40 Ways to Exploit Facial Expressions in Your Writing

writing facial expressions

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.

A Beautiful Mess

The world of words is a scary place when laid on a platter for everyone to feast upon. Not only that, it’s unglamorous, lonely, and equates to a low level of pay for the rate of hours put in. Too much coffee is consumed, marriages end in divorce, and your kids end up in a strange haze of detesting you as they honestly sing your praises.

Sitting here at my desk, late at night, a single kind of co-parent – the kids are in bed and I’ve just hit the 31 thousand word limit I’ve set for myself this month – I’m contemplating a crossroad.

I’m surrounded in a chaos of books, strewn papers and incense; I love what I see. There’s a world map angled on the wall, two cats curled by the fire, and the candlelight flickers as I write. For two months I have confined myself to my desk, tasting for the first time the life of an uninterrupted writer. It is bliss.

In around 56 hours that two-month bliss will abruptly end. I am to return to the mundane; and although I can afford to live off my writing alone, I choose for the moment to return. I’ve never been good with uncertainty – growing up in poverty has that effect – but really, if I’m honest, it’s only in the last two weeks, you see, that I’ve accepted myself as a writer.

For three years I have been a paid writer, and technically if you count my first royalty cheque from Amazon, that takes me back seven years. But it’s only now that I can accept it as truth. And I ask why?

At the newly hit age of 40, maybe I’m having a midlife crisis. Or maybe I’ve just realised that if I’m on a good wicket, judging by maternal genetics, I’m already halfway through my ‘young’ life. That I’ve only realised it’s okay to be a ‘paid’ writer may have something to do with me opting for the misery that is ‘real’ and stressful work.

I’ve given myself a set deadline to resign from the ‘other’ soul-draining job. I think by then I can come to terms with the fact that no matter how much I beg myself, I will always . . . be . . . a writer.

Copyright © 2019

Diary of a Dystopian Writer

Dear Diary,

We’re strange creatures. We lock ourselves away, isolated from the real world, yet go a million miles per hour, delving into the pretend one. Rarely does the wordsmith receive understanding from the outside; only acceptance, tolerance . . . and the obligatory: but they’re a writer, as though it explains the obvious.

Writers, I think, are inherently hyperactive. Hyperactive with a splash of the neurotics. Those who aren’t writers will disagree. We resemble that of a sloth in the mornings, hunting out our first caffeine hit with the grace of a moss-covered creature. We then retreat to our cave, slowly experiencing the ritual metamorphosis, until we resemble something closer to a primate. By nightfall, the writer is a standoffish human form – a sight to behold; it’s a remarkable transformation—or so I’ve been told.

Let’s face it: writing, as a career, is one of the more mentally dystopian, draining, contemptuous acts a single person will ever embark on. It isn’t an easy career, and by all means not an easy choice. Much like our fellow tortured artists—painters, musicians, photographers—we’re outsiders looking into a world, desperate to understand the cogs and wheels turning beneath the madness. We clutch at what we know, with it sometimes slipping through our fingers. (Notebook, anyone?)

From this desperation we search every corner and every nook of our mind, trying to determine what it is to be human. Facial expressions, traits, environmental settings, secrets, how one speaks, mannerisms, stressors and reactions, suffering, misery, pain, excruciating death . . . to write is to be human. To create is divine.

And then the lone writer will constantly haggle with their inner being, nag at, doubt, accuse, and often hold such ridicule for oneself: Are we good enough? Are our thoughts worthy? Do we matter? The furball-so-called-writing companion on the desk is staring at me again . . . Am I talking out loud?! Am I paranoid? You examine the pros and cons, ins and outs of the world and then you doubt yourself even more.

And then there are those writers who routinely sit for 8 hours, produce their word count and sip iced water . . . really? [enter crickets chirping]

Then you edit, you censor, you rewrite—only to decide the original is more fitting—you pace your study, you publish, you retract, you publish again; you drink more coffee, pat the cat, and go to bed.

But you don’t sleep. Your mind wanders to your characters, your writing, your words, your day, and whether Good Charlotte will break up when they’re in their 70s? What moisturiser does Gerard Butler use and can I have some? Incessant randoms continue to haunt your Z’s until the alarm clock yells ‘Wake Up!’ only for the writer to start their day again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

A lot of writers are divorced, are hermits or have married other writers (or musicians—a strange co-existence in itself). Their children usually go on to other artistic ventures, only because they were forced in childhood to befriend their make believe worlds out of loneliness; rejected for the wordcount. That, or they practice accounting.

It is what it is, folks. But before you poke fun at the writer next time, spare a thought for their poor soul. The writer didn’t choose this wretched path. It chose them.

Now, do I hit publish or pat the cat instead?

Copyright © 2019