Last week I got to work with Margie Lawson at her home in Colorado (elevation 8500 ft. and yes, it snowed!). I was there for an Immersion Master Class, an intensive 4-day, small-group class where she uses her experience as a psychotherapist to help writers make the most of their words.
It was an amazing experience.
We spent the first half of each day working as a group under Margie’s instruction. She teaches us about various rhetorical devices and other tools to use to amp up our writing. In the afternoon, we each get about 30-45 minutes working with her one-on-one on our manuscript. Because I’m already taking another class with her, we were able to get through my entire first chapter and in my opinion, it’s SO much better than it was before.
One of the key takeaways I got from Immersion happened when Margie and I were working together. We were going through the second half of the first chapter, which is in Nate’s POV. I had a line in there about Nate’s reaction to Susannah. It went something like this:
“Go away,” she said, without looking up.
Nate suppressed a grin. She was so much more interesting than the society ladies of his acquaintance. She wasn’t coy. She wasn’t scheming. She was direct and fresh as a warm spring breeze.
It’s decent. Not perfect, but not horrible, either.
Then Margie asked me a question. “What is Nate’s truth?”
“His truth. What is his life? What has it been? What is it now?”
I sat there on her Cozy Couch in the Cozy Room and thought about it for a minute.
I told Margie that Nate is a spy. For the last 10 years or so. That means lots of lying, lots of hiding, lots of not-telling-the-truth or trying-to-find-the-truth. Socially, he’s surrounded by women who want to land him as a husband. They’re calculating, as are their mamas. They want his title. They’re not really interested in him. Then he meets this girl who is direct, a bit of a potty-mouth, unconventional, and totally not interested in him. It’s a mind-blowing moment.
Margie and I spent a bit more time discussing Nate’s “truth,” then I went back to the kitchen, where the other Immersioners were working, to see if I could come up with something more original to demonstrate his feelings towards Susannah.
This is what I ultimately settled on:
“Go away.” She didn’t even look up.
Nate tried not to laugh. Every other woman wanted to entice him, to tempt him, to trap him. Yet she…she was guileless. Not coy. Not cunning.
She was everything the last ten years of his life was not.
I got kudos from Margie (and the other Immersioners) when I ran that by them later, and quite honestly, I’m pretty proud of it. I think my revised passage gives some great insight into what makes Nate tick and why Susannah is so appealing to him.
I took Margie’s “truth” idea and began looking more closely at other things I had written. I actually ended up rearranging (and cutting) a lot of stuff from Chapter 2, which is all Nate’s POV. But the stuff I cut didn’t reveal anything about Nate’s character. It was just info-sharing (aka, showing off my mad research skills).
We didn’t discuss the “truth” stuff until the second half of my first chapter, so I’m eager to go back into the first half (which is in Susannah’s POV) and see what changes I need to make there to identify her truths. I already know a few changes I need to make in future chapters.
Margie’s insight into finding, recognizing, and capitalizing on my character’s truth, and making sure that the actions, reactions, metaphors, similes, and words I choose fit that truth, was one of the highlights of my week.
There were many more, but I’ll save them for another post.
If you’re interested in learning more about Margie Lawson’s Immersion Master Class or the other classes offered at Lawson’s Writers Academy, you can read up on them here.