1. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Member

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    Difficulty thinking of words/phrases to describe facial expressions

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by agentkirb, Dec 19, 2012.

    I got hung up on this story that I'm writing. It's a scene where two detectives are outside of an interrogation room, Jim has just gotten finished questioning the suspect but with no success. These are not the real names of the characters. I have a little more imagination than this.


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    Bob suddenly said “Let me talk to her for a few minutes.”

    “You think you will have any more success than I did?” Jim asked wearing an expression I can't describe because I'm a lousy writer.

    ---

    I know that simply saying "he said" "she said" is fine in most situations, and that's usually what I do. However in this specific situation I don't think it's obvious the tone/feeling is implied. I was wanting Jim to have some kind of look on his face that says that is surprised that an inexperienced Bob wants to ask a few questions, maybe is a little mad because Jim is supposed to be a really good interrogator but had no success and this new guy wants to come in and help... but at the same time he's not being openly hostile because they are good acquaintances.

    I'm not exactly looking for help JUST on this one scenario (if you want to throw out some ideas, I won't turn them down), but I seem to have issues with this sort of thing where I'll know something needs to be written here but literally can't think of the words. Does anyone know of a good way to get passed this? Cause right now my only solution is to read other books and just take note of these types of expressions and know when to use them for my own stories, but that seems like it would take me forever to get a comprehensive list.

    I almost wish there was a website I could find that had a lot of these phrases. I know that I've researched lists of "feelings" so that I could get a better hold of what words were the right ones to use in a given situation and it's been helpful.
  2. Ian J.
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    Ian J. Member

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    If it were me, I'd think of the emotion in Jim at Bob saying what he said. Is it surprise? Kind of. But incredulity seems a little more on the ball. There are many emotions and I don't think we could list them all here. I'm sure that looking them up on wikipedia, or Googling 'emotions' will help get you started with places to look. You could then use a thesaurus to help find other words that are similar.
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  3. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Member

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    It's not even just that though (although I totally just googled for a list of words like you advised lol), but there are phrases like "he furrowed his brow in anger" that I know exist because I read books but when the time comes to use them the specific phrase doesn't come to mind.
  4. captain kate
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    captain kate Member

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    It's not hard to describe expressions..it doesn't take fancy words. For example:

    “We have discovered a problem and everyone says you can help.”
    Talia sighed. “Do they? I wish they’d stop.”
    “We have a problem with slavers.”
    She pulled the hood back before looking at the ceiling and rolling her eyes. “There have always been slavers and always will. We couldn’t eradicate them with the entire Gahl battle fleet-and trust me I tried.”
    One of the Chellios looked at her before it started to wring its paws. “We need your help, Talia, to end this.”
    She leaned forwards in the chair. “I’m sorry, but my sisters and I are retired.”

    There's plenty of expressions, and behaviors, and they didn't need to be explained in any fancy way. As for others..hang on.
  5. captain kate
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    captain kate Member

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    All that's needed is "He furrowed his brow" the words show the anger.
  6. Ian J.
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    Ian J. Member

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    I get that happening to me quite a lot, and I think the only way to expand on such usage is to read more. I need to read more too, as I think my overall use of English needs a spruce up, so you're not the only one. However, I find I use the synonym and thesaurus capability in MS Word quite a bit now. It never used to be there but I've found it invaluable since the feature was introduced. Even if it can't always come up with a phrase, it can provide inspiration to help think of one.
  7. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Member

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    Yeah, that's what I'm saying. But I won't be able to think of normal phrases like that.

    It seems to be a problem that I alone have, I was wondering if anyone else went through the same thing and what they did about it.
  8. Ian J.
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    Ian J. Member

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    capt kate: Well, there are more than two reasons to furrow a brow. One could be in anger, but I see it more as an indicator of confusion or frustration. So yes, while I agree the removal of 'in anger' is probably a good idea, I think a rethink of the action might be required to better indicate the emotion. I've no ideas for exactly how to do that as I'm writing this reply though, which comes back to the OP and how much knowledge any one person has for covering how to describe things.
  9. captain kate
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    captain kate Member

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    Comes back to the skill of the writer to convey the emotion. I could turn around and show how things are.

    Talia furrowed her brow. "I know that!!" (anger)
    Talia furrowed her brow. "I don't think so." (thinking)
    Talia furrowed her brow. "What is it with you humans? Are you freaking stupid??" (frustration)

    The combination of how the scene's flowing, the choice of words and how it's put together conveys the emotion. To spoon feed it to the reader is insulting to them. They can infer what you're saying.
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  10. tmrose
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    tmrose New Member

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    I tend to think your best bet is to leave it in the imagination of the reader. Let the strength of the dialogue dictate the expression in the reader's mind.
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  11. captain kate
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    captain kate Member

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    To an extent, you're right, but character's move about, to all sorts of actions while they speak just like we do on a daily basis. The question is how you put it into the dialogue. If it's before the words, then it goes first and then the words. If it's after, then they're put afterwards.

