by Margie Lawson
Don’t give readers a reason to take a mini-vacation from your page.
That’s what happens when readers come across clichéd phrases or sentences they’ve read before. They know what’s coming. Their brain takes a break from your story.
And for that fraction of a second they are sucked into the muck of their real world. Thinking things like:
I ought to quit reading and get some work done.
Has the washer quit running? I could transfer clothes from the washer to the dryer.
Because those blah-blah thoughts are more interesting than the overused phrase or sentence they just saw on the page.
We’ve all had those random reality-based thoughts when we’re reading. Because we aren’t locked in every sentence.
But we don’t have those reality intrusions when we’re fully immersed in a scene. When we’re locked in, reality doesn’t exist.
This blog focuses on faces. Writers fall into describing expressions in the same old, same old ways. The tried and trite phrases carry little interest, little power.
Facial expressions are more than just a visual. More than just a tag. More than just a beat.
They share subtext. And we all know how critical it is to share the underlying psychological messages that deepen characterization. Those truths that make our characters real.
I’m proud to share examples from writers who have studied with me. All examples in this blog are from writers who have completed at least one 5-day intensive. Some are published, the others aren’t yet published, but should be.
I’ll include a Deep Edit Analysis for several of the examples. Enjoy!
I recommend reading the examples OUT LOUD. With feeling. You’ll hear the compelling cadence.
Merlin’s Children, Becky Rawnsley, 2-time Immersion Grad, Denver
- His expression is calm, but there’s a hardness there, the same hardness I saw when he buried his family.
Deep Edit Analysis:
- Power Words: calm, hardness, hardness, buried, family
- Juxtaposed opposites
- Back Story Slip In – Smart!
- Compelling Cadence
NOTE: Power words carry psychological power.
2. His smile is slow. And knowing. And soul-chilling.
3. Beverell’s smile is thinner than a gnat’s dick.
Deep Edit Analysis:
- Flat-out, crazy-fun analogy.
- Humor Hit!
- And I know from Becky, that thought fits her character’s personality.
- Compelling Cadence
Becky Rawnsley could have written: "Beverell gave me a weak smile."
But we’ve read that line.
4. Cale looks up at her, his expression a contender for stoniest-of-the-year.
That one made me laugh out loud!
Becky could have written: Cale looks up at her, his expression stony.
Demon Curse, Raewyn Bright, 4-time Immersion Grad, 3 Immersions in Australia, one in Denver
1. And there was something in his expression, something her body understood. It awakened things in her that were better left dormant. Like her hopes. Her dreams. Her libido. Her demon.
Deep Edit Analysis:
- Power Words: something, something, body understood, awakened, dormant, hopes, dreams, libido, demon
- Backloaded -- Every sentence
- Raewyn Bright played with structure. Double: something, something
- Anaphora (Triple+ Beginnings)
- Zeugma – The last thing in the four-item series is different.
- Compelling Cadence
2. He turned away but she’d seen his expression. Guilt and resolve and damn the consequences.
3. He had the look of a mean street thug. No neck, just a buzz-cut wedged-head atop thick shoulders. And a killer’s steady stare.
Love how the focus is on the description of the character, which makes the killer's steady stare a surprise. A carry-lots-of-punch surprise.
4. He blew smoke at her and smiled. Not a Kumbaya-let’s-pray-for-your-soul smile. More like I’m-going-to-chop-you-into-little-pieces-and-mail-them-to-your-Goddess smile.
Amplified Smile with Dueling Hyphenated-Run-Ons!
1. “What the…” Chief Constable MacIntyre stood in the blown-out doorway staring at the fairy fluttering in front of Ian’s face. Ian could almost see the Chief try to lock onto an explanation. A smarmy smile slow-crossed his face like he’d just sold his logical mind a bill of goods. He turned to Ian. “I get it. That’s a hologram.”
Deep Edit Analysis
- Power Words: Chief, blown-out, fairy, lock, explanation, smarmy, slow-crossed, sold, logical mind, bill of goods, hologram
- Double Alliteration: fairy, fluttering, front, face, smarmy smile slow-crossed, sold
2. “I’m fine watching. Besides, half-caste don’t mix with the full fairies.” Her smile stayed strong—even danced a little on her lips, but he heard a lifetime of longing to belong in her tone.
No more Deep Edit Analyses. The blog would be too long.
White Raven, Vanitha Sankaran, Immersion Grad, Yosemite National Park
1. Milo’s raised eyebrows were like question marks looking for a place to land.
2. The skin around his eyes tightened, making the jagged scar on his face pop like a deadly snake on the move.
3. The Boy stood before Rasmi in a display of superior indifference, strong and solid and sure of his advantage. His stern scowl didn’t scream surprise-you-caught-a-trespasser. The alertness in his eyes didn’t look scared of being attacked either.
