March 29th, 2013

Jawing About Writing and Writing About Jaws

By Sharla Rae

No, I’m not discussing sharks. We’re discussing the jawline, and writing facial descriptions and emotions. And …  I have another description list for you, too.

Recently in her blog, When Writing Is A Full Body Workout, Orly confessed being caught acting out what she happened to be writing, that is, she was making faces and performing her characters’ body movements. Perhaps not so surprisingly is that many of you identified with her and this peculiarity – myself included.

It’s also not so surprising to learn “why” we do this either subconsciously or deliberately. Writers want fresh descriptions that hit the mark and don’t sound hokey.

What’s hoaky? Going overboard.

We all laugh at the facial contortions made by monkeys in a zoo, but we don’t want our characters making monkey faces! I touched on this in my blog, Body Language: An Artistic Tool.

When describing a character’s actions, facial or otherwise remember whose POV you’re in.

For example:

 If we’re in Franks POV, Frank wouldn’t think about tightening his jaw in anger. He’d just do it.

 But this might be said: A deep ache settled in Frank’s jaw and realized he was clenching his teeth.  Or simply: he gritted his teeth. I’ve seen: he set his jaw, trying keep from ….  This explains Franks mindset. My favorite though is having him feel the pain or strain of his actions.

 We don’t have to tell the emotion.  The facial expression, the scene’s action and the scene itself shows it.

 My descriptions of the jaw, aren’t just about showing emotion. They also describe facial shapes or types of jaws.  

Okay, I have to ask this: Have you ever noticed how most jawline descriptions pertain to men? I believe that’s because most females find a strong jawline physically pleasing as well as a sign of strength and dominance.  It can also show that the man isn’t afraid of a taking up a challenge or throwing one out to others. This leads us down that Neanderthal road to the idea of protection. Yes, ladies, we are genetically programed to be attracted to the Master of the Universe – He Man.  But that’s another blog. See more about this in the links below.

Many times face shapes are defined by the jaw so it’s only fair to mention them.

 Seven Basic Face Shapes: oval, square, round, heart, oblong, triangle or pear.

Studying jaws of real people makes the task of describing a character’s jaw easier. Finding images of facial shapes on familiar people helps even more. Simply search google images and type jaw shapes or facial shapes. Lots of celebrity pictures pop up and if you click on the image there are explanations. Very cool.

Below I listed descriptions of jawlines, jaw movements and emotional expressions. Most are very basic, mere reminders to yank your creative chain. I included a few definitions because as I’ve mentioned in previous description blogs, definitions are descriptions. I’ve also included chins in the descriptions of jaws because they are part of the jawline.  Skin conditions and types are not included because that’s another blog.

Basic Jaw Descriptions

Bearded
Bulldog jaw
Carved/sculpted marble
Caved in cheeks sharpened his jawline
Chin like a shovel
Chiseled jawline
Chops – usually jaws of animals or slang for jaws
Clean-shaven jawline
Cleft and scooped like Kirk Douglas
Cleft chin
Delicately rounded and feminine
Emaciated/wasted/starved/caved in
Floppy double chins
Glass-jawed – a jaw easily broken
Hallow cheeked
Hallow dimple
Harsh,/sharp Indian-like cheekbones
Heavy round jaw of a Russian peasant woman
Jaw hallmarked his facial features
Jaw narrowed into a pointed little chin
Jawline disappeared in a doughy face
Jowl – low hanging cheeks; hangs loosely
Jutting chin
Lantern-jawed – a long and thin lower jaw that sticks out; usually with hollow cheeks
Large-boned features
Lean-jawed and hungry looking (perhaps real hunger; perhaps hungry for action)
Lock jaw – tetanus; tetanus of the lower jaw
Mandible – lower jaw
Masseter – lower jaw muscle
Maxilla – bone of upper jaw
Muzzle – mouth and jaws of an animal but can be slang for people
Narrow jawline that arrowed into a pointed chin
Nonexistent chin
Pick-like
Pugilistic jaw of a fighter
Receding chin made his nose seem larger
Saggy jaw that dropped into a turkey neck
Scarred along the cheek from ear to …
Spade of a chin
Strong square jaw
Triangular jaw with sharp edges
Under-hung – lower jaw protruding farther than upper
Under-jawed – prominent underjaw
Undershot – lower jaw sticks out
Weak chin beneath plump lips
Whiskered/prickly/stubble
Wobbly chins and cheeks

Jaw Movement & Expression

Braced or stiffened his jaw against the punch
Came unhinged (surprise)
Clenched his jaw
Determined set of his jaw
Dropped with surprise
Jaw tensed with anger, expectation
Jutted his chin
Locked his jaw, refusing to …
Loose-jawed with …
Puffed up his cheeks with indigence
Slacked jawed with amazement

Also see: Body Language: An Artistic Tool

Links: In discussions about the jaw, facial shapes and chins are almost always mentioned. There are a zillion websites on facial shapes and features. Here are a few to get you started.

