Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sandra Orchard on Margie Lawson's Master Immersion Class

Sandra Orchard was the 2009 Daphne DuMaurier Award of Excellence winner in the unpublished category and sold to Harlequin’s Love Inspired Suspense the following year. Her newly released debut novel, DEEP COVER, is the first in her series, Undercover Cops: Fighting for justice puts their lives—and hearts—on the line. Sandra hails from Southern Ontario, Canada. She also is a graduate of Margie Lawson's Master Immersion class. Sandra's here to give us a glimpse about what she learned in this program. Please welcome Sandra Orchard.

When attending Margie Lawson’s Immersion Master Classes hosted periodically in Margie’s log home at the top of a Colorado mountain, I must say, the panoramic vistas alone are enough to kick start one’s creative engine.

For anyone who hasn’t heard of Margie she is a psychologist and writer and teacher who has compiled excellent resources to help fiction writers enhance the psychological power of their writing by empowering character’s emotions. Her lecture packets brim with inspiring examples from best-selling authors of how it’s done, and detailed explanations to help you do it even better. She has also developed a powerful editing system.

The beauty of the immersion class besides the great setting, great food, and great accommodation—and Margie would be proud of me for using “anaphora” to tell you that—is the intimate class size. Six participants per session allow for ample one-on-one time with Margie.

I arrived equipped with my DEEP COVER manuscript (which sold the following year) and spent three-plus full days dissecting, analyzing and deep-editing it under Margie’s tutelage. Hands-on work is interspersed with reviews of technique and opportunities to walk in the nearby National Park or just relax and chat with the other participants.

The prerequisites for the course are that you’ve read three of her lecture packets or taken the corresponding online courses. And although I’d already applied Margie’s deep-editing techniques to my manuscript prior to the class, I was amazed by the subtle changes we were able to make to ramp up the emotion.

For example, toward the end of my opening scene I’d written:

Given the trail of dummy companies and insurance claims he’d unearthed following Tom’s death, Rick had no doubt that Laud torched his real estate for the insurance money, but Ginny would never believe his story. Her uncle had done too good a job covering his tracks by playing the town philanthropist, while in Ginny’s eyes, Rick was nothing more than something she’d scrape off her shoes.

He’d let her keep that misconception, too, because once again, he had a job to finish. A job she could jeopardize if she knew what he really was—an undercover cop who wanted to put her uncle behind bars.

We revised the last sentence for emotional impact to:

A job she could jeopardize if she knew what he really was—an undercover cop who wanted to dump her uncle in the dankest, darkest, dirtiest prison cell the province had to offer.

You’ll notice that the change seems rather minor. Yet, the change from “put” to “dump” in combination with the alliterative description of the prison cell significantly ramps up the reader’s awareness of how angry Rick is.

Here’s another example of techniques you can use to empower your writing:

Mom smiled, the special indulgent smile reserved for Lori.

Margie encourages her students to avoid overuse of actions like smiling, and when using them, to write them fresh, empowering them with emotion. In this example, the reader sees the heroine’s recognition of her mother’s greater affection for her mentally-challenged sister than her.

Another example:

And if the thought of what Snake might do to her if he’d figured out Rick was a cop hadn’t convinced him to let Ginny walk away, her horrified who-are-you expression would have.

“Who-are-you” is not your typical adjective. But the use of such hyphenated words is a quick and easy way to convey a description the reader immediately understands.

One last example:

“Wow, the story sounds so noble the way you tell it. So let me get this straight. You were in a gang, but you intended to sell them out, and you were afraid I’d get caught in the crossfire. Which makes you a hero instead of a liar?”

Look at the last word in each sentence: it, straight, crossfire, and liar. With the exception of the first sentence, these are examples of backloading sentences with power words for stronger emotional impact. This can often be accomplished by a simple rearrangement of an existing sentence, and yet, the enhanced effect is surprising.

These are only a few examples of the many techniques Margie teaches.

Your turn:

Look at the last sentence of your third chapter. (I’m picking the third because it’s the end of a partial and the last impression you’ll leave with an editor before she makes the decision whether or not to ask for the full.) Is the sentence backloaded for emotional punch? Can you rewrite it, or surrounding sentences so that it is? Share your before and after examples with the group.

About DEEP COVER: Maintaining his cover cost undercover cop Rick Gray the woman he loved. Sweet Ginny Bryson never really knew Rick. He never gave her the chance. Not then, and not now, when he's back with a new alias to gather evidence against Ginny's uncle. The man's crimes led to Rick's partner's death, and Rick wants justice to be served. But his investigation is stirring up trouble, and Ginny is smack-dab in the middle. Someone wants Ginny to pay the price for what her uncle has done. But how can Rick protect her without blowing his cover, jeopardizing his assignment...and risking both their lives?

My contact info:

Blog: http://SandraOrchard.blogspot.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SandraOrchard

Website: www.SandraOrchard.com

Subscribe to her newsletter ~ http://bit.ly/OrchardNews

Buy now from Harlequin ~ http://bit.ly/DeepCover


Sandra Orchard said...

Good morning, everyone. Looking forward to reading some examples...I hope :D

A favorite habit in Margie's lecture notes is to leave long pauses with lots of...so you'll stop and do the assignment. They really are helpful. Honest.

Donnell said...

Good morning, Sandra, thanks for joining us today. I'm off to get my coffee, and a walk, and then I'll get out my homework. Busy day! But this looks like a great learning experience! Thank you!

Sandra Orchard said...

You're welcome, Donnell. Just got back from my walk. Got rained on. Great day for writing!

Cynthia D'Alba said...

I've taken all of Margie's classes. I've always wondered about her Master Immersion Class. Truly sounds awesome.

Sandra Orchard said...

