Articles / On Writing

Quick Tips: Stop Smiling!


Stop smiling!

Or, more aptly, stop having your character smile all the time. He smiled. She smiled. I smiled. They smiled. I read it everywhere.  It’s the easiest way to show your character is happy. But are you really showing anything?

There are variations on the theme, of course—mentions of lips turning up and grins breaking across faces, but it all boils down to the same basic thing. A smile. What are you really trying to show your reader? Is there a better way to show it than to say your protagonist flashed his teeth every minute or three?

Think about how a puppy acts when he’s excited. He wags his tail, he weaves in and out of your legs, he may yip and bark and pant, and he may have a hard time keeping from leaping at you and licking your face off. But just from those rather bland descriptions, it’s clear as day that this is one very excited puppy. Imagine if I’d gotten creative!

It’s the same with people. You can convey happiness, sadness, joy, displeasure, jealousy, hatred—you name it—with these same kinds of descriptions. You simply have to take the time to watch people to be able to describe their emotions. Do you want to show sorrow? Describe the hunching of a woman’s shoulders as her posture slips and she ducks her head and casts her eyes toward the ground. If you want to show anxiety, focus on a child who appears stoic yet worries at a cuticle with his fingernail with no regard to the blood he’s drawing.

If you’re looking for joy, think about that puppy. Joy lifts you up and inflates you; it gives you a glow from within. Happy people stand tall and proud, their eyes are bright, and their faces are open and friendly. They laugh. And yes… they smile.

Okay, so maybe don’t stop all the smiling. Just give it a little more description. Eyes crinkle up when you smile. Some people get an adorable little wrinkle on their noses. Others have cheeks so full you just want to squeeze them. Show the smile, don’t just tell us there was one.

Happy writing!


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