GET FRESH: Write Heart-pounding Visceral Responses! ~ Guest Post by Margie Lawson

Happy Valentine’s Day to my pals here at More Cowbell!

Yesterday, I took you to the “Hopeless” Pit of Valentine’s Despair. Today I’m counting on Margie Lawson to lift you to the pinnacle of writing love with some of her amazing tips.

I couldn’t think of a better  present to give y’all on a day where I wanted you to feel the love. Margie is covering “visceral responses” and all I can say is WOW!


Big Valentine’s Day Hugs to Jenny Hansen!

Thank you for being a SWEETHEART and inviting me to be your GUEST SWEETIE today!

Get Fresh:
Write Heart-pounding Visceral Responses!

Remember the last movie you saw that made you feel what an actor was feeling?

You were totally immersed in that movie world. So emotionally engaged, you tuned out reality. You focused on an actor’s experience from scene to scene, and felt surprised or worried, happy or scared.

Writers strive to write books that hook readers like the best movie they’ve ever seen.

I teach writers how to write and deep edit to hook the reader viscerally. When the POV character’s heart pounds, the reader’s hand goes to their chest.

One of the 7,485 deep editing goodies I teach writers is the importance of including visceral responses in some scenes. If it’s a heavy-emotion scene, I’d expect the POV character to experience a strong emotional stimulus. I’d also expect that POV character to have a strong visceral response.

Some writers keep their POV characters reacting to emotional stimuli in their head, thinking, cognitively processing the experience. They may think, or react, or dialogue. If it’s a big stimulus and the writer doesn’t give the POV character a visceral response, they’ve missed an opportunity to draw the reader deeper into the scene. They’ve missed an opportunity to write a page-turner.

If the POV character intellectualizes, the reader intellectualizes too.

If the reader intellectualizes, they are not viscerally engaged. They are not hooked.

Are you with me?

OK – some of you look confused. Need examples of visceral responses?

Visceral responses include:

  • Heart pounding
  • Stomach lurching
  • Pulse racing
  • Legs going weak
  • Feeling light-headed
  • Vision narrowing
  • Adrenaline surging

A big challenge for writers is to write visceral responses fresh, and amplify them in fresh ways. Clichéd and overused visceral responses are boring. Predictable. We’ve all read them too often.

It’s okay on occasion to have a quick hit of a basic visceral. But I vote for working harder and writing fresh visceral responses too. Writing fresh will boost you toward a contract or onto a bestseller list.

Since it is Valentine’s Day, I’ll share heart-beating examples from three of my Margie-grad sweethearts, Nikki Duncan, Christa Allan, and Darynda Jones. I selected examples from these three because they all have recent releases. Enjoy!

Nikki Duncan has taken all my online courses, heard me present workshops in Dallas, and attended one of my Immersion Master Classes at my home in Denver. Here are three examples from her December release, TANGLED IN TULLE.

Nikki Duncan, TANGLED IN TULLE, First Example:

Her heart trembled within its shrinking cage. Hopes, doubts, fears coalesced and lodged into a word barricade in her throat.

Fresh writing! Compelling cadence. And, Nikki used the rhetorical device, asyndeton, to make the read more imperative. She omitted AND in this series: Hopes, doubts, fears coalesced . . . Well done!

Second Example:

You see the man who can grant your dreams. Misty’s conviction-filled words rushed Lori and shoved their hopeful way into her hammering heart.

Love that cadence! Please read that one out loud.

Did you notice Nikki used another rhetorical device? It’s parallelism. She balanced the end of the sentence. She also used alliteration. It may be subtle, but it carries power.

Third Example, Four paragraphs: (They’re in his car. He leans across her to close the door.)

With his torso brushing hers, his lips lingering close, he stared into her eyes. Her slip-n-sliding belly skidded. Her teeter tottering heart trembled, transfixed on an upward totter. He was going to kiss her.

She licked her lips and canted forward. Cravings crashed through her, dared her to suggest they head back inside for some alone time.

