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New Year’s Giveaway: Day 14, Margie Lawson

>(Don’t miss Margie’s mini-lesson in writing body language and dialogue cues at the end of this post.)

Margie Lawson touched my life long before I actually met her in person.

I’ve always believed in on-going education.  Firmly believe that anyone can be anything they want to be or do anything they want to do given enough drive and perseverence. 

I tuned into on-line courses a few years ago when they were just breaking out, taking anywhere from 3 to 5 per month for about a year and a half.  I discovered a lot of useless information, some good instructors, but only a few outstanding courses.  Margie’s courses fell into the outstanding category.

Aside from being a cosumate instructor and extremely knowledgeable in her topics, Margie is empathetic and compassionate.  She is warm, understanding, accomodating and so extremely patient.

But the key that kept me going back to Margie’s courses was the way the information she shared in each class and the way she taught us to apply that information took my writing to a new level.  I know, without a doubt, Margie’s instruction brought my writing from good to publishable. 

Margie is a true gift to my life in so many ways.  She’s gone from anonymous instructor to mentor and friend and I’m constantly reminded of how grateful I am to have not only crossed paths with Margie, but to have forged a lasting connection.

In her ever-generous style, Margie has offered TWO of her powerful lecture packets for giveaway today.  She’s also giving us a mini-lesson in writing body language and dialogue cues (see below).

If I could give any writer only one reference for writing instruction, it would be Margie Lawson.

Up For Win Today:
2 Lecture packets.  2 winners will get to choose from the array of Margie’s Lecture Packets listed below:

Empowering Characters’ Emotions
Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors
Deep Editing: The EDITS System, Rhetorical Devices, & More
Dgging Deep into the EDITS System
Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist
Powering Up Body Language in Real Life
To enter:
Follow me on Twitter: @joanswan & send me a tweet with #MARGIE in the message. (Tweet Here)

Margie’s Services:

Contact Info:


Tomorrow, a very special day: spotlighting my UBER critique partner, Elisabeth Naughton!!!

********Now…on to Margie’s lesson:********

A Few Words About — Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues
By Margie Lawson

When writing body language:

  • Nonverbals are difficult to fake.
  • Nonverbals emphasize or contradict what is being said.
  • People always believe the nonverbals, even when they contradict the verbal message.

Nonverbal Communication:

  • 93% of communication is nonverbal
  • 55% is visual – most conveyed through the face
  • 38% is how we say it – conveyed through vocal cues, for writers, dialogue cues
  • 7% – the words themselves

EXAMPLES: Writing Body Language with Psychological Power

Jodi Picoult, THE PACT

“Em,” he said, swallowing, his voice just another shadow in the car. “Are you . . . is this about killing yourself?” And when Emily looked away, his lungs swelled up like balloons and the bottom dropped out of his world.

Brad Meltzer, THE BOOK OF FATE (two examples)

Closing the file folder, Boyle sank back and shot me the kind of look that would leave a bruise.

Lisbeth should be wearing a smile so wide, there’d be canary feathers dangling form her lips. Instead, she rubs the back of her neck as her front teeth click anxiously.


I smile when the rest of the class laughs, but Morley’s words have raised a welt on my heart.

Stephen White, DEAD TIME (two examples)

I thought I saw Alan nod as I was talking. Alan’s nods weren’t much. Sometimes you’d need a motion detector to be sure he’d actually shifter his head. I’d developed the right radar while we were together. I could tell.

She was fidgety. Not pathologically so, like Jonas’s Uncle Marty. But Stevie was taut, like an overstressed string on a violin. She carried the tension of someone who just realized she’d run out of nicotine gum.

Dialogue Cues share subtext. They inform the reader how to interpret the dialogue. Dialogue cues are one part of writing nonverbal communication. They’re one part writers often overlook.

Since 38% of nonverbal communication is conveyed through paralanguage (how the words are delivered) in real life, it behooves writers to include a significant percentage of dialogue cues in their scenes, as long as they are written fresh.

