1. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    describing smiles and frowns

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by madhoca, Feb 26, 2012.

    I know there are many ways of showing a character suddenly smiling or frowning, but sometimes I'm stuck for a SHORT one-line description. I don't always want to interrupt an important part of the story with too much showing to get the point across, but it gets monotonous and tiresome finding different ways to say 'Her brow furrowed' 'The corners of his eyes creased with amusement' or something.
    Anyone care to share ideas here?
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    you can get all the ideas you need simply by reading [which you should be doing constantly, anyway]... browse through any 6 novels by well-respected authors that you have on hand and see how they do it...
     
  3. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I know what you mean. To prevent this, I ask myself whether it is really necessary to mention these things this time. If I desperately need to break up the dialogue, is there something else, also relevant, that can be described? Can this be a place for a short internalisation instead? Push yourself to see the bigger picture, and if what you wrote doesn't fit, better leave it out.
     
  4. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I do read, all the time (not that I have much spare time). I have noticed that while some writers are quite uninhibited about saying 'He/she smiled/frowned' (the worse ones sometimes several times to a page), others have little tricks that annoy--the writers don't even seem aware that they have these quirks. It's hard not to use cliches--which brings me back to the 'he/she smiled' standard telling--maybe that is better when all is said and done, or it's better just to show a reaction--or leave it out, as you say, jezzabel.
    However, I wondered if people would like to share some examples of their own devising, or that they had come across.
     
  5. akexodia
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    akexodia Member

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    Well, why not compare the emotion with something vivid. And no, It doesnt have to be necessarliy a similie or a metaphore!
    For instance, he was greeted by a sparkly look of solicitude in her eyes
    That smile was an incarnation of his tender adoration for her.
     
  6. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    Jazzabel's question, ' is this necessary '? seems a good place to start. Does a verbal response give away enough? Do subsequent actions give away enough? What is enough?

    The discussion exposes something of the ludicrousness of the show v. tell idea (as it is widely understood).

    The commonly used and recognised descriptions of the expressions of human emotion are few. (Red face, furrowed brow, smile etc etc) If you divert from them you risk being misunderstood, risk being thought a try-hard. If you use them utterly conventionally, you are simply telling eg 'Don't say he's embarrassed, say his cheeks go red' amounts to, 'Don't say he's embarrassed, say he's embarrassed.' If you put a spin, a gloss, on them, you might be accused of telling in an affected manner. And so on.

    The artist chooses. A risky business.
     
  7. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ok, a recent example where I initially struggled with the same thing, and ended up with something unanticipated that I quite liked:

     
  8. Kseniya
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    Kseniya New Member

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    I've given this a lot of thought, lately, as my novel parts seem to be trending toward more and more dialog. It's terribly fun to write and hopefully the same to read, but I do wonder if it's too much and look for ways to dilute it. Showing gestures and emotions is the first instinct and it does feel trite after a time or two. I'm very curious to hear more thoughts on this from others. For myself, I'm experimenting with two techniques that seem to be proving satisfactory.

    One is to convert parts of dialog to narration. For example, two brothers are discussing the very difficult personality of one of their wives. The husband tries to explain in words, at first. Then I switch to narration like "It was frustrating that his brother could not understand, but what he had always know about his wife was...." So, for a page or so, he thinks through all the complexities of the situation. This lets me psycho-analyze her elegantly, without any of the awkwardness of dialog. At the end, I switch back to dialog by saying, "He did his best to explain all this to his brother, but was sure that he was heard but not understood judging from his expression."

    So, that's one way -- get away from dialog. The second way, during dialog, I've been thinking about it from the perspective of giving instruction to an actor who is going to act out the scene. (Not that I'm writing a play.) If I say, "He smiled" or "furred his brow" or "laughed"... That's pretty direct instruction, but it's also kind of useless. There are a thousand kinds of smiles and laughs. I suspect that each person expresses frustration or surprise or confusion differently and it might be the most unnatural thing in the world to tell an actor to laugh nervously when their natural and believable expression of embarrassments is a stony silence. A reader is not an actor, but the method of communicating facial expressions to them might be the same. So, what I'm trying now with good success is to replace "He laughed nervously" with "That embarrassed him" or "That surprised him" or even, a bit tritely, "That visibly embarrassed him". I suspect a reader can visualize how an embarrasses person looks between than I can explain it in direct words. Unless, of course, I'm trying to make a point of a peculiar way that a particular character reacts, like a grating laugh or a sleazy smile.
     
  9. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    I don't see which part you're highlighting as a substitute for 'he/she smiles/frowned' is that passage.
     
  10. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    EDIT: ah, ok, since we are editing our replies, I better edit mine, or I'll look like a fool :D

    To answer your question - the whole passage was re-worked from a straight dialogue and initial impulse to keep describing facial expressions into something different in my opinion. Focusing on other actions and internalisations to provide the picture and the atmosphere. It's just a first draft so it isn't perfect, but I posted it as an example anyway.
     
  11. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    I have no desire to post an example on this site - I am under contract, so I only show my work to a select few writing buddies and my agent
     
  12. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    thanks for the ideas, jazz.
     
  13. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I personally just look over at all the "smiles" and wonder to myself, "Is this really necessary?" At which point is the smile really important? And then I go over the non-important smileys and think of other things I could say.

    Or as Jazz did - some kind of body language that suggests amusement etc rather than "smile" :)

    Jazz - are you from one of the Slavic countries? Just noticed that your character's name is Ivanka :)
     
  14. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, I am, originally, but I moved a long time ago :) Ivanka could be from anywhere in Eastern Europe though, I am deliberately trying to remain vague about that in the book because you know how it is, nobody is happy if they are mentioned, and they aren't happy if they aren't (mentioned) :D

    @madhoca: You're welcome :)
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    nakhti...
    what kind of contract?... and how does that keep you from helping others by giving suggestions, or showing relevant examples of your own work?
     
  16. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    To an agent, and my contract states that they have the rights to my current WIP. Jazz asked me to post an example of my own work, and as it is under contract I will not publish any of it online. There are enough threads on here warning people not to post their work online if they want to get it published - you've advised the same thing yourself no numerous of them.
     
  17. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Nakhti, I did not ask you to give an example of your wip. I have reminded you that the OP asked for examples and suggested that instead of changing my example, you should give yours. Not wip that is under contract, any example.
    I have absolutely no idea why you thought I was referring to any work under contract :confused: Surely, an example is something you can think of in a few minutes and give it? After all, you don't have to give it if you don't want to, but I don't see what having a work under contract has to do with any of this.
     

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