“Buckle up.” Trevor patted her leg and sat up, leaving her hungry and confused.

“Where are we going?” She reached for the seatbelt. That was twice now he hadn’t taken the kiss. Twice he’d riled her up, flipped the switch on her arousal, and turned away. There wouldn’t be a third.

Woohoo! Fresh and fun visceral responses! I bet you all are smiling. Fresh writing. Strong pacing. An emotional switchback. Excellent excerpt!

Christa Allan, another Margie-grad, says she writes not your usual Christian fiction. Christa attended two of my 6 hour master classes (Dallas and Minneapolis), took my online courses, and reviewed some Lecture Packets for courses—before she got her first contract. Her third book, LOVE FINDS YOU IN NEW ORLEANS, her first historical, was released last week. Enjoy these two examples from LOVE FINDS YOU IN NEW ORLEANS.

First Example:

She thought of Jacob and Tom, and heart pangs replaced her hunger pains.

Short and powerful! Love the play on words.

Second Example:

He didn’t give her time to think about the slow heat that rose from where his fingertips pressed into her, that made her heart race as if it could outrun the very warmth it craved, or the fire he created when he kissed first one eye, then the other. His lips…his lips gently kissed their way down the curve of her cheek, and when she felt them on her mouth, everything in her begged to melt into this one moment.

Wow! Christa draws the reader into that sensual experience—and makes the reader beg to melt into that scene!

RWA Golden Heart winner, Darynda Jones took my online courses before she got her first contract. FIRST GRAVE ON THE RIGHT was released Feb. 2011. It was the first novel in a three-book series sold in a pre-empt to Jennifer Enderlin at St. Martin’s.

Darynda Jones, FIRST GRAVE ON THE RIGHT, First Example:

Still reeling from the potential identity of Dream Guy, I wrapped myself in the towel and slid open the shower curtain. Sussman poked his head through the door, and my heart took a belly dive into the shallow end of shock, cutting itself on the jagged nerve ending there.

I jumped, then placed a calming hand over my heart, annoyed that I was still so easily surprised. As many times as I’ve seen dead people appear out of nowhere, you’d think I’d be used to it.

Whoops! I neglected to let you know that Darynda’s main character, Charley, is the Grim Reaper. 🙂

Notice the FRESH VISCERAL RESPONSE is amplified. Notice the perfect cadence. Notice the humor!


When I opened the door, Zeke Herschel, Rosie’s abusive husband, stood across from me with vengeance in his eyes. I glanced at the nickel-plated pistol clenched in his hand and felt my hearbeat falter, hesitate, then stumble awkwardly forward, tripping on the next beat, then the next, faster and faster until each one tumbled into the other like the drumroll of dominoes crashing together.

Yes! Fresh, fresh, fresh writing.

Darynda amplified this visceral response big time, because it’s a big time oh-shit-moment for Charley.

Please read the example again. Out loud. You’ll hear how the run-on sentence empowers the read.


The thought of Reyes being taken down by a group of marshals clamped and glued my teeth together for a long moment, squeezed the chambers in my heart shut.

Well done!


With a growl, his black robe materialized around him, around us, and a hand thrust out and locked on to my throat. In the time it took my heart to beat again, I was thrown against the shower wall with a razor-sharp blade glistening in front of my face.

Good example of slipping a hit of visceral into an action scene.


My innards were in turmoil, but leaning toward happy, as desperate and pathetic as my innards were. Mostly ’cause Reyes did things to them. Delicious, devilish, heart-stoppingly decadent things. Damn him.

Notice the alliteration and the cadence. Powerful!


I’d refused to come out from behind the shower curtain, and the shower curtain paid the price for my impudence.

“This one is new,” I said, a warning in my voice. “And I like the length.”

He smiled. “Thank you.”

“I was talking about the curtain,” I said, though my heart skipped a pertinent beat at the reminder.

Ha! Love Darynda’s humor!

