Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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May 16, 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: www.margielawson.com


95 comments on “Writing Fresh Faces: Beyond Cold, Hard Stares”

    1. Big Hugs to Aussie Immersion Grad Wendy Leslie!

      I remember your story from Immersion class in 2015. That's a memorable story! Happy deep editing. Hope you QUERY SOON.

      Nudge. Nudge. 🙂

  1. Hello Margie!
    I always love your posts.
    These examples are wonderful. So many spectacular ways to describe facial expressions.
    Miss you.

    1. Big Hugs to Immersion Grad Bonnie Gill --

      Great to cyber-see you. But it's been waaay too long since I've hugged you. See you at RWA National? Or in an Enduro Immersion class in 2019? MISS YOU!

  2. Totally love this. I've been looking for ways to make my short story more compelling and dramatic. This is just the thing. Thank you so much!

    1. Hello Donna Marie --

      Yay! Sounds like you're committed to writing fresh faces. LOTS more info on ways to make faces and voices NYT strong in my Writing Body Language class taught in June. Maybe? You don't know what you don't know. 🙂

  3. Margie, I really enjoy your posts. I always learn so much from them. I'm set to take your June course--Writing Body Language. Loved the first two I took in March and April!

    1. Hello Maggie --

      KUDOS TO YOU! You'll love the Body Language and Dialogue Cues class.

      Hope I get to meet you sometime. Any chance you're coming to RWA National this summer? I'll be there!

  4. These examples are great reminders of what I should strive for. Looking forward to working with you in a few weeks at the West Texas Writer's Academy. Sherry Gross

    1. Hugs to West Texas Writers Academy Grad Sherry Gross!

      We'll have such fun digging deep into deep editing at WTWA again! See you in June!

  5. My heart sings as I read this post. So much to think about, so many exciting ideas to incorporate in my WIP—with my own twist. Thank you, Margie!

    1. Hello Millie --

      Ah -- Thank you!

      Love that you added -- with your own twist. Yes!

      Fresh writing can wow agents, editors, readers, and reviewers.

      If you haven't taken any of my online courses, check them out. Dozens of learning opportunities in each class.

      Or -- check out the lecture packets for each course.

      Now you know they're available. 🙂

  6. Margie, just coming off your Deep Editing, Rhetorical Devices, and More class, I get the fun part. Combing through my not-so-sparkling manuscript to make it shine is my goal. I could become a perpetual student of yours! Thanks for this thought provoking article with excellent examples!

    1. Hello Lee --

      A perpetual student. Awesome!

      Sound like you're digging deep into my deep editing techniques. Enjoy!

      Hope I get to meet you someday. Is an Immersion Master Class in your future?

    1. Hugs to 2-time Immersion Grad Suzanne --

      Love your writing too!

      Miss you. I need my Suzanne fix.

    1. Hugs to West Texas Writer's Academy Grad Vanessa!

      You're going to love our WTWA class this June. It has three Immersion Grads -- and lots of other cool writers. Can't wait!

  7. Your examples make it seem so simple. Reality means back to the editing. Thanks for always challenging. I've about worn out my EDIT notebook from the first course I took.

    1. Hello Judythe --

      Glad you use what you learned in the first course you took from me. That must have been YEARS AGO. Hmm... I've developed lots of new deep editing goodies since then. Now you know. 🙂

    1. Hello csciriha --


      I'm not sure if you know about all the deep editing techniques and systems shared in my online courses and lecture packets. Hope you have a chance to check them out.

      Lots of learning opportunities!

    1. Hello Talia --

      Thanks for letting me know you love what you're learning.

      Hope you check out my online courses. You could learn sooooooo much more.

      Just sharing. In case you didn't know. 🙂

  8. Hi Margie! Your posts are my favorite. They speak my language. As a professional life coach and NLP practitioner, the recognition of states (and ability to change said states) via body language are key components in what I do for clients. What you do for writers is amazing! Amplifications? POV impacts? Brilliant stuff. I can't wait to apply these tips as I move into my novel's rewrite. Cheers

    1. Hello Stephen --

      You paid smart-close attention to teaching points I slipped in this blog. Good for you!

      I'm a psychologist. I always analyze, then analyze some more. Amplifications were easy to figure out--a couple of decades ago. But showing how something impacts the POV character? That's dig-deep sophisticated. Thanks for noticing and commenting. 🙂

    1. Hello Bethany --

      Yes, yes, yes!

      Dig deeper. Draw the reader in deeper. Perfect!

    1. Hellooo Winona!

      Thank you. Can't wait to work with you in Immersion in September!

  9. Hoo buddy, I needed this today! I had far too many frowns flat-lining my first draft!!

    1. Hugs to Immersion Grad Anne --


      --- I had far too many frowns flat-lining my first draft!!

      Fresh writing! I know you'll nix or fix!

    1. Hugs to 2-time Immersion Grad Jeanne

      Congrats again -- for being a RITA Finalist!

