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.


No, this isn’t going to be a plea to get you out of your chair to exercise (though I could use more, I know).  Just like we get too settled in our comfy chairs, we let our writing selves get too settled in what we’re used to writing.  Not that we’re necesarily happy or even satisfied with this, but we don’t think to struggle and stretch to give our writing the kind of hurdles that make ourselves and readers finish reading out of breath and wanting more.

To combat complacency, I’ve been trying to enter every “short” contest I can find lately that doesn’t require me to snail mail an entry.  And I’ve been surprised at how many free or relatively inexpensive ones are out there.  Here are a couple of my current favorites.

 The Verb newsletter has one every quarter, and the call right now is for Killer/Thriller stories that are 1000 words or less.  This contest offers a cash price, and the guidelines are posted at http://www.readingwriters.com/contest.htm.  But don’t forget to also sign up for the newsletter–it’s really wonderful.

Another free set of contests is running on the bloglist for the Bookends Literary Agency at www.bookendslitagency.blogspot.com.  While there is no cash prize, the winners and runners-up receive a review of the first chapter, synopsis and query letter of the entry by one of the agents.  What a deal, huh?  The kicker is that your entry rides on the first 100 words of your work–and not one word more.  Talk about first impressions!  Contests for women’s fiction and romantic suspense are coming in the next few weeks.  I’m currently waiting to see if my suspense/thriller makes the cut. One caveat–these contests are not announced ahead of time. You have to visit the bloglist often and be ready to rip, since you only have that day to enter in the comments section.  However, even if you have to check the blog regularly, the posts they put up each day are worth reading and always give me new info. And even if you don’t win, they not only post the winning entries, but also explain why they chose each one.

These kinds of contests teach me to write tight.  Keeping the focus true to the subject is something that takes practice. It’s easy to think our words are too precious, and contests like these are a way to help me keep my words sharp and on-point.

Another good spot to check out free contests is the Harlequin website.  They recently ran a contest for their Presents line that called for just the first chapter and synopsis to be posted online. I heard they are also looking for stories for their new paranormal Nocturnal line, but I since I don’t write those I don’t know all the details.  Guess that might be a new stretch I should consider, huh?

So never let yourself get into a rut.  Do a search on “contests” or sign up for new writers e-letters and read them.  It’s easy to say we don’t have time to read or write something new “just because.” But you might be surprised by what you write, or you may find that old project you pulled out and polished up for the contest gives you new ideas now that you didn’t even consider months ago when the momentum seemed to be gone.

 Stretch into new directions and find yourself getting reinvigorated! 

Writing still surprises

I make a living writing nonfiction.  And, here’s my confession: I sometimes take it for granted. 

Nonfiction seldom gives me that jolt of surprise that fiction does–you know, like when you read something you know you wrote, but the first thought that comes into your head is “I wrote that? That’s good!”  What nonfiction does do is keep me writing to deadline, make me see how certain words and phrases can make an idea clearer.  Nonfiction also makes me listen to what other people want out of my writing, forcing me to come up with clever ways to fill that need.  Best of all, nonfiction provides me with regular paychecks.

 Still, when I look for challenges like writing contests, I always focus on fiction–just like millions of other writers.  I honestly have to say that when I do enter in nonfiction contest categories, I usually place in the top three, regardless of if the contest is local or national.  And nonfiction provides me with validations that I cannot possibly get from fiction.  For example:

* Helping a 70+ year old man write his fascinating life story

* Discovering in Sunday school class that one of the members has been carrying around a clipping of one of my articles because she wanted to talk to her doctor about it–without even realizing that I had written it.

*Receiving thank-you notes from people I’ve profiled, or local health agencies that appreciate me helping spread information about their cause with my article topics.

 This last week, as if the above doesn’t give enough reason, I found I’d won a national award I didn’t even know I was entered in, because my work was read and recognized by people reviewing my College Planner articles for Tulsa Kids Magazine.  This is a yearly supplement the editor and I started a few years ago to help educate parents about all the things they needed to be aware of before their high schoolers began the college path.  And, of course, since both she and I had kids approaching that new hurdle we suddenly realized how little we knew about the whole process.

 Long story short, this became an annual ritual, and just part of my writing year.  I didn’t mean to take it for granted, really, but I guess I did just because so much of what I was writing about each time was just reworking what I already knew into a new article.  And that’s hard.

So, as much as I appreciated this surprise award, I appreciated more the kick in the pants it gave me, reminding me that people use the information I provide.  While it may not be a great gift, it’s one I seem to be pretty good at.  Hopefully, it will keep me searching out new and entertaining ways to improve my nonfiction prose in the future.

 So, never take a writing project for granted, folks.  It may have to come and slap you around a little if you do.

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!

Letters We Write By

Acronyms.  We know them, we use them.  Often, we write by them.  Some of these are obvious, but bear with me…

POV – Point of view
ms – Manuscript
SASE – Self-addressed stamped envelope
IRC – International reply coupon
FNASR – First North American Serial Rights
BIC – Bottom in chair
BICHOK – Bottom in chair, hands on keyboard

Let me add a new one.

JHS – Just Hit Send

What is Just Hit Send?

It’s the philosophy I’ve been writing by lately. 

In either September or October, I joined a challenge on the freelance writing board of the Absolute Write Water Cooler.  (There’s another acronym for you: AWWC.)

I started small.  Compared to some of them, my goals are still small.  But I am submitting.  That’s the point.

You could say JHS is a complement to the BICHOK principle.

I mean, really, if I’m going to write it, I might as well send it.  And soon I’ll start getting paying acceptances.


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.