psychologist, presenter, and writer—is a kinesics specialist, an expert on body language. A former college professor, she taught psychology and communication courses at the post-graduate level. Margie teaches on-line courses and presents full-day master classes and workshops across the U.S. and overseas. In 2008, she’s presenting 15 full day master classes including ones in New Zealand and Australia.

Want to WIN a Lecture Packet?

Anyone who posts a comment has a chance to win one of Margie Lawson’s LECTURE PACKETS (a $20 value):

1. Empowering Characters’ Emotions

2. Deep Editing: The EDITS System, Rhetorical Devices, and More

3. Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors

Descriptions of the courses are included at the end of the blog.

What’s Your Body Language IQ?

By Margie Lawson

Psychologist, Presenter, Writer

I’m intrigued with the unconscious power of body language. I developed a course, and master class, Empowering Characters’ Emotions, to teach writers how to write body language well and infuse it with psychological power.

Let’s start with a True/False quiz that I created. How well do you read body language?

1. Ninety-three percent of communication is nonverbal. T F

2. If people say the right words, it doesn’t matter how they say them. T F

3. Some people wait a few seconds before showing their nonverbal response. T F

4. Body language can only be interpreted one way. T F

5. People unconsciously mirror nonverbal behavior of others. T F

6. If the words and body language contradict each other, the listener believes the body language. T F

7. Facial expressions convey 85% of the nonverbal message. T F

8. People can cover up their emotions by keeping their face blank. T F

9. Lips carry more nonverbal messages than eyes. T F

10. When anxious, people touch their face more often. T F

STOP! Did you take the quiz? Ready for the answers?

Nonverbal Language

1. Ninety-three percent of communication is nonverbal. T F

TRUE – It’s a monstrous percentage — which is why people should monitor their nonverbals. Let’s look at the number one phobia in the U.S. – public speaking. If you’re nervous you may display a cluster of anxiety flags, e.g., rolling in lips, tightening mouth, evasive eye contact, halting gait, soft voice, modulated voice tones. If your anxiety escalates, your nonverbals become more pronounced: e.g., collapsed chest, shoulders forward, respiration rapid and shallow, pupils dilated, voice pitched high, face tight. You can project more confident body language, and you’ll feel more confident. You’ll teach yourself to extinguish some of these anxiety flags. People will react positively to the new, confident you. Pavlov’s conditioning is a powerful reinforcing agent. Over time, you won’t have to pretend to be confident . You will be confident.

2. If people say the right words, it doesn’t matter how they say them. T F

FALSE — An easy one. Vocal cues carry qualifying messages that support, tweak, or discount the words. Americans are pros at sarcasm. Watch your voice inflection, rate of speech, volume, and tone. Be sure your vocal cues support your message – unless you’re telling a joke.

3. Some people wait a few seconds before showing their nonverbal response. T F

FALSE — Nonverbal communication is continuous. It’s on-going. It never stops.

4. Body language can only be interpreted one way. T F

FALSE — An easy answer, with complex levels of application. Cognitively, people know there are multiple interpretations. Yet, people interpret nonverbals one way at an unconscious level and act on those feelings.

Let’s imagine a wife asks her husband to accompany her to visit her mother, and in the next half-second his gaze shifts away and back, he sighs, and his mouth tightens.

The wife reads his nonverbals, assumes her husband doesn’t want to go, and reacts before he can say anything. She says, “Forget it. I’ll go without you.” Her tone is sharp enough to cut a diamond (vocal cue and hyperbole). Her nonverbals — posture stiffening, eyes flashing, harsh vocal cues — surprise her husband.

He stares at her, his mouth open (confused) or closed tight (agitated). She turns, grabs the keys, and leaves, punctuating her anger by slamming the door. The husband stands there wondering what the heck happened.

Her question, asking him to go with her, triggered a thought. He recalled the car had a vibration the last time he drove it and he wondered if the tires needed to be balanced. His split-second nonverbal responses – shifting gaze, a sigh, and his mouth tightening – reflected his body responding to his thoughts about the tires. WHOOPS! The wife thought his nonverbals communicated that he didn’t want to go with her to visit her mother. She reacted with anger. He has no idea why she got angry and left. He probably thinks she’s PMS’y. ;-)))

Situations like that play out too frequently with couples, friends, coworkers. People misinterpret nuances of body language and take action. Misreading the escalating stimulus/response patterns of nonverbals, builds conflict. Pausing, realizing that body language can be interpreted in a gazillion ways, and getting clarification, can result in fewer slammed doors and more smiles.

5. People unconsciously mirror nonverbal behavior of others. T F

TRUE – and so fun! When you’re in a restaurant, watch couples and friends who like each other. They both lean forward seemingly at the same time. One leads by a nanosecond. They may reach for their beverages and drink at the same time. They mirror posture, gestures, facial expressions, voice patterns. Their body language looks choreographed.

