"he grinned at her...."


Written on Friday, February 06, 2009 by haleigh

Saturday, February 7th

So in one of my critiques at school, I received a very interesting remark I didn't expect. A very contentious reader wrote on my page: "You use the words 'smile' and 'grin' a lot. Those are lazy words and you write better than that."

This had never occurred to me before, how often I use the phrase "he smiled" or "she grinned," and how little such a phrase actually conveys. There are a gazillion different smiles. Happy smiles and fake smiles and sexy smiles and nervous smiles....big grins that light up your face and little ones that show sheer, unadulterated amusement.

I've recently started watching a TV show. This is a big deal for me, as there are only two shoes on television I'll watch regularly. I now have a third, and I have (in two episodes) fallen deeply, deeply, in love. "Lie to Me' on Fox on Wednesday nights (or even better, here). The show is about a man who has spent his career researching facial expressions, and can spot any lie. A human lie detector. His firm is contracted by the FBI, various law enforcement agencies, politicians, etc, to find out if people are lying or telling the truth.

The nuances they can spot are phenomenal. What the slightest furrow in the eyebrows might mean. The slightest tilt of the lips. A change in breathing. A change in speech patterns (apparently, if you stop using contractions mid-way through a conversation, it's a big red flag).

So this has gotten me thinking more about what you can do with facial expressions, and all the nuances you can use. The small little subtitles that can show emotion in a way that "He grinned at her" cannot.

So, any words or phrases you use lazily without thinking about it? Anybody else overuse smile or grin? Anybody else hooked on this show?

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  1. Melissa |

    What a great topic. Time for me to get defensive on your behalf. lol As for you being lazy with using grin and smile, I don't think you do that. All those different emotions from different kinds of smiles are in the context of what comes before it actually gets used. You've laid the groundwork, so a simple "he smiled" or he grinned" is all that's called for and our mind fills in the rest.

    My lazy phrases seems to have a lot to do with eye contact - - sweeping up, breaking away and a thousand variations of the same. I realize I need to be more creative to show emotions, whether the character is lying, embarrassed or whatever. It's amazing how tempting it is to use the same phrase over and over, sometimes within the same scene!

    Yes, 'Lie to Me' is a great show, and I should be taking notes. :)

  2. Jessica |

    All the time, I'm sure. Eek. I'm reading some Margie Lawson lectures and she talks about taking these basic sentences and making them unique and stronger.
    I really want to see that show. It sounds fascinating.
    Anyways, I guess I'm too lazy to think of my lazy phrases. Oh, I think I use "his lips twisted" or "she licked her lips" alot. LOL

  3. haleigh |

    thanks for getting all worked up for me, Melissa! lol. But you know, once I started watching for that, I saw it *a lot*!

    I do the eye thing too. Part of the reason I'm loving this show is that there's so many ways to show facial expression that I never thought of before, like with the eyebrows and nose and neck....though I'm sure characters will still smile on a regular basis :)

    Hi Jessie! Unique and stronger - that's a great goal, if I just knew how to do it! lol. I like the phrase "his lips twisted", but just like smiling and grinning, it can be over done too I guess!

  4. Melissa |

    Just had to say that I have at least eight instances of the word "smile" in the first three pages of my chapter 23 of Guardian. Too many? lol My defense is that it's the chapter where the Guardians rehearsed their "don't forget to smile" speech to give a show of friendliness. This doesn't count, right? It wasn't easy to work all those "smiles" in, you know.

  5. haleigh |

    yes, but in that scene, they're forcing smiles, so in that context, then smile works. I mean, you can toss in a "lips twisted" or "grimace", but overall, you're pretty much stuck with smile :)

  6. Kelly Krysten |

    I used to write 'matter-of-factly' constantly. I mean, how often do you really need to be TOLD that?LOL! My brother actually pointed it out to me when I wrote it FOUR times on the same page...*g*
    But that was the first romance novel I tried to write and I'm happy to report that it no longer exists(I trashed it AND mysteriously no longer have the file on my computer. Seriously, it IS a mystery. I never deleted it.).

  7. haleigh |

    Matter of factly? LOL - that's great Kelly. While revising today, I caught the phrase "and that's just all there was to it" over and over again. No idea how that one slipped my mind! lol.

    That's too bad about your file! I lost my master's thesis surprisingly. No idea what happened to it. Hope I never need to prove I went to all that trouble to write it!


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