DO Get Fresh With Me: Amping Up Your Writing


Lemon with rain drops
Photo by Miheco

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Dallas Area Romance Authors Dreamin' in Dallas conference. The speakers (Richelle Mead and Allison Brennan) were phenomenal and the workshops were SO helpful. Sometimes you go to a conference (after you've been to a few like me) and it feels like same old stuff, nothing new. But I had many an a-ha moment at this one, so yay for that. :)


And one of the big light bulbs for me was while I was taking three classes in a row from Margie Lawson. I'd never seen her speak before, but I had heard fabulous things about her writing and editing workshops. And, believe me, I wasn't disappointed.

She has way more information than I could ever share on here (more on how you can get all that fab stuff at the bottom), but one of the big things that stuck out for me was her focus on FRESH WRITING.

It seems like such a simple concept--a well-duh kind of thing. Write things in a way that is fresh, non-cliched, and doesn't sound like just any old book. Easy-peasy, right? Um, yeah.

How many she smiled, grinned, lifted the corner of her mouth, smirked, lips curved, one side of her lips tilted up, smile that didn't reach her eyes, and on and on do you have in your manuscript?

Using a synonym for smiled or one of the tired cliches is not fresh writing. It's just writing the overused stuff in another overused way.

What Margie suggested you do is look at those boring ways of saying things and amplifying them, making them sing and speak to the reader (instead of inspiring them to skim.)

Here's one example she used from Harlen Coben's HOLD TIGHT (2008)

His eyes were black, lightless glass, like someone had randomly jammed them in, like they held no life in them.

Whoa, right? How much more impactful is that than "He had dead, black eyes" or "He stared at me with lifeless eyes."


Or this one from Brad Meltzer's BOOK OF LIES (2008)

In mid-air his mother was turned toward him, her alligator eyes still burning through him.

Can't you picture that? It's so clear what the eyes of an alligator would look like. And once again a way to say something different than cold or lifeless eyes.


And last one, from Stephen White's DEAD TIME (2008)

"Listen," he said in a voice that cut off the small talk the way a sharp knife takes the top off a banana.

How much better is that than saying "he said, his voice sharp"?


This whole concept is such a basic idea, but it was totally a kick in the butt for me to work harder and do better. To really look at things I may just put on the page--a smile, a laugh, the way a person's eyes look--and really push myself to find a fresh way to say it.

Margie says she reads books and puts sticky notes on the pages where an author really wrote something that impressed her. If someone does that with my books, I want that thing to look like tabs in a packed filing cabinet when they're done.

Now, one little warning. You can't write every single sentence like this because then it will be overwritten and the prose will get mucked up. Sometimes simple is better. But I guarantee you there are many places in your WIP where you can do better, where you chose the easy, cliched way to say something, where you missed an opportunity to be amazing.

So, I only talked about like 1/100 of 1% of what Margie covers. BUT she has these totally kickass lecture packets that you can download and do a self-study course with. Each packet is $22, but OMG, the first one I bought is like 250 pages. So "packet" really means "book". The one I'm referencing today is the Empowering Characters' Emotions. You can get it here along with many others. I can't give it a high enough recommendation. So, so, so helpful. (And no, Margie hasn't paid me to say any of this, lol.) I just have to pass along an amazing resource when I stumble across them.

So, I encourage to check those out and I also encourage you to read through some of your favorite books and mark those passages or phrases or whatever that stand out and impress you. What did those writers do that was fresh?

What do you think? Are you overloaded with boring or tired ways of saying things when you're writing? Are you characters smiling and raising eyebrows and winking all over the place? What writers can you think of off the top of your head that really excel at writing fresh?