Notice how one word (pertinent)  turned a clichéd visceral response (my heart skipped a beat)  into cliché play. Fun!

THIRD GRAVE DEAD AHEAD was released January 31st.

Wrapping Up

The examples in this blog share fresh psychologically empowered writing. It’s chocolate-mousse-on-your-tongue writing. It makes the reader want more and more and more. It’s the caliber of writing you find in some debut books, and in some New York Times Bestsellers.

I stated earlier, that what I’m sharing in this blog is one of the 7,485 tips, techniques, or systems I teach writers to strengthen their writing. That could be hyperbole. Margie-grads know it could be an understatement. 🙂

I developed seven writing craft courses totaling over 2400 pages of lectures. No hyperbole!

Most of my courses are 350+ pages long. Each course is loaded with deep editing techniques I created, as well as lots of stellar examples, dig-deep analyses, and teaching points. Please drop by my web site and check out the full line-up of courses offered by Lawson Writer’s Academy.

POST A COMMENT AND YOU MAY WIN a Lecture Packet or an online course by Margie Lawson, or Tiffany Lawson Inman, from Lawson Writer’s Academy! 

Online Classes offered by Lawson Writer’s Academy in March:

1. Using the Rule of Six for Plotting
Instructor: Shirley Jump

2. M&Ms for Characters: Milieu & Motivation
Instructor: Sharon Mignerey

3. Successful Authors Embrace Social Media-Early, Fast, and Often
Instructor: Tamela Buhrke

4. 77 Secrets to Writing Young Adult Fiction That Sells!
Instructor: Tiffany Lawson Inman

5. Deep Editing: The EDITS System, Rhetorical Devices, and More
Instructor:  Margie Lawson

Catch the SWEET DEAL!  Register for Margie’s or Tiffany’s March class by March 1st — and you could WIN an 8 page edit!

I’ll post the Comment winner’s name tonight, 9PM Mountain Time.
Thank you for visiting MORE COWBELL today!

Margie Lawson —psychotherapist, editor, and international presenter—developed innovative editing systems and deep editing techniques used by 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.

Thousands of writers have learned Margie’s psychologically-based deep editing material. In the last seven years, she presented over sixty full day Master Classes for writers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

For more information on Lawson Writer’s Academy, lecture packets, full day master classes, and the 5-day Immersion Master Class sessions offered in her Colorado mountain-top home, visit:

About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm ( Write on!
This entry was posted in Amazing Writers, Techie Tuesday and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

83 Responses to GET FRESH: Write Heart-pounding Visceral Responses! ~ Guest Post by Margie Lawson

  1. Sharon says:

    I’m taking a class from Margie right now and it is amazing. I am learning so much. Last night read a book and knew the author had taken a class from Margie as well. The writing was so fresh and fun to read I couldn’t put it down.


    • Hey Sharon!

      So fun to work with you in Empowering Characters’ Emotions!

      Learn all 7,485 deep editing tips, and you’ll write an unputdownable book and get it published too. 🙂


  2. Sherry Isaac says:

    Oh, Margie, I don’t want to read these teaser-fantastic examples! Every time you post and share your Margie Grad’s work, the to-be-read pile in my mind teeters with the weight of added books!


  3. Squee! It’s Margie and Jenny on Valentine’s day.

    So glad you threw that hyperbole out there on the 7,485 techniques, Margie.

    My shiny-bauble brain was geared to dig deep into the lectures to catalog them.

    RhetT DevlisHt already hounds me to download your latest lecture packets so he has the NEW ones you’ve added since I took your classes (You actively crafty person, you.).

    In summary: You teach TONS of good techniques. The nifty thing about your lectures (for those not yet *gasp* familiar with Margie Magic) is they are page-clickers. Much like the quick read why-didn’t-I think-of-that examples and analysis in this post.

    You put energy on the page. Make learning fun.

    And, no, I’m not going to show off with one of your rhetorical devices, because Sherry is on her way over here. I want to beat her to the comment post. Look out! We’re on our way for FAB30 in April! Squee!


