Wright’s Writing Corner: Pretty In Pink

Seemed like a nice picture for this subject.
Click on picture for info on book.
Includes essay by me.


I am taking an online writing course this month with Writing Instructor Extraordinaire Margie Lawson. When she is not writing/teaching, Margie Lawson is a psychologist who works as a therapist, so she really gets to see people express the full range of human emotions. At work, Margie notices the physical actions and gestures that accompany strong emotional reactions. In her writing courses, she shares these observations with her students.


The classes are great fun, and include a number of published writers. A number of Margie’s previous students have gone on to hit the Bestseller’s List. So, she knows of what she teaches.


I am finding the class to be both great fun and really hard. Several times, I have literally had to pace around holding my head, it was so difficult…but the end result was worth the agony. Even John, who was not in favor of me taking the class, thought my “After” excerpts were pretty good. (His exact words were: "In each case, the ‘after’ is not just better, it is much better, like it
was written by a different writer. ")


So, I thought today I would say a few words about one of the many interesting points we are learning about in this class: Visceral Reactions.


One of the great revelations that Margie has brought to my attention is the power of including the POV character’s visceral reactions. In Margie’s EDITS system, she assigns colors to certain aspects of writing to help authors track what they are and are not including in their manuscript. The color assigned to visceral reactions is Pink.


By visceral reactions, we mean involuntary responses. “Her breath caught in her throat.” “Her hard hammered like a hungry woodpecker.” “Her knees knocked together.” “She swallowed.” These are the involuntary reactions we all have to moments of heightened emotion: sudden happiness, fear, terror, sad news, etc. They are the ways we feel these high emotion moments in our body.


A POV  (Point-of-View)  character’s visceral reaction has a different effect on the reader than the reaction of some other character. The reader associates with the POV character (in a good book, anyway). So when the POV reports that her heart skipped a beat, or his head throbbed. We feel this…and it helps lock down the related emotion in our imaginations.


Now, you may ask: Why is this important?


As readers, we assume that emotional reactions are a given. We read. Stuff is on the page. We react to it. Right?


Not exactly. When I first started writing, I often wrote in a rather screenplay like fashion, just saying what happened and leaving the rest up to the reader. Well…I soon found out that it was my job, not the readers job, to indicate the desired reaction to the event of a story. Otherwise, the reader often had the wrong reaction.


I will pause for a brief example:


The giant spider climbed over the wall. Eight enormous eyes glinted in the moonlight.

Filbo’s heart grew cold in his chest. He pressed a hand against his throat. If Perry and Mippin had not been waiting on the far side, relying upon him, he would have turned back then and there.


The giant spider climbed over the wall. Eight enormous eyes glinted in the moonlight.

“This’ll be a cinch!” Indiana Dundee laughed in his charming accent. His grin widened as he felt that heady rush of adrenaline that accompanied the hunt. “For Arachne Gigantua we recommend a size seven net.”


The giant spider climbed over the wall. Eight enormous eyes glinted in the moonlight.

Tears welled up in her eyes, “Oh Arachne! You’re okay! You lived!”


As a beginning writer, I thought that the description of the spider was enough to inspire fear. But people can have a myriad reactions to any event. When my main character did not react with fear to what was happening, neither did my reader. (This is not to say that an author cannot write a scene where the POV is not scared, but the reader is…but that takes more finesse.)


What Margie’s Empowering Character’s Emotion class brings out is that the number one most effective way to communicate emotional reactions to the reader is through the visceral reaction of the Point-of-View character. When we read these involuntary responses, we tend to experience them, too…and we associate them in our mind with certain emotions.


If we read that a character had butterflies in his stomach we often feel a momentarily ghostly flutter ourselves, as we remember what that is like. We remember moments when we were in front of a crowd or had to make a confession. Those subconscious associations with the visceral reaction get channeled into our reaction to the scene in the book. It makes it that much more vivid, that much more real.


One does not want a lot of pink in one’s manuscript. Too much, and it stops having the desired effect. The reader pulls away.

It’s like the difference between the shock when a quiet person suddenly yells, and when a loud person yells. The quiet person gets our attention. The loud people are soon tuned out. (Take it from a mom.)


Too much and the reader balks. Not enough and they do not engage, but just right and all your food will be eaten by Goldilocks…er, I mean, and the Reader can have a vivid and enjoyable experience reading your book.


So, what we want is little dabs of pink here and there…just enough to keep the reader on the edge of his seat.


And now, I breathe a huge sigh of relief and go back to my class assignments. (Notice the pink!)



For anyone who is interested in learning more, Margie Lawson’s lectures can be purchased directly for the cost of something like $20. The one I am taking is Empowering Characters Emotions.The online courses are the same lectures with interaction, both with her and other students, which really helps. (This particular I am taking course has 150 people in it! ) Information about when these are given is available on her website here.