You’ve finally finished your first draft of the next magnificent, ground breaking novel. Give yourself some credit and congratulate yourself. Authoring a book isn’t for the faint-hearted, and it’s a task most people never achieve.

Unfortunately, getting the story down on the proverbial piece of paper is only half the battle. Your first draft will be crap—there’s no getting around it. And that’s okay. But it means your WIP requires a lot of editing, much re-reading, and a lot of dust collecting as it sits in a drawer for weeks to bake—you need to do this for a fresh editorial perspective.

If you’re doing the right thing by your work (and yourself as a writer), the time spent away from your completed draft is time you’ll spend researching. You’ll need to research basics like do I really capitalize that noun or not; what makes a verb an adverb; the oxford comma placement; and general narrative structure.

But most of all, you’ll want to scrutinize your writing faults.

THE EYES/BROWSMOUTH GESTURESFACIAL EXPRESSIONSTHE SKIN
He winkedHer jaw droppedHer expression dulledHer face flushed
Lines etched his browHis smile fadedHe scowledHe paled
Tears filled her eyesHis jaw clenchedShe cocked her headExcessive makeup
The lack of eye contactShe smiled half-heartedlyThe smile reached his eyesBeads of sweat formed on his face
He closed his eyes and sighedHe gave a Cheshire Cat grinHer puffy faceThe smile dimpled his skin

More common than not is the writer’s habit of conveying dull facial expressions for their characters. “He looked/she looked” isn’t satisfactory, I’m afraid. The odd raise of the eyebrow is okay, but it’s not telling me a lot about yourself other than you’re reading this with a slight pang of curiosity.

I want to read about scepticism, vindictiveness or anger, and have it used as a solid dialogue tag or descriptor for a larger scene. Show me the traits, their temperament, and their fears.

Make your characters human.

To catch and hold a reader’s attention, your characters need to experience the life you’ve placed them in. Show their embarrassment with the crimson colour of their skin. Did their face harden as a result? Did recognition dawn on their face as terror overtook their fleeting glance, while their side-kick’s face contorted and twisted in terror?

Or maybe their face simply went blank. [insert crickets chirping].

HAPPINESSHOSTILITYFEARSHAME
Broad smileVein throbbed in neckShaky smileBiting of lip
WhistlingSnarlingBlinking rapidlySwallowing hard
Sparkling eyesSideways glanceDarting glanceSweating
WinkingFlared nostrilsPale featuresGlancing away
LaughterSneeringTrembling featuresDownward gaze

Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick and Stephen King are masters of character expression (and great reads). Study the greats while you distance yourself from your draft. Get a fresh perspective for when you do your first line-by-line edit.

And remember, context is crucial for conveying expression; and writing is far from easy.

So, if you want your audience’s nose to flare with anticipation and not bore them with two-dimensional nonsense, then clench your jaw, nibble on your bottom lip and look heavenward as you contemplate the descriptors for your editing kick start.

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