Justine: 6 Colors to a Better Book?

justine covington, margie lawson, eight ladies writingRecently, I was looking for information on the web related to taking my writing to the next level — the third-and-hopefully-final revision level. I’ve written the first draft. I’m working on the second draft. What I feel I need help with, though, is the third (and beyond) draft. The one that really amps up my writing, makes it un-put-down-able, and a winner (hopefully for not only scoring an agent/contract, but also the coveted “Golden Heart” award for unpublished authors given each year by RWA).

One of the sites I stumbled upon is Margie Lawson’s. She’s a psychologist, teacher, and writer, and she has a very interesting color-coded system for editing your work. Different attributes are given different colors, so you can analyze them and make a more “informed” decision about what you should change.

The six colors she uses are blue, yellow, green, orange, pink, and red. I don’t want to give away too much of her system, which she calls the EDITS system, because it’s copyrighted, but I’ll give you an idea of how it works.

When you finish a scene/chapter, you go through with five highlighters and a red pen and mark things like setting, dialogue, action, internalizations or back story, visceral reactions, etc., each in a different color. You can then scan at a page level or a color level to see what you might need to change. Is there too big a block of dialogue? Maybe break it up with some action/setting (like taking a drink or moving around somehow), or perhaps you make the dialogue more ping-pong and less he-said/she-said. No visceral reaction in the scene? Figure out where you can incorporate it. Too much visceral? Tone it down. Don’t identify setting enough at the beginning of a scene? Give the characters a sense of place. She also has several other techniques she teaches to help improve your writing.

Margie teaches several classes related to EDITS and also does in-person Immersion classes, where she takes 5-6 people (or less) and works with them all for 3-4 days on improving not only using the EDITS system, but analyzing the results and making your writing “fresh.” There are three prerequisite classes to this, which I’m working through now. Unfortunately, she’s booked for Immersion through most of next year!

I’ve recently started working with a new member of my local RWA chapter who has done Margie’s Immersion class. Her writing is very good. VERY good. It’s FRESH. It’s interesting. It’s un-put-down-able…basically all the things I want my writing to be.

My post probably sounds like a plug for Margie Lawson, and perhaps it is, but for someone like me, who feels pretty good about “big picture” things like conflict and GMC, this is the next logical step. I think what I’ve written so far for Three Proposals is good, but I want it to be GREAT. Margie may not be the end-all, be-all, but I think her EDITS system is an excellent start.

10 thoughts on “Justine: 6 Colors to a Better Book?

  1. I’ve taken an EDITS class, and while the color-coding is important, she also talks about structure, etc., so that when the colors pop, you know what to do with those blocks. The colors can really help people see imbalances in their work. It’s showing, not telling, at a visual level. I think this system probably is especially useful for those who are tuned in to color and graphics. I’m so lazy, I got tired of the underlining and the switching of the pens. But that’s just me. I really do see the value of this format. (And I’ve still got the pens! It’s never too late!)

    I hope it takes you where you want to go!

    • I’m definitely a picture/color/visual person, so seeing everything in 6 different colors is immensely helpful. I’m also anal retentive enough to love the highlighting (just bought 6 packs of highlighters that Staples had on sale for $1 each!). The other thing I’ve noticed with the highlighting (particularly dialogue) is I actually see what I’m writing. Because I’m not reading everything straight through (I highlight dialogue first, setting second, visceral reactions third, etc. basically one color at a time), I’m seeing the words differently; mostly seeing how I could change them (or mistakes I’ve made, which I’m embarrassed to say I found one even though that scene has gone through umpteen edits — by other people, too! — and the mistake made it into the entries I submitted to contests).

      The other thing I notice when I highlight one color at a time is my repetitiveness. Frex, my characters do a lot of staring, looking, sitting, leaning, raising eyebrows, etc. And I use those same words repeatedly! Their body language is practically non-existent and/or they do the same thing over and over. That’s the sort of thing I need to take to the next level. Same with dialogue. I have blocks and blocks of dialogue. I suppose it’s better than it all being internalizations, but still…it doesn’t need to be in big chunks, either.

  2. The EDITS system looks like a good one to analyze a manuscript, particularly if the writer is a visual learner. I don’t think you can have enough different ways to approach a manuscript and edits. If one doesn’t work or doesn’t completely do the job, pick another. I’ll have to look into the EDITS thing. It sounds interesting.

    • I agree, Michille, that we have to use whatever tools work for us to help bring out our best. EDITS may work for me, but I’m more left-brained and analytical. Someone who’s more creative and right-brained, or not visual, as I am, may have more trouble with it or find it’s not as useful.

  3. I talked to a couple of writers at RWA National who also strongly recommended Margie Lawson, Justine. I like the sound of the EDITS system as it would be a simple, effective way to check whether I have grounded my scenes with enough description and supported my characters’ internal reactions with external, physical responses. I know I fall down in those areas.

    I think Margie did a workshop at National, so I’m going to check to see whether she did, and whether it was recorded. I’m not especially visual, but I agree with Michille – it helps to have a variety of editing tools to choose from, and this one sounds like a keeper.

    • Margie made a funny comment in one of her lessons. She said that she frequently forgets to describe what her characters are wearing and from that, she concludes (tongue-in-cheek) that they’re naked!

      She also has a left-brain/right-brain test in her lessons and I’m definitely more of a left-brain person, so this sort of analyzing is right up my cranial alley.

    • Scrivener does (for words, not phrases, and unfortunately, you can’t exclude words like “the,” “a,” or “said”). Click Project > Text Statistics, then click the down arrow to expand Word Frequency. You can click the headings to sort by that heading — Word, Count, and a Frequency graph.

      I think my macro-level problem is knowing what to have in the book, but not necessarily knowing in which order to present things. I often put a visceral reaction (like increased heart rate) at an odd place relative to the action that sparked the reaction. EDITS helps with that sort of thing (at least I am seeing that my visceral reactions are separated from the action that brought it on).

      I’ll have to check out the link Rachel posted. Thanks!

      • I checked out EditMinion and it’s pretty cool! I like how it highlighted my clichés and passive voice (not so much), as well as my adverbs (oops, that’s where my trouble lies, but I already knew that). I’ll definitely be going back to that in the future. Thanks for the rec!

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