    • Gloria —

      I miscounted. Make that 7,487 deep editing tips.:-)

      Looking forward to MAKING YOU AND SHERRY WORK in Fab 30 in April. Swing by Home Depot for wood. You’ll need to build more shelves in your brain to hold more deep editing goodies!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I know! *jumping up and down* How exciting is this??

      Happy Valentine’s Day, Gloria – may there be lots of lovin’ in you neck of the woods. 🙂


  4. Sherry Isaac says:

    Ahem. Gloria? I believe, 7,485, in relation to the number of techniques Margie teaches, is an understatement. That Margie merely teaches is an understatement. That I ate too many nacho chips before going to bed… is also an understatement.


    What a Valentine’s Day gift! Thank you Margie and Jenny for that…I am fanning myself! 🙂
    I am with Sherry, now I have all these incredible books to add to my TBR pile. Incredible writing that ripped right off my screen. I am intrigued. I am inspired. I want to write like THAT! Wowzers. I will definitely be signing up for some courses at some point this year!!
    Margie, how far in the writing process does one need to be to take your courses (and get the most out of them)? I have no manuscript yet – only hundreds of ideas running around in my head fighting to be numero uno and a healthy fear of commitment. I’d love to take your course on deep editing but I wonder if I should wait until I have a fair amount of words on the page?
    Fabulous post ladies – thank you so much for sharing. Reading it gets me all FIRED up to write like a mad woman!


    • Hello Natalie —

      Great to e-meet you!

      Your passion for writing is strong. START WRITING TODAY!

      I teach writers how to add psychological power on their pages. You don’t have to have a complete manuscript to take my courses. But you do need to have a partial manuscript (75+) pages. And I recommend reading several how-to books, two to three times each. I’d highlight, and/or sticky tab, and add margin notes too.

      Here are three must-devour how-to books for getting-it-on-the-page writing craft.

      1. The First Five Pages, by Noah Lukeman
      2. Revision and Self-Editing, by James Scott Bell
      3. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King

      I could recommend lots more how-to books. I have a list on my web site.

      Feel free to email me if you have any questions. margie @ margielawson . com.

      Have fun capturing your ideas and passion on your pages!


      • Wonderful to e-meet you as well Margie!

        I will put taking one of your courses as my “treat” once I get 75+ pages written. A little “reward” is just the right kind of motivation.

        Thank you for the book recommendations. I’ll definitely pick them up and peruse your site for other must-haves.

        I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the note to email with questions. Your generosity and support of the writing community is amazing and so appreciated!!! You make a beginner like me feel so welcome…and wanted! Thank you!

        Take care and have a fab evening!


        • Natalie —

          So fun to hear back from you! Glad you’ll pursue the how-to books, and start writing.

          It’s smart to write every day. Dive in!

          I look forward to seeing you online again.


      • Kelly Byrne says:

        Some fine writing. Thanks for sharing it with us (Jenny and) Margie.

        Natalie – I concur 100% about Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. It’s one of The Best books I’ve ever read on writing and the editing process. In fact, I’m rereading it now. 🙂 Haven’t read the others but they’re going on the list. Thank you, Margie.

        This was a great post. Would love to take one (hell, all) of your classes, but the $$ isn’t there at the moment. Perhaps soonish. In the meantime, this post inspired me to get down and dirty (so to speak) and more visceral in my writing today! So, thank you for the inspiration and learning me on some cool new words/rhetorical devices: parallelism and asyndeton. Who knew? 🙂


        • Jenny Hansen says:

          LOL, Kelly. I loved those new words too. I had to link ’em to Wikipedia for y’all since I was there looking them up anyway. 🙂


        • Hello Kelly —

          Glad you enjoyed the examples and got motivated to add fresh visceral responses to your WIP.

          You’d love my Deep Editing course. It’s the one with the 30 rhetorical devices for fiction writers. 🙂

          Love your style and energy. Hope to meet you sometime!


