Archives For edits

Programming note: Before we get on to Margie’s last blog with us, I just wanted to announce our second annual Author Crush Month. In honor of Valentines Day in February we are taking the entire month to have our favorite authors blog with us about their writing routines. (Use our search tool to find our “author crush” authors from last year!) It’s going to be a fantastic month, you won’t want to miss it.

Now, onto Margie Lawson! We are so going to miss her after this fabulous month of revision. In our behind-the scenes correspondence I’ve been calling it our Margie Extravaganza! Margie has been a joy to host. She is one hard-working lady! I know you have all benefited from her blogs this month. Here she is with her final word:

More Secrets to Writing Irresistible Fiction


The Five Question Scene Checklist

Margie LawsonMy Five Question Scene Checklist is tough, tough, tough. It’s lethal.

I developed my Five Question Scene Check list (5Q) for writers to use as a tool to assess all the facets of Margie-style deep editing. That’s psychologically anchored deep editing.

If you know me, you know I’m a Deep Edit guru. I analyze people, books, characters, plot, writing craft . . . Analysis is my world.

Most of what I teach in my editing courses is what I’ve created. It’s not your 10th grade English teacher’s editing.

I dig deep into my 5Q in the Deep Editing course I teach on-line in May. The 5Q consists of five questions. It’s the subsets that are killers.

The multiple subset questions make you analyze, assess, probe, and justify each line, paragraph, page, and scene.

Margie’s Killer 5 Q:

The Five Question Scene Checklist


Power Opening:

— Opening Hook?

— Anchored Reader in POV?

— Oriented Reader to Setting and Function?

— Used Cadence?

— Optional:  Used Rhetorical Device?

— Made Opening Compelling in Other Ways?  How?

Power Scene:

Fresh writing?

Nixed Clichés?



Character Description?




Used Which Rhetorical Devices?

The EDITS System – Balance?

— Emotion?

— Dialogue?

— Internalizations?

— Tension?

— Setting?

— DABS:  — Dialogue Cues

— Action

— Body Language

— Senses


Is dialogue character-specific?  Tight?  Natural?  Sentence fragments?

Can you put NYT in the margin by a line or paragraph that is so stellar it will boost you toward the New York Times Bestseller list?



Throw-away words?


Walking the Dog?

Could you delete a section and replace with a narrative line or paragraph, and still keep your reader hooked – and informed — and pick up the pace?


Is the POV character’s emotional set shared with the reader. How?  Where?

Add Power Words?


Add more Body Language and Dialogue Cues?   Specify:

Rewrite Body Language and Dialogue Cues to make them fresh?

Add more Visceral Responses?  Write them fresh?

Add more Emotional Hits?

— Take Basics to Complex?

— Complex to Empowered?

Add Power Internalizations?

Does a Turning Point need to be Empowered?

Hook at end of scene or chapter?


On every page, ask yourself, WHO CARES?

How can you make the problem count more?

Can you add a complication?

Can you make the situation worse?

Can you empower the writing to immerse the reader in the sentence? Paragraph?  Page?  Scene?


1)  Scrutinize each line. Do you need every word?  Does every word work?

2)  When each line passes inspection, place a red check mark in the right margin by the last word in that line.

Is every line checked?

3) RATE EACH PAGE:  Choose 1 – 10, 10 being your best work. Write the number at the top of each page. Circle it. Is it a 10?

If you can’t give that page a TEN – Why not?

What do you need to add?

What do you need to delete?


If it doesn’t rate a 10, tweak it. Rewrite. Get tough. Rewrite again. Apply the 5Q again.

When you get it to a 9.7 – 10, KNOW WHY.

Be prepared to defend your rating with your critique partners.


Let’s dig deep into three excerpts. I’ll analyze the first one.

Here’s an amplified example from Harlan Coben, LONG LOST.  My Deep Editing Analysis is below the example.

I was about to crack wise—something like “tell all your friends” or “sigh, another satisfied customer”—but something in her tone made me pull up. Something in her tone overwhelmed me and made me ache. I squeezed her hand and stayed silent and then I watched her walk away.


1. Showed WHAT WASN’T HAPPENING, what he didn’t say

2. Uses DIALOGUE CUE  —  describes how the dialogue was delivered

3. SPECIFICITY – throughout the passage

4. Rhetorical Device – A DOUBLE.  I made up that term – DOUBLE.   SOMETHING IN HER TONE is an intentional echo.  It’s almost the rhetorical device, anaphora — repetition of first word or phrases of three phrases or sentences in a row.   Powerful.

5. Second part of the DOUBLE – goes DEEPER.  Taps emotion.

6. TONE is used as a STIMULUS – and the reader gets FIVE RESPONSES from her TONE:  pull up (stop), overwhelmed, ache, squeezed hand, stayed silent, watched her walk away (did not follow her)

7. POV character shared what he intended to do, but didn’t – because of her TONE.

8. Rhetorical Device:  AMPLIFICATION:  developed emotion and showed all those responses


10. Rhetorical Device:  POLYSYNDETON – Last sentence uses multiple conjunctions and no commas.  Makes the read more imperative.