    When reading well written works, there's a mix of both plain 'he/she said' tags, plain untagged dialogue and ones with action before and after. As it relates to the original poster, the words 'angrily' aren't necessarily needed. Now there are times to use it, if there's ambiguity about the action, then use the words. While you don't spoon feed the reader, there's a place for showing it too.
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  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Instead of trying to describe the expression, I'd suggest a small action, usually but not always a facial action.

    Jim raised an eyebrow. "You think you'll have any more success than I did?"

    Jim set his jaw. "You think you'll have any more success than I did?"

    Jane pursed her lips, silent for a moment. Then, "You think you'll have any more success than I did?"

    Jim said, voice ominously soft, "You think you'll have more success than I did?"

    Of course, the dialogue, and non-facial actions, can help carry the message:

    Jane shrugged and turned toward the coffee machine. "If you think you'll have any more success than I did."

    Jim rolled his eyes. "Yeah. Good luck with that."

    Jane choked on her coffee. "Let you what?"

    Jim tossed the file on the table. "Yeah. Good luck with that."
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  13. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Member

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    Yeah... "pursed her lips", "raised an eyebrow", and "set his jaw" would be the sorts of things I was talking about. And to a lesser extent you could throw the examples you used later on in the post in as well.

    For whatever reason I just draw a blank when I get to a situation where I know a phrase like that would be necessary. And obviously you don't want to fill your dialogues with phrases like that, it's mostly "he said" "she said" or even no dialogue tag at all. But as I said in my first post I felt like in this particular instance it would serve the story better to show what kind of his emotion was attached to that bit of dialogue so that readers weren't confused by the phrasing of the words themselves.

    I think eventually I went with: He turned his head sideways and gave Bob a glancing look.

    That might be too long, I dunno. It seemed fine for now and it kind of conveys the surprise yet lack of hostility. So I'll go with that for now. In general I was trying to ponder not just specific ideas for this particular dialogue tag, but also wondering if other people have the same problems I can have when trying to come up with words/phrases to depict a certain point... and if they did how they deal with it.

    Using google to just search "emotions" or "facial expressions" actually did help though.
  14. Macaberz
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    Macaberz Pay it forward Contributor

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    I have precisely the same problem. It does indeed have to do with the fact that I haven't read alot lately (at least, not in English). Which brings me to my second point, since English is not my native language it is slightly less natural to think of the appropiate phrasing.

    This thread is already proving helpful, it gave me a few insights so thanks for that.

    Now I just need to get tense right.
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  15. Lost72
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    Lost72 Member

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    "Let me talk to her for a few minutes," Bob said.
    Jim jerked his head back. "You think you will have any more success than I did?"

    Personally, I'd steer clear of too much eyebrow raising.

    Keep a notebook with you and jot down expressions/actions from your everyday life.

    HTH
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  16. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Member

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    Yeah, I mentioned before one of the things I attempted to do was just as I was reading, watch for good expressions and type them into a notepad file or something and then go over it every now and then (probably when I'm putting a new entry in) and then those sorts of things will be on my mind more and I might more readily be able to throw them out when I am trying to write.
  17. Macaberz
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    Macaberz Pay it forward Contributor

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    ^That is a pretty sweet tactic. I am so going to use that!
  18. Lost72
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    Lost72 Member

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    Apologies - I skimmed :eek:

    Another obvious tip - don't look at what you're writing. Turn away or look at the keyboard. Keep plugging away, don't stop, just type, type, type. Have the scene in your head and type whatever comes to mind. Don't think too deeply about it. I'm betting you'll surprise yourself. If you still stumble, put a placeholder in and go back to it when that right action/expression comes to you, because it will come to you. Probably in the middle of Tesco :D
  19. Ian J.
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    Ian J. Member

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    Translation: Tesco = supermarket, so replace with Walmart... ;)
  20. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    here's how, ak:

    Bob suddenly said, “Let me talk to her for a few minutes.”

    “You think you will have any more success than I did?” Jim raised an eyebrow and gave Bob that supercilious smirk he hated.

    or:
    “You think you will have any more success than I did?” Jim's dismissive shrug rankled. Bob hated it when Jim put him down, but hadn't the courage to brace him on it.

    or:
    “You think you will have any more success than I did?” With a wave of his hand, Jim turned things over to Bob and sat back to see if he was up to the challenge.

    or any number of other ways you should be able to come up with... in other words, you don't always have to describe a person's facial expression, to let the readers know how s/he feels...
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