          • Kelly Byrne says:

            Right back atchya, Margie (I have an overwhelming urge to say “Oh yeah, you betchya” Please forgive me).

            Deep editing – oooo, that sounds like Rolfing for your novel. Painful but necessary.

            30 rhetorical devices? I hope there’s a list. 🙂 Some day!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      75+ pages, Nat…that’s less than 19,000 words! At your current pace, you can do that in a few months. 🙂


  6. Great post! I’m working my way through one of your pakets right now and am really learning a lot, thank you!


  7. Fabulous examples. I’m trying to decide whether I have time to take your course, or if I should try to work through the lecture packets on my own.


    • Hello Ally!

      Thank you. I’m impressed by those examples too!

      Lecture Packets or online course. Tough decision.

      Lots more learning opportunities in the online course, even if you lurk.

      You could participate when you had time. If you got too busy, you could coast, and review that material later.

      Easy to download assignments from class members that I deep edited. They’re loaded with Teaching Points.

      Lecture Packets are handy too. Smart to set up a schedule as if you were in the class. Two lectures per week. 🙂

      Either way — you’ll strengthen your writing!

      Thanks for dropping by MORE COWBELL!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Ally, I’m in the same conundrum right now so I’m glad you asked the question. 🙂


  8. K.B. Owen says:

    Wow, Margie – those samples ROCK! I love how you took them apart and explained how the (mostly poetic, isn’t that interesting?) devices enhance the word choices. Great tips! And thanks, Jenny, for sharing Margie with us today!


  9. tiffanylawsoninmanisnakededitor says:

    Awwwwwwwwwww that’s sweet! A Visceral Valentine’s Day!

    LOVE IT !


  10. Great examples to ramp up our emotions. Thank you Margie and Jenny of course. 🙂


  11. Carrie says:

    The more I read Margie’s guest posts the more I’m thinking one of her classes will be in my future. Thanks for the fabulous tips!


    • CARRIE —


      Please email me – and I’ll enroll you in your free online course!

      margie @ margielawson . com



  12. Laura Drake says:

    I could read Margie examples all day – so inspiring!!!

    Carrie – you (and everyone) HAS to take just one class – you’ll be a Margie-convert –

    Happy VD Cowbellers!


    • Laura —

      I could read YOUR writing every day too!

      Your talent shines in every line. Can’t wait to see your first book in print — in 2013!

      I’m as excited about your 3-book deal as you are. 😉


  13. carolrwood says:

    Thank you, Jenny and Margie, for a great Valentine’s gift. Margie’s classes are wonderful.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      You’re welcome, Carol. I’ll be moseying into Margie’s classes myself this year. 🙂


    • Carol —

      Thank you, thank you!

      So glad you enjoy my classes. I enjoy them too!

      I’m so lucky to get to work with amazing writers who are the coolest, most creative, most driven to succeed, most caring, and most fun people in the universe.

      Just thought I’d share my happy thoughts. 🙂


  14. Liv Rancourt says:

    I’ve got First Grave on the Right in the TBR pile somewhere, but after reading these examples, I’m definitely moving it up to the top. Thanks!


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  16. Great info and wonderful examples Margie, but I know that’s normal for you. great post.


  17. tomwisk says:

    Will look into Margie’s classes when I’m done with the one I’m taking now. I can use all the help I can get. Thanks.


  18. Oh, those were great examples! Now I’m all fired up for today’s writing sessions. Thanks! 🙂


  19. I have learned so much from taking Margie’s classes and continue to do so through her amazing posts. I’m thrilled, Margie, that you use examples from my work! And yet I still continue to learn from other stellar examples. Thank you!


    • Darynda —

      I love that you love learning. I trust that your writing will always be strong. Because you’ll continue to push yourself to make it stronger.

      Congratulations on hitting #26 on the NYT list!

      I’m so proud of you and your talent!