11. CADENCE – strong.

12.  Show EMOTIONAL SET of POV character changing from playful to angst

13. TAPS EMOTION in reader


15.  HOOKED ME.  DRAWS ME INTO THE STORY – Makes me want to read more.

Tana French, THE LIKENESS:

My hand was on the door handle when for a split second out of nowhere I was terrified, blue-blazing terrified, fear dropping straight through me like a jagged black stone falling fast.  I’d felt this before, in the limbo instants before I moved out of my aunt’s house, lost my virginity, took my oath as a police officer: those instants when the irrevocable thing you wanted so much suddenly turns real and solid, inches away and speeding at you, a bottomless river rising and no way back once it’s crossed.  I had to catch myself from crying out like a little kid drowning in terror,         I don’t want to do this any more.


Wally came over and touched Holman’s arm with fingers as light as a breath.

“He was killed last night. I’m sorry, man. I’m really, really sorry.”

Holman heard the words: he saw the pain in Wally’s eyes and felt the concern in Wally’s touch, but Wally and the room and the world left Holman behind like one car pulling away from another on a flat desert highway, Holman hitting the brakes, Wally hitting the gas, Holman watching the world race away.

That’s powerful writing.

It’s cotton-candy-on-your-tongue writing.  It makes you want more and more and more.

It’s the caliber of writing you find in some New York Times Bestsellers. It’s the caliber of writing you will find in books by Harlan Coben, Tana French, and Robert Crais.   :-)))

BLOG GUESTS:  It’s your turn!  I’m giving you options.

Option One:  Analyze the excerpt by Tana French or the one by Robert Crais.  Share something Tana or Robert did right.

Option Two:  Analyze the excerpt by Robert Crais.  Share something Robert did right.

Option Three: Apply one or more questions from the 5Q to a page or a scene in your Work In Progress. What did you learn?


I’d love to hear from you!

I’ll respond as time allows during my work day. I’ll be on-line in the evening (Mountain Time).


I will draw a name for a Lecture Packet, a $22 value, at 9PM Mountain Time. Winners may choose a Lecture Packet from one of my six on-line courses. Lecture Packets are available for all my courses through Paypal from my website,

1.  Empowering Characters’ Emotions

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

3.  Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist

4.  Powering Up Body Language in Real Life:

Projecting a Professional Persona When Pitching and Presenting

5.  Digging Deep into the EDITS System

6.  Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors

Margie Lawson —psychotherapist, writer, and international presenter—developed innovative editing systems and deep editing techniques for writers.

Her Deep Editing tools are used by all writers, from newbies to NYT Bestsellers.  She teaches writers how to edit for psychological power, how to hook the reader viscerally, how to create a page-turner.

Over four thousand writers have learned Margie’s psychologically-based deep editing material.  In the last five years, she presented fifty-four full day Master Classes for writers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Lectures from each of Margie’s on-line courses are offered as Lecture Packets through PayPal from her web site.  For more information on courses, lecture packets, master classes, and 3-day Immersion Master Class sessions, visit: .


NYT Bestseller, Brenda Novak, donates an amazing chunk of her life to fundraising for diabetes research.  She selflessly gives months of her energy, creativity, and what would have been writing time, family time, self-time to her DIABETES AUCTION.

For writers – it’s a warm-your-heart win-win.  Bid on one of the hundreds of items – support diabetes research and you may win an experience that changes your life. A plotting lunch with an agent or NYT bestseller at a national conference could contribute to a contract for you.

If you’re not familiar with this auction — it’s a gold mine for writers!
My husband and I love to support the Diabetes Auction.  With close to 1000 donations, if I don’t mention them . . . you might miss them.

Yikes – a Missed Opportunity!

Margie’s Donations:

1. A set of six Lecture Packets
2. A 50 page Triple Pass Deep Edit Critique

3. Registration for a Write At Sea Master Class by Marge Lawson on Deep Editing Power, April 4 -8, 2011; donation by Margie Lawson and Julia Hunter


You select the destination – any place within 600 nautical miles from Denver.

A weekend, you and a friend, plus my pilot-husband flying our four-seater plane, me, and a two-hour deep editing consult. The consult is on the ground.

THE DIABETES AUCTION runs from MAY 1ST to MAY 31ST. You can tour the
Diabetes Auction site now.

Brenda Novak is my hero.  What a way to give back.

Thank you for your time – and thank you for joining us today!

All smiles…………Margie



 am in the final (relative term) edit stage of WIP #1. I thought I’d be done sooner than this, partly because I am getting tired of working on this one story and want to move on, and partly because I didn’t know what else to do to it!


So when Kitty suggested we meet for a writer’s retreat I thought this would be the ideal time to knock out those final edits. (FYI–It’s scary just how many books two writers bring with them on a writer’s retreat!) I brought ALL my WIPs with me—notebooks, partials, outlines—just in case I finished the final edit on said WIP. Ha! HA!


Just when you think you can’t do anything else…you find out you can. You just have to stretch yourself a little further. Push through the hard parts and get it done.


My plot inventory gave me that big picture look. Then it became the tool that allowed me to systematically examine each scene a la Jordan Rosenfeld.