Dialogue Cues include:

  • Tone – angry, sarcastic, abrasive, fawning, cajoling, teasing
  • Inflection – monotone, sing-song, drop or lift at end of words or sentences
  • Pitch – high, low, deep, booming, resonant
  • Quality – sophisticated, nasal, squeaky, reedy, enunciates or slurs words
  • Volume – soft, loud, whispered, yelled
  • Rate – a breathy rush, pressured speech, long pauses

EXAMPLES: Writing Dialogue Cues with Psychological Power:

Marie-Claude Bourque, ANCIENT WHISPERS, (2 examples)

Amplified, Cadence: His voice was rich, entrancing, a caress on her beaten spirit.

Incongruence: Her voice was dead calm, completely different from the fury and sadness she felt inside.

Brenda Novak, BODY HEAT

Volume: They haven’t been getting along so great since he lost his job,” she explained, after which her volume edged up to normal again.

Jeri Smith-Ready, SHADE

Volume: “I really have to go,” I whispered, like I’d hurt ex-Hazel less if I lowered the volume.


Interpretation by POV Character: Mr. Evans chuckled, the sound as inappropriate to Charles as giggling at a hanging.


Amplified Simile: “Josie.” That sharp, half-whispered voice, the way you call a dog, to get it out of a room, fast, but she heard it.

Caridad Ferrer, ADIOS TO MY OLD LIFE

Amplified: Sosi’s voice was squeaking — a sure sign she was nervous. The nuns at school always knew when she was up to something because she’d start sounding like Mickey Mouse.


Fresh: In her calmest pre-saloon-brawl voice, she said, “I don’t want any trouble.”

Lynda Sandoval, UNSETTLING

Hyphenated Run-On: A sort of I’m-too-dignified-to-openly-plead tone had crept into Alba’s voice.


Two Dialogue Cues: She kept her voice brisk, impersonal. “I’ll need to speak with him. You are welcome to be present, Mr. Bromley.” She put all the I Am An Agent Of The Law insistence she could in her voice.

Stephen White, DEAD EVEN

Fresh Simile: “Listen,” he said in a voice that cut off the small talk the way a sharp knife takes the top off a banana. “I need a favor. A big . . .favor.”

Marcus Sakey, THE AMATEURS

Fresh: “I will get it for you. I promise.” His voice coming from a ragged place people liked to pretend didn’t exist.

Cherry Adair, BLACK MAGIC (Dad and POV Character)

“If you’re too damn busy to listen, then I wipe my hands of you.”

Jack didn’t bother keeping his dislike out of his voice. “Thought you already had.”


Fresh: “Yes, well,” he said, his voice stripped of life . . .

Robert B. Parker, SCHOOL DAYS

Fresh: His voice was so thick, he seemed to be having trouble squeezing his words out.

Joan Swan, FACING THE FIRE (to be released April, 2012; 2 examples)

Using dialogue cue as stimulus and showing response: The low, smooth timber of his voice gave her belly an uncomfortable twist.

Humor Hit: She didn’t attempt to quell the duh in her tone.


Simile: His voice was hoarse, like he’d smoked a dozen packs a day for a millennium.

Anna Campbell, TEMPT THE DEVIL

Amplified: “Olivia . . .” he said on a long sigh. The murmur of her name in that deep voice soaked through her skin right to her bones. He sounded like an angel had pointed him toward a heaven he never thought he’d attain.

Rosemary Clement-Moore, THE SPLENDOR FALLS (2 examples)

“Why are you making like a guidance counselor?” I could hear the venom in my voice, but couldn’t seem to control it.

Humor broadened his accent, exaggerating the roll of the r and the length of the vowels until it was almost unintelligible.

Tana French, THE LIKENESS (4 examples)

All the laughter and façade had gone out of his voice, and I knew Frank well enough to know that this was when he was most dangerous.

“Rafe,” I said, hurt. I was mostly faking it: there was an icy cut to his voice that made me flinch.

There was something in his voice, something precarious as the smell of petrol, ready and waiting to ignite at the first spark.

His voice didn’t sharpen, but it had an undertow that made my shoulders go up.

Hope this mini-lesson gave you an idea of just how Margie’s courses are PACKED with information!

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