Just for fun: What your facial features say about your personality according to the Chinese
7 Face shapes
Data Face: allows you chose a facial feature to study
Character Creation: Physical build and Facial Features
Place That Face: Interesting evaluation of facial features
Learn Face Reading: On the surface it describes personality traits for all different kinds of facial feature shapes. But between the lines, you’ll discover all the different feature shapes and what they look like so it’s worth visiting. Pertaining to this blog, check out chin shape and face shape.
Character Emotion: Is It Written All Over The Face
Physical Thesaurus Attributes Entry: Chin and Jaws

Let’s have fun. What are some of the worst jaw/chin/face-shape descriptions or facial body language descriptions you’ve read?

Sharla RaeSharla has published three historical romance novels: SONG OF THE WILLOWLOVE AND FORTUNE, and SILVER CARESS. SONG OF THE WILLOW, her first solo effort, was nominated by “Romantic Times Magazine” for best first historical. Her current work, HOW TO FELL A TIMBERMAN is in the submission process.

When she’s not writing and researching ways to bedevil her book characters, Sharla enjoys collecting authentically costumed dolls from all over the world, traveling (to seek more dolls!), and reading tons of books. You can find Sharla here at Writers In The Storm or on Twitter at @SharlaWrites.

No comments yet to Jawing About Writing and Writing About Jaws

  • This was really informative and concise. Terrific post. I hate when I read things like … she threw her head back in laughter. I mean, who really does that? She might tilt her head back or lift her face up, but throw back? It makes you want to ask, how far?

  • Sharla, can I tell you that your posts can become an invaluable reference for most of us stuck on how on earth to describe smiles, frowns and up-side-downs of the face, the waving of arms, the stance of disapproval, the clint of love, the every movement we ever wanted to dig out of our worn out brains? Yes, I can tell you and thank you as well. This is no less than wonderful. Thanks 🙂

  • This is great for me right now because I’m at the end of the first draft and when I go back I want to arm myself with some good facial descriptions.
    Thank you.

  • Great post Sharla, and so much more than just terms! Lots to take away.
    I don’t remember the worst description, but I get irritated that many are overused. Better to make yourself slow down, and think of something new.

    Although, I can’t help myself with the muscle jumping in the jaw….I write cowboys!

  • I like to plant lists like this in the mulch of my subconscious, trusting it to bring them back up when I need a strong-jawed woman to save the day.

  • Another great post, Sharla, and another keeper.

  • Wonderful information, Sharla. I plan on saving this for future use!

  • Thanks for stopping by Marsha and Sharon.

  • Reblogged this on Ella Quinn ~ Author and commented:
    Another fabulous post.

  • I love these posts. I learn so much. Tweeted and reblogged.

  • CF Yankovich

    Thanks for sharing. I’ve been feeling like my writing is stale and lists like this will help revitalize it.

  • Enjoyed the post. Let me try to tweet now. (I’m a weee bit drunk–I was gardening)

  • Love the “chin like a shovel” description. Nice post. I’m sure I’ve never thought of half those ways to describe a jaw. Gosh, I hope mine is never described as ‘wobbly’…LOL!

    It would be great if you could do something similar with ‘smiles & grins’. I know the different types when I see them, but they are so darn hard (for me) to describe without ‘tell’ words (like ‘sad smile’…YAWN).

    Thanks for sharing! Have a great weekend.

  • When I was in the sixth grade, our teacher made us cut out pictures from magazines and write stories about them. I still have that original scrapbook over 40 yrs later! Now part of my writing process is to collect pictures of facial expressions and keep folders of them, which I use for inspiration while writing. If I’m writing a love scene, I pull out the hot shots. If I’m writing an argument, I go through the images of angry people. I even make slideshows and play them on the computer to get myself in the mood! It helps keep me focused, and also gives me a reference for what I’m writing about. I also have pix of landscapes, houses, and anything else that captures my fancy. Though not all get used, it’s really helpful to instill fresh images in my mind before I write.

  • I’m a little late here reading this but ia is fascinating. I am keeping it as new so I can follow the links when I have time.

  • This post is great. I’ve read others of yours and always learn something new. I love it when you bring up things that I don’t always think about. Thanks!