6. If the words and body language contradict each other, the listener believes the body language. T F

TRUE — This answer was covered in #5. :-)))

7. Facial expressions convey 85% of the nonverbal message. T F

FALSE – Facial expressions are key, but vocal cues, posture, movements, spatial relationships, all contribute to the nonverbal message. Depending on the research, faces carry 30 to 50% of the nonverbal message.

8. People can cover up their emotions by keeping their face blank. T F

FALSE — Faces are never blank. Lips twitch. Nostrils flare. Eyes narrow or widen almost imperceptibly. Mouths barely open or barely tighten. Pupils dilate. Tips of tongues show when people moisten lips. To a kinesics specialist, these are all diagnostic indicators. To a writer, these are cues to write flicker-face emotions.

9. Lips carry more nonverbal messages than eyes. T F

TRUE – The lips do more. Watch people’s mouths. You’ll have more insight into their reactions.

10. When anxious, people touch their face more often. T F

TRUE – Self-Touch behaviors increase when people are anxious. They touch their face (cheek, eyebrow, lips, nose, ear), or near their face (throat, jaw, back of neck, behind ear, hair), or hands and arms.

Self-touch behaviors accelerate when anxiety is high. They are body language polygraphs. When people are in a job interview, when suspects are interrogated, when a guy proposes to his gal, self-touch behaviors significantly increase. The person who’s anxious may touch their face, throat, hand, or arm every 10 to 20 seconds, sometimes every couple of seconds, unaware of their self-touch behavior.

HOW DID YOU SCORE? Did you make a 100? 90? 80?

Chime in. I’ll respond throughout the day and this evening. Check back, I’ll respond.

Body language is fascinating. For those of you who are writers, you get to monitor your body language when you’re pitching to agents and editors, interacting with booksellers, introducing a speaker, being on a panel, presenting a workshop, and doing a book signing.

PLUS – When you’re capturing nonverbal communication on the page, you get to explore the full range of body language, and challenge yourself to write it fresh. Look at the power you have with body language. You can use nonverbals to complicate scenes and drive plot points. :-)))


Post a comment – and you’ll be included in the drawing to WIN one of my LECTURE PACKETS (a $20 value).

Here’s a brief description of each topic.

Empowering Characters’ Emotions (ECE) is offered on-line in March. Writers learn the full range of nonverbal communication, writing fresh, the Four Levels of Powering Up Emotion, and how to use her EDITS System.

In May, Margie teaches her advanced editing course on-line: Deep Editing: The EDITS System, Rhetorical Devices, and More. Writers take the EDITS System deeper, learn her Five Question Scene Checklist, dig deep into more editing techniques, and explore 25 rhetorical devices to take their writing to a higher level.

Margie also developed Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors, a power-packed on-line course and master class that helps writers defeat their self-defeating behaviors by accessing the writer’s strengths.

Lectures from each of Margie’s on-line courses are offered as Lecture Packets through PayPal from her web site. For more information on her courses, lecture packets, and presentations, visit her web site: http://www.MargieLawson.com .

The WINNER will be drawn at 9PM tonight. The WINNER will be posted here.

Thank you!


Amazon KindleI first heard about the Amazon Kindle when I was reading through posts from PASIC (Published Authors Special Interest Chapter). They were discussing the revision process and one author said that she liked to upload her manuscript on to her Kindle for a read-through, looking for mistakes. I’m not sure how she could correct the mistakes she found, or if she could mark the mistakes and then download the manuscript with the tagged errors back onto her computer — but I will research that out.

Anyway, I looked for the Kindle and found the description of it with a nice little video of the mechanism where it tells all of the features. It sounds fabulous. You don’t need wifi, where you have to be within range to the service to access it, or where you have to have a password. Instead, you can download anything anywhere you are through the same cyberspace waves that your cellphones use. Pretty neat, huh. It only weights about 9 ounces. It has paperback-looking pages that aren’t hard on the eyes. It holds 200 books. The downside to all this is that the gadget costs $400, (they quote $399 just to make it sound cheaper, but it is essentially $400).

Last year I was salivating over the new Sony Reader. I had to look it up to compare. Sony ReaderI think when I first saw it, the thing was about $400, also. Now it is $300, (or $299). Sony Readers have paperback-looking pages. It is about an ounce lighter than the Kindle. It only holds 160 books, but can hold more if you get a memory chip. Looking at the specifications, it sounds like you can upload your manuscript to the device as long as you have Microsoft Word. The description mentions a usb port, so it sounds as if the Sony Reader doesn’t use the cellphone waves to download like the Kindle does, which might be slightly inconvenient if you travel a lot.

I would like one of these gadgets. But I just got a new Toshiba laptop for Christmas from my dh. I guess I’m behind on my technical gadgets. I am really hoping that in another year the price of these items will go down! Surely they will. The Kindle sounds pretty convenient. Maybe I will get one next year for my Christmas present.

Something to look forward to. Do any of you own either a Kindle or a Sony Reader? If so, do you like it? Which one do you like better?

