Synchronized Swimming and Novel-Writing

Welcome to Scarlet Thread Sunday, the day I throw out a thread of something I’ve learned in the labyrinth of life. This past week, I attended an Immersion Master Class with writing coach Margie Lawson and seven other writers.

While in our immersion experience, I analogized writing to synchronized swimming–which got quite a bit of agreement from my fellow authors.

Synchronized Swimming Team
By Pierre-Yves Beaudouin (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Above the water are women with perfectly made-up faces, happy smiles, and poised bodies, while below the surface are constant movement, coordination, and control.

Reading a brilliant novel should be effortless. Readers know when it’s not–when something pops out as inconsistent, unbelievable, boring, or hackneyed. We know when the novel isn’t doing its job. But writing the novel that appears effortless takes real effort.

“It’s hard work to make a four-minute program look effortless and elegant.” – Olympic figure skater Katarina Witt

What does that effort entail? Here are some takeaways from my immersion experience.

Every word matters. Every word/phrase must push the story forward or inform the reader about the setting, character, or point of view. It’s easy to get lazy and include passages that sound lovely or describe the character, but don’t really matter in the overall scheme of the story.

In a well-written story, anything and everything can do double-duty. The weather in a setting can convey the mood of the scene or the characters. The way a person is described can illuminate the reader not only about the character described but the perception of the character doing the describing–the POV narrator. What do they notice? The dialogue and cues show what characters reveal to others as well as their subtext, creating tension for the reader.

Here’s a before-after example of lazy writing vs. revealing writing from my WIP, a young adult contemporary novel titled Sharing Hunter:

BEFORE: “No time to lose,” Chloe said. “Did you see those other girls tonight? The vultures are circling.”

AFTER: “Hey, no time to lose.” Chloe blew a smoke ring that hovered in the air before it broke apart and disappeared. “Carpe diem, and all that.”

In the first example, the message is there. Chloe is impatient and wanting to move forward. But the latter version tells you a lot more about her character. She’s a high school girl who’s not only smoking a tobacco pipe, but she’s taken the time to master blowing a smoke ring. She quotes the Latin phrase Carpe Diem, but brushes it away with the “all that.” You get a far better sense of who she is.

It takes longer to write version #2 (And who knows? There may be a version #3), but now the dialogue passage pulls its weight.

Rhetorical devices are an indispensable tool. Most of us know rhetorical devices like simile, alliteration, and allusion. But have you ever heard of epistrophe? Anadiplosis? Zeugma? These rhetorical devices are taught by Margie Lawson through her lecture packets, online courses, and in Immersion Master Class. When used well, they bring the writing to a deeper level.

Without telling you what zeugma is, here’s a before-after comparison from another scene in Sharing Hunter:

BEFORE: Couples weave through each other, holding hands and punch cups.

AFTER:  Couples wove through the crowd in tuxedos and dresses, grasping hands and punch cups and memories.

The first is descriptive; you see what’s happening. But the latter goes deeper, gives the reader a better sense of the mood of the prom with high-schoolers all swanked-up and taking mental snapshots that will last a lifetime. Didn’t you grasp a few memories from your prom? I did.

Time and persistence are key. There is a perception among non-writers–and sadly among some writers–that books can be turned out within a few short weeks or months. I heartily disagree. I can get a first draft out rather quickly, but a novel that sings takes far longer. Winston Churchill once said, “Continuous effort–not strength or intelligence–is the key to unlocking our potential.”

It takes time and persistence–continuous effort–to go through draft after draft making sure that you have created the best novel you can. And with life’s distractions and other story ideas tugging at us, it’s hard to keep that proverbial nose-to-the-grindstone attitude and push through.

Yet a well-written novel is a testament to language and beauty and the very best that humanity has to offer. Whether that novel is a literary masterpiece or a frolic-in-the-pages beach read, readers will savor that extra effort under the surface, even if they never see what’s going on in the deep end.

Community is a beautiful thing. One of the highlights was spending the week with some lovely ladies whose novels I can’t wait to read! I shared the immersion experience with Elizabeth Essex, Sylvia McDaniel, Chris Keniston, Christina Henderson, Jaye Wells, Lori Freeland, and Kathleen Baldwin. Not only were they a marvelous group of women and writers, but they helped me with several spots in my own novel.