Then Kitty turned to her huge stack of books and handed me “Revision & Self-Editing” by my new BFF, James Scott Bell. His book is a great overview of all my favorite writing principles—all in one book. Chapter 16 offers the Ultimate Revision Checklist which helped kick-start my mid-week editing slump.


The tip I am working through now is the one that helps you set the mood or tone of the novel. Make a list of words you want your readers to feel when they read your book. Then come up with a list of sensory words that go with each word. His example is to take a word like “outrage” and come up with word associations like: red, fire, noise, crashing, screams, bitterness (p.247). Now you can go through your novel adding these sensory words like “spice”—“They work best when applied sparingly but for a purpose.”


Seems so simple and obvious, but why didn’t I think of it? Tips like this make Mr. Bell my new BFF.


So where am I now on this WIP? I am at the stage where I’m paying close attention to the words and word pictures I use. I’m reading (and studying) the language used in “The Book Thief” by Marcus Zusak. His words are simple but pack a punch. Do mine? Will mine?


Examples: p. 62 describing a marching Nazi Party: “…their faces held high, as if on sticks.” And then someone watching the march: “…who stood like a human-shaped block of wood, clapping slow and dutiful.” 


Or this on p. 80: “She was the book thief without the words. Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would ring them out like the rain.”


Madeleine L’Engle said, “Your goal is to make the book as good a book as you can possibly write at this particular stage in your life. And you don’t stop until you’ve done that, and when you have done that, it’s a mistake to play around with it because then you’ll just succeed in ruining it. You begin to sense the point at which you have done as much revising as you can do. It’s not exactly right, you haven’t served it as well as it should be served, but that’s as far as you can go.” – Madeleine L’Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life p. 224


I can still tell that I’m not done yet, but each time I force myself to do the hard work of editing, I get a little closer.

Intro note: Sadly, this is Jordan’s last scheduled blog with Routines for Writers. What an informative month we’ve had picking her brain about how to improve our writing craft, particularly in the context of scenes! Thank you so much, Jordan! I’ve enjoyed getting to know you through your book, these blogs, and the emails we’ve sent back and forth. Be sure to stay in touch! Now here’s Jordan:

Ah, final edits. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? As if not only will we know the minute we’ve reached the end of our work-in-progress, but will have to do little more than correct a few typos and massage a few paragraphs. I wish it were so.

As an editor I see two common problems: The writer assumes she is done before she really is. Or, the writer can’t let go of the project and edits it to death. More commonly I see the former. We feel done because writing can be exhausting work—building all those people with complex lives and stories takes a lot of imagination and elbow grease. But revision is where the work really begins, I’m afraid.

Editing should be a process of several, if not many, drafts. So for me, the final edit stage for me is the last wave of many that have gone before it.

When you believe you are truly done with your manuscript—meaning you have a complete story, with solid characters, a beginning, middle and end, and a plot that makes sense, you can edit in waves:


· Identify vignettes. These are scenes that don’t contribute to your plot or character development, in which nothing new is revealed or learned. Just pretty little tangents and asides or character flashbacks. Cut these, or transform them into scenes.

· Scene:Summary ratio. Next, check your scene to narrative summary ratios. Is there still too much “telling” that could be modified into action and dialogue, or cut altogether? Have you taken too many omniscient liberties to “tell” large passages of descriptive info?

· Scene integrity: Look at the structure of each of your scenes. And I do mean “each.” Do they all begin and end in the right place? That is to say, do they launch in a way that compels the reader, and end in a way that keeps the reader hungry for more? Are they too short or too long?

· Scene types: Notice the kinds of scenes you’ve got. Do you have too many dialogue-heavy scenes? Too much intense action? Not enough? See if you can’t lend some variety, if so, by softening or tightening up the intensity and variety of scene types as needed.

· Character Shift: Has your character undergone a shift or change of some kind, learned something or become better by the end of your novel? If not, you’ve got work to do. Is his or her voice distinct and compelling—a stand-out character that will be unique and unforgettable?

And finally, at the very end of the larger edits, then you go through in smaller waves:

· Sentence variety. Not too many sentences of the same length.

· Repeating words, clichés. Cut redundancies. Scout out clichés.

· Dialogue tags/adverbs. Transform your adverbs into actions. Where people do and say things “angrily,” “hungrily,” and “desperately,” instead make sure their actions and words clearly convey that they are angry, hungry and desperate.

· Bulky, or prose-cumbersome sentences: Elide unnecessary words. Condense and pare out unnecessary metaphors, similes and descriptive words.

If you want a handy cheat-sheet, the last chapter of my book Make A Scene is devoted to assessing your scenes.

Jordan E. Rosenfeld is a fiction writer, freelance journalist and editor. She is the author of the books, Make A Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time (Writer’s Digest Books) and Write Free! Attracting the Creative Life with Rebecca Lawton ( Jordan is also a contributing editor & columnist to Writer’s Digest magazine. Her articles have also appeared in such publications as, The San Francisco Chronicle, The St. Petersburg Times, The Writer and more. Her book reviews are regularly featured on The California Report, a news-magazine produced by NPR-affiliate KQED radio.

Visit her blog: