May 16th, 2018

Writing Fresh Faces: Beyond Cold, Hard Stares

Margie Lawson

Hmm…  Cold hard stare.

Have you read that descriptor before? Maybe more than once? More than a dozen times?

What about variations on these lines:

She narrowed her eyes to slits.

His eyes popped open as wide as saucers.

She scowled.

He arched a sardonic eyebrow.

What happens when readers read phrases or sentences they’ve read before?

They are not as attached to the read.

That page is not a page-turner.

But it’s easy to give the readers a little hit of fresh writing. Big hits are good too. As long as it’s still a smooth read. As long as it doesn’t jerk the reader out of your story.

The examples below share amplifications. The author amplified. They spotlighted body language. Added more descriptors or thoughts or shared how an expression from a non-POV character impacted the POV character.

The facial expression carried more power. Deepened characterization. Made relationships more complex.

Hear the compelling cadence.

Read the examples out loud. You’ll hear the compelling cadence that drives the reader through sentences and paragraphs and passages.

I shared examples from seven Immersion Grads. These authors have completed at least one 5-day intensive with me.  Some have done several of my Immersion Master Classes.

I deep edit analyzed examples from the first few authors. I couldn’t analyze them all, the blog would have been waaay too long.

Grave Secrets, Skye Jordan (Joan Swan), 3-time Immersion Grad

  1. That cold, sharp gaze of his cut into her again.

Deep Editing Analysis:  Love that line. A few tweaks and it carries so much more power than a cold, hard stare.

Multiple Amplifications: Two descriptors for gaze, and shared how the look impacts the POV character. Compelling Cadence. Smart writing in that seemingly simple sentence.

Could Have Written: He gave her a cold, hard stare.


  1. He held her gaze with eyes that somehow reassured her. She felt the connection in the pit of her stomach, a warm, coming-to-life tingle.

Deep Editing Analysis:  Multiple Amplifications; Look is a stimulus for a visceral response. Hyphenated-run-on. Power words.

Could Have Written: He gave her a reassuring look.


  1. But the look on Audrey’s face gave the news away, and the terror clawed at Savannah’s gut.

Deep Editing Analysis:  Scary, scary. Powerful message. Amplifications; Look is a stimulus for a visceral response. Power words.

Could Have Written: She saw the look on Audrey’s face and knew. Her stomach clenched.


  1. Her son finally glanced up, his expression flat—something Savannah had dubbed the Hank effect.

Deep Editing Analysis:  Ha! A snickerable moment. Humor Hit – Named the look.

Could Have Written: Her son finally glanced up.


Saving Mercy, Abbie Roads, 3-time Immersion Grad

  1. “I’m not him.” He repeated the sentence, nothing in his tone changing, but she saw something in his eyes—through his eyes. Sadness. Resolve. And just a hint of fear. That was her undoing. That he could be scared of her—wow.

Deep Editing Analysis:  Multiple Amplifications; Showing What’s Not There; Fresh writing; Shared how POV character impacted him, and how knowing that impacted her.

Could Have Written: His tone didn’t change, but he looked intimidated.


  1. She started to push back from him, but he caught her wrists, his grip impenetrable, his eyes stone-cold serious.

Deep Editing Analysis:  Hear that compelling cadences? Two Amplifications: Fresh writing. Look how she has three descriptors in a row. Smart writing.

Could Have Written: He grabbed her wrists and glared at her.


  1. She packed her gaze with truth. Wanted to sear this moment into his brain and hope later, when she left, he’d understand that it wasn’t because of him.

Deep Editing Analysis: Wow! Packed gaze with truth. Fresh and powerful! Multiple Amplifications; Power words. Deepens characterization.


  1. But then his father’s gaze shifted, and the fragile bubble of time popped.

Deep Editing Analysis:  Love the fresh writing! We know exactly what she means.

Could Have Written: He looked away and the moment was gone.


Long Shot, Kennedy Ryan, Immersion Grad

  1. We stare at each other in a silence rich with things I shouldn’t say.

Deep Editing Analysis:  Beautiful amplification of silence. Fresh Writing. Deepens characterization. Compelling cadence too.

Could Have Written: We stared at each other and it seemed like the world stopped.


  1. A tornado touches down on his face, his brows. Lightning strikes over stormy eyes.

Deep Editing Analysis:  Powerful metaphor, themed twice. Stunning writing.

Could Have Written: He looked more angry than I’d ever seen him look.


  1. Even in the darkness, his cold stare penetrates my clothes and leaves my skin clammy.

Deep Editing Analysis: Two Amplifications. Deepens characterization. His look is a stimulus for a physical response.

Could Have Written: He gave me a cold stare. I shivered.


  1. Something flickers through his eyes so quickly there’s not time for me to read it. Guilt? Anger?

Deep Editing Analysis: Flicker Face Emotion. Couldn’t be interpreted, but the power is on the page with what the POV character infers. Powerful.

Could Have Written: I couldn’t tell what he was thinking.