Being able to walk in and say, “Does this passage work?” and get their feedback was awesome. In particular, they helped me turn one meh phrase into something awesome enough that three teenage girls (my target audience) later responded with, “YEAH!” It helped to have input–not simply from others, but from writers dedicated to craft.

I’ve been so blessed with the community I’ve met through Margie Lawson’s Immersion Class, through the #MyWANA community, and through the ROW80 writing challenge.

And thus, I transition to posting my final progress report on this round of ROW80.

ROW80 Update

  • Read 8 fiction books. Done. I read 11 this round.
  • Read one craft book: Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson. I finished half of this book and will read the rest in the next round.
  • Visit and comment on ROW80 blogs as a Round 2 sponsor. I missed two weeks, but otherwise I did well. If you’re on the fence about being an ROW80 sponsor, give it a shot!
  • Finish writing GOOD & GUILTY, YA mystery. Done.
  • Complete round of edits of GOOD & GUILTY SHARING HUNTER. I got about 3/4 done, but given what I’ve learned this week, I’ll be rewriting/editing again. But now I’m eager to get going and feel a renewed excitement about this story!
  • Write one short story. Done.
  • Edit two short stories–one needs a final polish, the other a full edit. Just didn’t do this one. My bad.
  • Prepare for and attend DFW Conference in May. Done.
  • Prepare for and attend Immersion Master Class with Margie Lawson in June. Done.

What have you learned about writing/editing recently? How was your ROW80  round? What compels you as a reader to keep reading?

High School Halls: The Hairstyles

I’m back on a Deep-Fried Friday with another installment in my High School Halls series. I’m taking a look at the teenage years back when I experienced them and now.

Lori FreelandA few weeks ago, I covered the fashion trends, but I stated that hair would need its own post. Today young adult author Lori Freeland joins me to talk about hairstyles, then and now. I recently met Lori at a Margie Lawson workshop hosted by the Houston Writers Guild. She’s even more delightful in person (and has beautiful hair).

Welcome, Lori! So thrilled to have you here.

Thanks for asking me! We went to high school at the same time, so this should be fun.

That Was Then

Flock of Seagulls. Yep, that’s where I want to start. Because when I think about all of the crazy hairdos of the 1980s when I was in high school, this is the picture that comes to mind:

Can you explain this? What were we thinking?

Were we trying to mix genders? Or maybe switch them? Not sure.  I do know my boyfriend at the time, who’s now my husband, liked the Duran Duran look.

What hairdos were popular when you were in high school? Did they have anything in common?

Big hair. I had a tight perm than I teased the crap out of it. I do have to say, my best hair? Eighties big when the perm had grown out halfway.

Lori big hair

Do any celebrity hairstyles stand out as getting a lot of attention back then?

Madonna was hot when I was in high school. Whatever she did, we did. The high side ponytail comes to mind. Along with the mandatory leg warmers. Not sayin’ I ever sported either.

Lori side ponytail
*slightly embarrassed grin*

What was your usual hairstyle? Did you do ever anything unusual with your hair?

Big and bold. I had Texas hair in Wisconsin. In the picture of me in the red dress, there’s more hair than girl!

Lori red dress

What hairstyle tools were imperative for a teenager living in the 1980s? What did we need to get the right look?

Like a said, a perm provided a great foundation. Add a sturdy comb for teasing and a huge bottle of extra-hold Aqua Net. A curling iron and hot rollers always sat on my bathroom counter.

My hair is too fine and too straight, so I could never achieve the big hair look. Perms fell out in less than a month! Here’s one of my 80’s looks–not very “in,” I’m sure.

10th grade

This Is Now

I have noticed that girls aren’t getting perms these days; they are straightening their hair instead. What do you notice most about hairstyles today versus the hairstyles of our past?

We definitely went from one extreme to the other—super high to super sleek. Although neither look is wash-and-wear. We use flat irons now in place of hot rollers and perms.

Yeah, you know Selena's hair got flat-ironed here.
Yeah, you know Selena’s hair got flat-ironed here.

What about the guys versus the girls? What characterizes their hairstyles?

There will always be the guys that keep their hair long and I have to say, some of those guys are hot. But gone are the feathery styles and mullets. Girls are wearing their hair more “guy short” these days and the crop looks great—on some girls. I will never be a short hair girl. I think guy hair runs the gamut from sport short to boy band long.