    1. Hugs to Immersion Grad Laurie --

      I had such a fabulous time working with you. Miss you!

    1. Hello Debbie --

      So great to see you here. Hope to see you in person again sometime!

  10. Well, Margie, you know I suck at body language, so examples like these really help! I'm working on it—I promise! Thanks for sharing with us.

    1. Hugs to Multi-Immersion Grad Julie --

      When it counts, I know you'll make your body language fresh and powerful.

  11. As always, a great reminder to look for areas to lift my writerly game.

  12. Margie, your post was just what I needed today - what GREAT timing! I'm editing deeply on the third draft of my WIP, using your EDITs method. Thanks so much for sharing all these well-done amplifications!

    1. Hugs to Immersion Grad Barbara --

      It's been toooo long since I've seen you. Hope to see you in 2019!

      I bet you're digging deep analyzing your scenes with the EDITS System. Smart, smart, smart.

    1. Hugs to Immersion Grad Lyz --

      Thank you! I know you'll use what you learn.

  13. Hi Margie. Inspirational examples, and I love your comment to Donna Marie above. ‘You don’t know what you don’t know.’ That’s a hit I love - what learning is about. Scales falling away, a new way of seeing, a pick-me-up and put-me-straight on a fresh path to follow. Thank you. J x

    1. Hugs to Immersioner-To-Be Jay!

      You're so cool. Can't wait to work with you in Immersion on the Gold Coast.

      You know I'll work you hard, and I know we'll have the best time working hard.

    1. Hugs to Immersion Grad Becky Rawnsley --

      I love all the examples too.

      Can't wait to see you in Immersion again. It's been waaaay too long!

  14. I always love your examples, Margie. I also find a lot of new books to read.

    1. Big Lovey Hugs to Multi-Immersioner Elaine Fraser --

      You'd love all those books!

      Miss you. Hope I get to see you in 2019.

    1. Hugs to Multi-Immersioner Laura Drake --

      Yes! I am having a Meet & Greet, Hug & Chug at RWA National again. I'll let you know when and where later.

      So glad I get to see you twice this year!

    1. Hello Bronwen --

      You learned a lot from my lecture packets. Excellent!

      Thanks for letting me know.

      Hope I get to meet you sometime!

  15. These examples are inspiring. Makes me want to edit! Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Hello C Parlier --

      So glad the examples wowed you. Have fun deep editing!

  16. Hi, Margie. Your examples are always so spot-on and instructive. Love them and love your classes.

    1. Hello Jeanne --

      Ah -- thank you.

      Glad you're loving our online courses.

  17. Hi Margie! Love your examples, almost as much as I love your classes. They have always transformed my writing. Happy to see some new ones on the list. I'm going to check them out!

    1. Hello Merry M --

      Great to cyber-see you again!

      I love knowing that Lawson Writer's Academy courses transformed your writing. Thanks so much for letting me know.

      Lots of new courses. Enjoy!

    1. Hugs to Immersion Grad Regina Morris --

      Ah -- Thank you!

      Great to see you here!

  18. Eric's neck muscles twitched. His shoulders tensed His hands clenched.
    Sam could sense the ice ray brewing. She saw it a millisecond before it hit.
    But she would not be stunned - not this time . This time she had a weapon of her own. 'Oh, for Goodness sake Eric. Grow up!'

    1. Hello Carol --

      I remember you, And I loved that group in Colorado Springs. So committed to learning how to add power.

      Thanks so much for posting. I hope I get to see you again sometime.

    1. Hugs to Immersion Grad Jeanette O'Hagan --

      So fun working with you in Immersion in Brisbane!

    1. Hello Debra --

      Thank you. I hope you check out my online courses. You'd be surprised at what you learn. And you sound like a serious learner.

      Just sharing info.

      1. In my haste I forgot to put my last name. It's Debra Jiles from last November's Immersion class at Denny's.

    1. Hello Jennifer Jensen --

      You can take one of my online courses in June.

      Oh -- maybe you meant an Immersion class. Hope it works out!

    1. Hugs to Immersion Grad Lola Dodge!

      Absolutely fabulous working with you in Immersion in Los Angeles!

  19. Hugs to 2-time Immersion Grad Mary Karlik --

    Love working/playing/laughing with you in Immersion in L.A. I know I'll get to see you again!


    I love all the comments and energy here. Thank you all for taking time to read my blog.

    We have TWO WINNERS!

    The lecture packet winner is VANESSA FOSTER!

    The online course winner is BRONWEN FLEETWOOD!

    Another BIG THANK YOU to the WITS team: Laura Drake, Jenny Hansen, Fae Rowen, and Julie Glover. They're all IMMERSION GRADS, and I'm so proud of them.

    If you're going to RWA National this summer, I'd love to meet you. Please check my Facebook page for specifics about my Meet & Greet, Hug $ Chug. Guaranteed fun!

    If you have questions about the online courses or lecture packets offered through Lawson Writer's Academy, please contact me through my web site.

    Thanks again!

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