Today, I’m ringing my Cowbell as hard as I possibly can! Why, you ask??
#1 – We have the amazing Margie Lawson here to make our characters’ smiles LEAP off the page.
#2 – I made it to the second round of Clay Morgan’s March Movie Madness and I need y’all to go here to vote for RAPUNZEL tomorrow to help me advance to Round 3. (Polls open at about 8 am PST and stay open all day!!)
Note: My gal will be up against “Farm Boy” Westley from the Princess Bride, either today or tomorrow. Yes, Farm Boy’s hot <blah-blah-blah>. But Rapunzel kicks A$$ with only her wits, her frying pan and the 80 feet of hair she’s got to schlep around. Now I ask you: who’s got MORE COWBELL??! [ra-pun-ZEL..ra-pun-ZEL…]
Enough of my shenanigans. He-e-e-ere’s Margie… 🙂
Big You’re-the-Best smiles to Jenny Hansen for inviting me to be here today!
Writing 50,000 Inimitable Smiles
By Margie Lawson
Picture your best friend’s love-you smile.
Now picture your best friend’s I-just-got-a-contract smile.
Now picture your best friend’s I-backed-into-a-pole-when-driving-your-car smile.
I’m guessing those smiles looked different. Way different.
Writers have 50,000 ways they can write a smile. Make that 50 million. But some authors primarily give the reader basic one-descriptor smiles throughout their books.
They may use many of the same phrases, the same patterns, to describe smiles. Aack!
Popular options include:
- Smiles sliding across faces
- Smiles faltering
- Smiles stretching
- Smiles planted
- Smiles blooming
- Smiles that don’t reach eyes
- Smiles that pull, tug, and twitch corners of mouths
Those options are so popular, they’re overused. Cliched.
Here’s a list of every smile in one romantic suspense book. Thirty-six smiles. The story and characters may be enticing and intriguing, but the smiles are all basic.
Did those smiles make my point?
Indicating that a character smiles, carries little meaning. It’s used as a beat, like these sentences:
A basic smile doesn’t add much information. A basic smile doesn’t deepen characterization. A basic smile doesn’t give the reader an uplift.
A basic smile doesn’t boost the writer toward a contest win, a contract, or a bestseller list.
Why write basic smiles?
Why write basic facial expressions?
Push yourself to WRITE FRESH, and you’ll write a page turner.
Check out these examples!
SARA HANTZ, THE SECOND VIRGINITY OF SUZY GREEN
I look across at Lori, who’s smiling at me. Thing is I don’t know if it’s a wanting-to-please-teacher smile, or whether it’s a genuine I-want-to-get-to-know-you smile.
ANGELA E. HUNT, THE NOTE
“They’re all in there waiting for you,” she said, flashing an I’m-glad-I’m-not-you smile.
If Angela Hunt had written it as a weak smile, a wan smile, or a half-smile, it wouldn’t have been as interesting. By writing fresh she gave the reader more information, and an uplift.
BRAD MELTZER, THE MILLIONAIRES
She smiles, putting up her best defense. Not an annoyed smile; not a jaded smile; not even an angry get-outta-my-face-you-overhyper-little-gnat kinda smile. Just a nice, calming Beth smile.
HARLAN COBEN, NO SECOND CHANCE
The receptionist smiled and nodded in that way people do when they aren’t listening.
(Ha! I’ve seen that not-listening smile in real life, but not on the page.)
Here are two more examples from Harlan Coben. We’ve all seen people try to smile and fail. Can you visualize these expressions?
She tried to smile at me, but it was as if the effort would wound her.
She stepped toward me and tried to smile. Her smile had always been spectacular, the kind that makes you think of poetry and spring showers, a dazzler that can change your day. This smile, however, was not like that. It was tighter. It was strained. And I wondered if she was holding back or if she could no longer smile like she used to, if something had dimmed the wattage permanently.
ROBERT B. PARKER, WIDOW’S WALK
I smiled in a cool way.
Susan smiled the smile she used when she knew I was wrong but planned to let me get away with it.
P. J. TRACY, MONKEEWRENCH
The grin, when it finally came, spread slowly across his face, moving all his freckles.
SUE MONK KIDD, THE MERMAID CHAIR – Two paragraphs:
When he spotted me, though, he smiled. His normal smile, the mouth ends pulled down, stretched with amusement as if he were resisting the moment his teeth would break through, this smile that had swept over me so many times.
As he walked to the table, I smiled back, an abnormal smile. Someone trying to smile, forcing herself to look normal and happy and carefree.
Read her two paragraph example again. Do you have places where characters exchange a smile, or could exchange a smile? Is it empowered with fresh writing and internalizations that carry emotion?
DARYNDA JONES, THIRD GRAVE DEAD AHEAD – Two Examples:
He glanced up and looked right into the camera, the smile he still wore dripping with a silent threat.
The smile on her face didn’t waver. It didn’t falter or fade in the least. But the smile in her eyes, the genuine part of a smile, vanished.
DARYNDA JONES, SECOND GRAVE ON THE LEFT
I widened my smile, which in my experience could open more doors than an AK- 47.
That smile made me laugh!
In my research, I’ve noticed that some bestsellers rarely have a plain, stand-alone smile. When they do have a character smile, they empower it.
They also write very few smiles. They may write a few per book. They show emotional reactions by using more fresh body language and dialogue cues. When they write a smile, they write it fresh and make it carry psychological power.
I hope those smiles made you smile!
Next month, I’m teaching Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist.
- Facial Expressions: lips, eyes, chin, full face, flicker-face, micro-expressions
- The Six Categories of Dialogue Cues
- Kinesics: Communicating by body movement
- Gesture Types: emblems, illustrators, regulators, beat gestures, affect displays
- Avoiding clichés and writing fresh
- Using the Four Levels of Empowering Emotion
- A range of rhetorical devices
- Amplifying body language and dialogue cues
- Empowering stimulus/response patterns
- Creating a hyphenated-run-on
- Adding power by writing scene-themed, character-themed, emotion-themed
POST A COMMENT FOR A CHANCE TO WIN a Lecture Packet or an online course by Margie Lawson, or Tiffany Lawson Inman, from Lawson Writer’s Academy!
Online Classes offered by Lawson Writer’s Academy in April:
1. Story Structure Safari
Instructor: Lisa Miller
2. From Madness to Method: Out-of-your-chair acting techniques to invigorate your writing and make your characters Oscar worthy!
Instructor: Tiffany Lawson Inman
3. The Dreaded Blog: Why the Heck Do You Need One—and What The Heck Do You Write?
Instructor: Tamela Buhrke
4. Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist
Instructor: Margie Lawson
5. Fab 30: Advanced Deep Editing, A Master Class
Instructor: Margie Lawson
I’ll post the winner’s name tonight, 9PM Mountain Time.
Thank you for visiting MORE COWBELL today!
Margie Lawson —psychotherapist, editor, and international presenter—developed innovative editing systems and deep editing techniques used by writers, from newbies to NYT Bestsellers. She teaches writers how to edit for psychological power, how to hook the reader viscerally, how to create a page-turner.
Thousands of writers have learned Margie’s psychologically-based deep editing material. In the last seven years, she presented over sixty full day Master Classes for writers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
For more information on Lawson Writer’s Academy, lecture packets, full day master classes, and the 4-day Immersion Master Class sessions offered in her Colorado mountain-top home, visit: www.MargieLawson.com.