What current celebrities inspire teens’ hairstyles?

I think whatever is popular in Hollywood and on the cover of People magazine eventually trickles down. Everything from royalty and Princess Kate to pop and Pink. There are so many choices and bold seems to rock.

Princess Kate
Princess Kate
Pink (pic by Corbuzon, Wikimedia Commons)
Pink (pic by Corbuzon, Wikimedia Commons)

What hairstyle tools should a teenager have in his/her bathroom cabinet today? What do they need to get the right look?

I’ve moved on from Aqua Net, but I do still own a bottle of pump hairspray and a set of hot rollers. The rollers mostly live under my sink but some days they emerge. Tools now are wide-tooth combs, diffusers, bed head type products, and of course the flat iron.

Thanks for coming by, Lori! Maybe someday you can show me how to get the proper tease going. 🙂

Wild at Heart Volume 2Lori Freeland is a Young Adult author that lives in the Dallas area. In addition to being addicted to flavored coffee with just the right amount of cream, she’s a little obsessed with imaginary people.

Lori’s short story, “Refugee” can be found in the Wild at Heart, Volume II, anthology for young adults.

What do you remember from hairstyles in high school? What are high schoolers sporting today? What grooming tools are a must for your look?

Lawson Academy Live and #ROW80

So how did I spend my last several days? Well, on Saturday I was privileged to attend a workshop with writing teacher Margie Lawson hosted by the Houston Writers Guild. Margie walked us through how to add power and emotional depth to our manuscripts.

Here’s a sample of a passage in my middle grade contemporary novel before and after. In this scene, 7th grader Beth Whittaker admits that her father is an alcoholic. But Beth doesn’t want to discuss it any further with her mom.

Before (1st Draft): As I spoke, Mom made her way over to me. She shut the refrigerator door and pulled me toward her. I pushed away, as tears gathered in my eyes again. “I’m not hungry anyway,” I said shakily. My mother’s arms enveloped me, as I tried to gently push back.

After (Revised): She wouldn’t leave me alone. She wouldn’t let me shrug off the terrible truth. She wouldn’t give me the yardstick of personal space I clung to like a force field. My mother crossed the floor, pierced my perimeter, and trapped me in her arms.

I had worked my way through some of Margie Lawson’s Deep EDITS lessons, but this was a good experience through which we critically analyzed passages by other authors as well as our own work to strengthen our editing skills. If you get a chance to attend an event with her, I’d recommend it.

Plus–what a bonus!–I got to each lunch and dinner with Margie and several writers, including the fabulous Lori Ann Freeland. What a pleasure to meet in person writers you’ve admired online!

Not super-excited about how I look here, but we had a great time!

Now on to my ROW80 goals:

Editing: SHARING HUNTER, young adult contemporary novel.

  • Complete full rewrite. Rewrote four chapters last week, so I’m very happy with how this is going.
  • Revise using Margie Lawson’s Deep EDITS system. Once I finish the rewrite, I’ll edit through with this approach.
  • Deliver to beta readers. Waiting for the first two.


  • Post Sunday ROW80 updates, Amaze-ing Words Wednesdays, and Deep-Fried Fridays. Done, although I flew by the seat of my pants on Friday’s post. Having flooring installed in my house two days of the week interfered a bit with my schedule, but I love the result!
  • Send interview questions to two guests I have lined up for my blog. 


  • Write two short stories. I aimed for 1k on this goal and only hit 597 words.



  • Nothing special here. Just read. A lot. Finishing No Apology by Mitt Romney. (Read Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama in 2008. I like reading the presidential candidates’ books to see where they’re coming from.) Also  started 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson.

Non-writing goals

  • Exercise twice a week. Nope. And in fact, I went to the doctor on Friday and saw a number on the scale I hadn’t seen since my last trimester of pregnancy. My lovely doc’s response was that, hello!, I need to exercise!
  • Sort through photos and complete at least one album. (I stopped scrapbooking five years ago, and it’s piled up into a big mess. Moving into digital albums.) No progress this week. It was really hard to work on it with the floor installers here.

So how are you doing with your goals? Have you attended any conferences or workshops lately you’d recommend?

Be sure to cheer on my fellow ROWers! You can find them HERE.