You'd love it Cynthia. I was fortunate that I attended back-to-back with another conference in Colorado, so I had no extra traveling costs. And now...she has an Advanced Immersion class. Very tempting.

R. Ann Siracusa said...

Sandra, great article. I've never taken Margie's intense course but have taken several of her workshops. She's fantastic. You did a good job condensing some of her advice.

Sandra Orchard said...

Thanks R. Ann

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Great post, Sandra! I've heard lots of people talk about Margie's classes, but I've never taken one. How awesome. I loved reading your entry in the Daphnes and I can't wait to clear my schedule so I can settle into the couch and enjoy reading Deep Cover from cover to cover!!

Sandra Orchard said...

Ooh that's what I like to hear Joelle, :D Except...with your next book releasing in 3 weeks, I'm thinking the schedules going to be pretty full for awhile. LOL

Donnell said...

Her schedule's insane, Sandra, but her book is soooo good. Skating Over the Line is a winner

Donnell said...

Boy, Sandra, this is hard. Maybe because I've taken Margie's courses, but I always try to leave things on a hook. I'd welcome your suggestion on how to improve this.

Another woman matching Kathryn’s description so soon and at the same hotel? He smelled a trap. Still, he had to know. Kathryn’s trail had gone cold after she’d reached Nevada.

“I’d like the room number, please.”

“I thought you might. And my fee?”

“Will be in its usual locker.”

End of Chapter 3.

Cathy Shouse said...


What a great post you've made. Please don't think I'm imposing, but I thought you might want an example so I've included a paragraph. I can't wait to read your book. I don't really have a before and after, but I have tucked in an idea about a smile which was inspired by your lessons. I welcome comments about anything about this paragraph. Too melodramatic? Boring? Sigh. It's from near the beginning of my book, since that's what I'm rewriting on my WIP. Thanks! If there's a book giveaway, please include me. :) cathy underscore shouse at yahoo dot com

Sweat from the humid May heat trickled down my back and my blouse stuck to me as I carted my items to my 1999 black Mustang parked on the street by the dollar store. Friday was a popular day for banking and running errands. I gave my everything's-fine smile to several people I passed, grateful they couldn't know how humiliation weighed me down, making my chest ache. Losing a two-bit, small-town newspaper job was emabarassing enough, let alone admitting how badly I would miss the pathetic pay.

Sandra Orchard said...

Oh, I'm jealous Donnell that you've read it already! I loved the first one.

As for you chapter 3 ending, I want to end the chapter with: Still he smelled a trap. Great power word to backload the chapter with. Could you have the dialogue bit before the first paragraph you posted or interspersed with Kathryn’s trail had gone cold after she’d reached Nevada? And then put this at the end:
Another woman matching Kathryn’s description so soon? And at the same hotel? He could hope, but he smelled a trap. or something like that to get 'trap' at the end. What do you think?

Donnell said...

Maybe, Sandra. I just think it has more impact ending with a question. It's still in draft form, but your suggestions give me something to think about! Thank you!

Sandra Orchard said...

Hi Cathy, thanks for sharing. You've packed a ton of details into the first sentence. The abundance of adjectives make it a bit difficult to follow. Is it important for example at this moment to know the age and color of the Mustang? If the point is that it's an old car and she's just lost her job, that's a wonderful layer to subtext. (i.e. show us the car is old and in need of repair rather than tell us its age, since the significance of it being a 1999 car is probably lost on the reader at this point. Another trimming possibility is you tell us the day is humid, then you show us by mentioning the blouse sticking to her back. This image is so much more powerful than telling us. Give it its own sentence and let it stand alone.

Next, I'm wondering if her thought about Friday being a busy shopping day should come after we see the people. You've set your heroine up with some great problems, but rather than have her think them (basically tell the reader what just happened) could you show us? Show her weighed down by what she's carrying as a symbol of what's weighing her down inside. Show her struggling to open the old car door because of the dent that wrecked the lock which is something else she won't be able to fix, now that she's out of a job.

Give her a bit of "attitude" too so the reader will want to read about how she's going to make lemonade out of her lemons. A cliche alert for all you Margie grads. :D Tons of potential in just those few lines, Cathy! Have fun with it.

Sandra Orchard said...

End with which question, Donnell?

Questions are always good hooks. Ending with ...and at the same hotel? feels stronger than "will be in your usual locker." Although I like the subtext of that sentence that he does this a lot. :D Lots to consider based on where your going next and what the reader already knows.

Donnell said...

Hi, Sandra. No, what I meant is I like to end chapters at times with dialogue which leaves the reader asking questions. Not literal ;)

Sandra Orchard said...

Aaah, now I understand, Donnell. Sorry mind gets a little sluggish as the day wears on. :D

And yes, that bit of dialogue did leave me asking questions, so goal achieved!

Margie Lawson said...

Hello Sandra and Donnell!

Sandra - Thank you for sharing about your Immersion Master Class experience. Woohoo!

In the last three years, I've taught twenty Immersion classes. Each class has been full. It makes my brain cells flip to think that I have 108 Immersion grads!

It's 108, not 120, because twelve Immersion grads returned (two different classes) a second time for an ADVANCED IMMERSION CLASS. I taught two advanced classes to Immersion grads who wanted to dig deeper into deep editing their WIP's.

Donnell - Thanks for inviting Sandra to guest blog for you. Five Scribes is one of my faves -- and so are you. ;-)

Sandra - I can't wait to feature you on my Pubbed Margie Grad blog on Sept. 20th. It will be such fun to deep edit analyze excerpts from DEEP COVER, and have a Deep Edit Q & A with you.

Your writing is stellar, stellar, stellar!

Sandra Orchard said...

Glad you added that last line, Margie. When you mentioned you were going to deep edit my work, I started to sweat there for a minute!