The Billionaire’s Paris Proposal, Allison Burke Collins, 2- time Immersion Grad, Dallas
1. The smile left her face, inch by inch, the color leeching out, skin becoming pale white marble. He’d put the woman on a pedestal, but now an icy cool goddess stared at him.
2. He turned his head, just an inch or two, and shadows reshaped his face from best friend to scary stalker.
Platinum Love, Ja'Nese Dixon, Immersion Grad, Dallas
The frown on my Daddy’s face tells me he’s gearing up for a lecture.
He watched the emotions dance across her face, excitement, fear, dread, determination, all in seconds.
Never a Viscount, Sheri Humphreys, 2-time Immersion Grad, Denver and Yosemite National Park
1. His expression—he might have been a prisoner awaiting execution, begging the Lord Justice for leniency.
2. She grinned and the look on his carefree face made her chest fill like a sail taking the wind.
1. They sat across from me, stone- faced and icy as the millpond in winter. Father did not so much as blink in my direction. But then, he seldom does.
2. That sharp hawk-like expression of hers returned, unreadable and shrewd.
3. An emotion splashed across Jane’s face, but vanished so swiftly I couldn’t identify it. Was it anger? Sadness perhaps? Or pain?
1. He had the kind of blunt-featured face I'd seen in graphic novels. Like someone had slammed on the brakes in his brain, and all the weird crap from the backseat had piled up behind his smoldering eyes.
2. Beneath the slash of his brow, his restless eyes pulsed like black beetles working the earth.
3. The hurricane vanished from his face, replaced by partly cloudy with only a chance of shit storms.
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. What really catches my attention is what I don’t see. No pity. No pain. No grief.
3. I feel my smile slip from my eyes, my lips, and fall completely off my face. I know the look he sees in my eyes is probably the same pity-filled expression I saw in his seconds ago.
4. And there’s nothing in his voice, his eyes, or his expression that says he’s lying.
Accidentally Hexed, Angela Hicks, 3-time Immersion Grad, 1 in Denver, 2 in Dallas
1. Blake’s eyes cut to me. His razor sharp gaze sliced off a layer of my confidence.
2. Liam looked like a man who just found out all the strippers were over thirty. And had kids.
3. Tiffany had a smile that could bring grown men to their knees and lure them within reach of her fangs.
Wow! Wow! Wow!
Readers won’t think about their laundry when reading these lines.
I’m impressed with all of these Immersion grads. They learned so many deep edit techniques and tips and systems that helped them make their writing fresh and strong.
But not too fresh. No speed bumps. Just the right amount of freshness and power.
Want to learn more?
Check out Empowering Characters Emotions, an online course that’s taught in March by Becky Rawnsley. Her examples were the first in this blog. Stellar writing.
BLOG GUESTS: Thank you so much for dropping by the blog today.
Please post a comment or share a ‘Hi Margie!” and you’ll have two chances to be a winner. You could win a Lecture Packet from me, or an online class from Lawson Writer’s Academy (valued up to $100)
Lawson Writer’s Academy – March Classes
March 4 thru May 31, Instructor: Margie Lawson (limit 30 students)
2. Two-Week Intensive: Potent Pitches and Brilliant Blurbs
Instructor: Suzanne Purvis
Instructor: Becky Rawnsley Teaching Margie Lawson’s Course
4. First Five Pages, Instructor: Laura Drake
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Instructor: Anne Mateer
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A late bloomer as a fiction writer, Diana Clark is a much-published former editor and historian who lives and works in Mazatlán, Mexico. It was her love of history, specifically Latin American history, that led to her Points South series, which examines the turbulent 1970s and 1980s in Chile, Argentina, and Central America through novels. Some titles include Stolen, Tapestries, Song of Despair, and, most recently, The Long Game.
She admits to another longtime love, Latin American and Spanish protest music of the 60s and 70s. This interest has taken her to Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Cuba, and Mexico, where she’s interviewed cantautores (singers/songwriters), whose songs are still performed today.
Margie Lawson—editor and international presenter—loves to have fun. And teaching writers how to use her deep editing techniques to create page-turners is her kind of fun.
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 2019, in Palm Springs, Denver, Dallas, Cleveland, Columbus, Kansas City, Atlanta, and in Sydney, Melbourne, and Bellebrae, Australia), Cruising Writers cruises, full day and weekend workshops, keynote speeches, online courses, lecture packets, and newsletter, please visit: www.margielawson.com
See you on the blog!
Photo credit (top): AbsolutVision, Pixabay