The Forgotten Ones, Steena Holmes, Immersion Grad, 2-time Cruising Writers Grad, NYT Bestseller

  1. “How long have you been on the run?” David decided to call it like he saw it, despite the flash of fear that flared up in her gaze.
  2. Mom bolts from her seat and glares at me. Though she leaves her words unspoken, her gaze is doing plenty of yelling.
  3. “He reminds me of you.” I swallow hard and watch the shift in my mom’s eyes as she stops staring at me and looks back into the flames.
  4. David tried to get his wife to calm down, but he was stopped from saying anything further when she turned the force of the wildfire gaze in her eyes on him.


This Heart of Mine, C.C. Hunter (Christy Craig), Immersion Grad, NYT Bestseller

  1. Dad walks over. He’s wearing his I’ll-take-on-the-world face. The expression he wore most of the time when I was sick.
  2. I feel my smile slip from my eyes, my lips, and fall completely off my face.
  3. The oh-poor-you look on his face flips right to fear.
  4. And there’s nothing in his voice, his eyes, or his expression that says he’s lying.




Seize Today, Pintip Dunn, Immersion Grad, RITA Winner, NYT Bestseller

  1. I hold my face tight, but the grimace sneaks out anyway.
  2. And yet the guilt of the last six months radiates deep in her eyes. She clenches her jaw, keeping her expression rigidly neutral. If I wasn’t looking straight at her, I wouldn’t see her pain, But I’m looking. I see.
  3. The holo-image of the chairwoman smiles, the picture of serenity. She could be advertising a lake vacation at a virtual theatre.
  4. My mother is watching me carefully, with an expression that makes a chill creep up my spine. It’s an expression that says she knows my heart, she sees my soul. An expression that suggests she knows me better than I know myself.


Three Days Missing, Kimberly Belle, 4-time Immersion Grad, USA Today Bestseller

Examples are from the Advanced Reader Copy. Three Days Missing comes out June 26th.

The last two examples are dialogue cues. Sharing more fun.

  1. His face is a furious mask, and I have to remind myself his rage is not directed at me. Sam glares across the foyer in a way that makes it seem like all this—the agents, the warrant—is somehow Josh’s fault.
  2. Josh’s head whips up and something changes on his face. Something small and barely noticeable, a tightening around his eyes. He sips from his glass, his gaze fishing away the way Sammy’s does when I ask why there’s an empty box of cookies in the pantry.
  3. “How come you’re not in uniform?” The question comes out unsteady and without rhythm. I’m surprised I’m able to speak at all. My throat is desert-dry, and my tongue feels like a deadweight, swollen to twice its size.
  4. I call Mac, choking out the words in seizure of spurts. Hikers. Body. Boy.My voice rising, spiralling into a steady wail Mac has to shout over.

Three Smart Takeaways:

  1. When it’s important, amplify the subtext.
  2. Make every sentence cadence driven.
  3. Write fresh. Don’t give readers descriptors they’ve read in hundreds of books.

Kudos to all the Immersion grads referenced in this blog. Love, love, love their writing!

And — THANK YOU to the WITS gals for hosting me. Can’t wait to see you at RWA National! 

Keep in mind this blog is only five pages long. My online course on body language has over 200 pages. It’s loaded with MORE TEACHING POINTS.   

Lots more teaching points than are shared here. The online course has plenty of examples and explanations to help you make your writing bestseller-strong. Plus, online courses are fun. And if you know me, you know I’m all about fun.

 The course that includes all those facial expressions starts June 1st. Check out — Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist.

Please post a comment or share a ‘Hi Margie!’ Post something — and you have two chances to be a winner.

You could win a Lecture Packet from me, or an online class from Lawson Writer’s Academy!

Lawson Writer’s Academy – June Courses

  1. Two-Week Intensive: Staking the Stakes
  2. Two-Week Intensive: Show Not Tell
  3. Five Week First Draft
  4. Write Better Faster
  5. Ta Da – How to Put Funny on the Page
  6. Editing Magic: Work with a Professional Editor
  7. Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist

Post a comment. Let me know you’re here.

I’ll draw names for the TWO WINNERS Thursday night, at 9PM, and post them in the comments section.

Like this blog? Give it a social media boost. Thank you.

  *     *     *     *     *

Margie Lawson PhotoMargie Lawson —editor and international presenter – teaches writers how to use her psychologically-based editing systems and deep editing techniques to create page turners.

She’s presented over 120 full day master classes in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and France, as well as taught multi-day intensives on cruises in the Caribbean.

To learn about Margie’s 5-day Immersion Master Classes (in 2018, in Phoenix, Denver, San Jose area, Dallas, Yosemite, Los Angeles (2), Atlanta, and in Sydney, Melbourne, and Coolangatta, Australia), Cruising Writers cruises, full day and weekend workshops, keynote speeches, online courses through Lawson Writer’s Academy, lecture packets, and newsletter, please visit:


95 comments to Writing Fresh Faces: Beyond Cold, Hard Stares

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.