  20. Lisa Wells says:

    My brain has imploded many times over-the-years as I’ve devoured the lecture notes I’ve purchased from Margie and most recently as I’ve taken on-line courses with her. Luckily, it doesn’t hurt.

    The only trouble, if you can call it trouble, is you’ll discover all these new authors you want to read. I’m a huge Harlan Coben fan as a result of Margie. And now, I think I’ll download and read The First Grave books.

    Thanks Margie for being my teacher.

    Lisa Wells


    • Lisa —

      I’m so glad I’ve had a chance to work with you in two online courses.I love your writing – and I look forward to promoting your book releases and having you on my Pubbed Margie Grad Blog too!

      I hope you finish your WIP soon – and start querying!


  21. Amazing examples! They drew me in, sometimes with just a few words. Makes me excited to go through the MS again and make sure I’ve got visceral responses where needed.


    • Tameri –

      The right words in the right order can carry amazing power!

      So glad those examples motivated you to dig deeper and check your visceral responses.

      Thank you for chiming in!


  22. Allison Hearne says:

    Hi Margie,
    I’m just a few days into your ECE series and have already learned so much. It’s like steroids for writers!
    Hooked and will see you again in March,


  23. So glad to see that you are back up to the surface, Margie! And thanks for the examples to add to my growing file. So nice of you to do the counting for us. Like Gloria, I lost count a long time ago of how much I’ve actually learned from you.



  24. Thanks Margie and Jenny! As always, the Wonder Woman of the Word rocks!


  25. Amanda says:

    I’m also taking one of Margie’s classes at the moment. I’ve spent the last few years trying to hammer plotting and characterization into my brain. Margie’s class is reminding me of the pleasure of playing with words, and it’s so exciting to see my WIP improve with every little tip of hers that I apply to it.


    • Amanda —

      Woohoo! You’re loving what you’re learning in my ECE class this month — and adding power to your WIP. I trust that all those little changes that strengthen your WIP boost you toward a contract — then a bestseller list!


  26. LOVE the examples. I’ve added taking a class to my goals for the year but will probably have to start with the packets. I think my reading pile just imploded :pushes a book of the keyboard:


  27. Ellen Breen says:

    Ah, Margie, I so need one of your courses since this teacher doesn’t seem to be able to teach herself the fine points of novel writing. :::;sigh::::: makes me crazy, since I ‘ve always been able to teach my students how to write


  28. tgrignon says:

    I’m taking Margie’s Empowering Emotion course right now and, heart stopped in sheer excitement, I’m loving it. Excellent value even though she’s making me work far harder on my manuscript than I expected.
    I was happy to see more examples from Darynda Jones in this post as she is a very refreshing writer and certainly someone whom I’d dearly love to read.
    I struggle with the visceral writing, it’s oh so desperately true, but it’s already made a difference in my writing.
    Thanks, Margie and thanks Jenny for hosting more Lawson Literacy!



    • Terry —

      Yay! You’re working hard in class — and loving what you’re learning!

      I’m enjoying working with you in ECE, and looking forward to seeing more of your powered-up writing!

      Thanks for visiting MORE COWBELL!



    So fun to see you all here today! I went down the mountain this afternoon, and ended up being away from my computer longer than intended. I’m still down in Denver now.

    I’ll respond to the rest of the posts tomorrow.

    I just clicked over to RANDOM.ORG and let the random gods select the winner.


    CARRIE — Please email me and I’ll enroll you in an online course!

    margie @ margielawson . com




    Can’t wait to meet you and give you real lovey hugs at National!





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  31. Stacy Green says:

    Late to the party on this, but I wanted to say I won a packet from Margie/More Cowbell several months ago, and it’s been a MAJOR help to my writing. Just seeing the examples Margie provides and understanding how she breaks them down was a big “aha!” moment for me, so thanks to both Margie and Jenny:) Hope to take a class sometime, too!


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  34. Karen Rought says:

    Other than the fact that I loved the tips in this post, it got me really excited about First Grave on the Right. I’ve added it to my TBR list on Goodreads. 🙂


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