Oh, another thing. What I would really like to see is school textbook publishers to issue books in ebook format. My son has a huge backpack loaded down with heavy textbooks that he has to lug back and forth from home to school every day. It must weigh at least 120 pounds. One school I visited tried to help students by ordering classroom copies so the kids didn’t have to take their home editions back and forth. But really. I don’t understand why the publishers are so backward. They could charge just as much for each download and I’m sure lots of parents would buy that format for their children. Of course, the problem would be the exorbitant prices of eReaders . . . .


From Tabitha Shay

Hi Everyone
I’m so proud and honored to announce that I am one of the finalists for the PNR PEARL AWARD for Witch’s Brew for best paranormal romance debut author.If you don’t already have a favorite, please cast your final ballot for me….Wish me luck and thank you for your vote….Connie/Tabitha

NEW AUTHOR of 2007:
C. L. Wilson
Jeaniene Frost
Vicki Pettersson
Kimberly Adkins
Rachel Vincent
Tabitha Shay
http://paranormalro mance.org/ reviews.
I think this is the link that will take you to vote.Thank you for your vote…Tabitha

* Only listers of the PNR Groups can vote for PEARL.
* Listers may vote only once.
* No ballot will be accepted without a valid email address. All
emails are verified with an active subscription to one of the five
PNR lists or if you’re registered on
* Voting ends at the end of February 15th, 2008 (poll closes at
Midnight Eastern Time). Ballots are hand tallied so don’t wait until
the last minute.
* Results will be announced live at a PNR Chat on Monday, February
18th at 8 PM eastern. More info to come.

Comp Me

By Joan Rhine


I don’t know about you, but I always have so much more energy to do the things I know I’m good at–and I flounder when I have to do something I feel unsure about or feel I’m lacking the necessary expertise. Unfortunately, I often don’t give myself credit for things I’m actually good at because I think of how others can do it more naturally. Once that momentum is lost, I have such a hard time getting it back, and end up having to just push through. While that is hard–like swimming upstream–I tell myself the task won’t magically get done unless I do it, or unless I give up said task. And, for me, giving up is worse because I have all of those negative “you failed” feelings instead of relief that the job is out of my life. All of this is leading up to the fact that I often forget to use tools that are proven ways to make me do my writing job better. Let me explain–


My daughter is finally taking Freshmen Composition I this year. She’s in her third year of college, and should have taken it sooner, but there are several reasons why she didn’t: 1) she’s a very good writer, but she hates to write; 2) as a good writer who hates to write, she’s had no difficulty coming up with appropriate answer for essay questions and research papers in higher level classes, and argues that she shouldn’t have to take the course; and 3) because she just didn’t want to do it. So, she’s kept putting off taking the course, thinking it would magically become a non-issue and just go away. That hasn’t happened, of course, and since her mother is a writer the issue arises with the necessity of signing up for each new semester of classes. But the reason she finally took the class, the thing that beat out procrastination, the “I don’t want to’s,” and everything else she could argue with, is that she can’t take Comp II without taking the prerequisite, and she’s finally realized she really has to complete ALL of the general requirements if she expects to graduate. Tough lesson to learn, but we all have to get there sometime. That’s her story.


My story, on the other hand, is how even when we fulfill the general requirements in life, and absorb the knowledge necessary to graduate, we stupid humans forget to use our collective knowledge as the years go by. Since my daughter is taking an Internet course, and thus has no classmate sitting beside her for immediate feedback, it’s my job to help her get some excitement about the class. Without our conversations she only has the discussion boards, and while the technological idea is sound, there’s no real chance for immediate feedback.


Consequently, we’ve discussed all the pre-writing things that I hadn’t really fully thought about in—well, let’s just say a good number of years. She’s really enjoying the mapping and brainstorming ideas–she draws connected circles constantly now!–and talking to her has awakened options in me I hadn’t thought of using for decades (okay, there, I admit it’s been a long time since my Comp I class). I’ve periodically used freewriting when I’ve been stuck, but now I use it for practically every project. Just pushing myself for 10 minutes–to write on the topic, but not having to follow any rules–has helped me in the last couple of weeks. For example, her book reminds that it’s better to write the Introduction after the essay is completed, and the title last. It’s no wonder I find it so difficult to do each of these things when I write articles, since they’ve always been the *first* things I spent time working. If I’d realized all of this sooner, I would have hit a college bookstore and bought a used copy of a Comp I book long ago. It amazes me sometimes at the things I know and have forgotten. Going back over the prewriting rules, re-examining Exemplification with more mature eyes, and helping her understand why outlining will really help the writing come easier has been—well—fun. Honest.


I’m not saying I want to take the course again, and all of her pleading and puppy dog expressions will not keep me from saying “you have to learn these writing rules–now do your homework.” No, I’ve had my turn; I’ll just hold onto those memories, thank you. However, it does make me wonder what else I know that would make my life easier—but can’t remember to use.