Practice-W Exercise Archives
Exercise: Telling looks
These exercises were written by IWW members and administrators to
provide structured practice opportunities for its members. You are
welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that you found
them at the Internet Writers Workshop
Prepared by: Margery Casares
Posted on: Sun, 21 Jan 2001
Reposted on: Sat, 15 Feb 2003
Reposted on: Sun, 15 Feb 2004
Most beginning authors (sometimes even those who have taken writing
classes) tend to narrate their stories and/or put on paper every single
movement known to man as their characters walk through the pages. A
lesson all writers must learn if they want others to read their work,
this: Writing is fifty percent author and fifty percent reader. If an
author leaves nothing to the reader's imagination, the reader will
quickly toss the book.
An author should use words that will not only be readily
to a reader, but will convey exactly what the author wishes a reader to
'see', 'hear', 'feel'. A good author can catch a reader's attention so
thoroughly that the reader actually experiences the things he reads.
This skill is one that separates the pro from the novice.
A world of description is available to writers through words. If not
word of dialogue is spoken, could you, as a writer, describe the smile
of one of your characters? A frown? Keep in mind, there is a smile
indicates pleasure (Her face beamed, and her eyes sparkled. She grabbed
her skirts and did a little dance, humming under her breath.), and a
smile which indicates scorn (We could not fail to notice that his quick
grimace was as audible as the sting of his words had been. The flash of
fire in his eyes revealed his contempt and scorn as readily as the
curving of his lips.), a smile which indicates uncertainty or
embarrassment (The child's face flushed a bright red, and he cleared
throat a couple of times before dropping his head and hunching his
shoulders.). A frown can denote displeasure, or it can denote that one
is deep in thought.
The secret is to describe the emotion AS IT AFFECTS THE CHARACTER
not tell the reader, 'he smiled', or 'she frowned'.
EXERCISE: In approximately 300 words, write a scene in which two
characters exchange "telling looks." (Smile, frown, or another facial
expression.) Remember the 50/50 deal: describe enough to put the reader
in the scene, but do not alienate your reader by telling too much.
Patricia Johnson's wrap-up
Posted on: February 23, 2003
This week's exercise produced a wide variety of ways to express
looks. There were submissions that used dialogue and others that
it. Some expressions came from a complex facial expression, some came
from an almost blank expression, and some were based on another
character's assumptions and feelings. A more restrained use of
expressions proved, in most cases, to be more telling.
There were varying levels of success among the submissions. For me,
stories with body language and a good dose of action worked best to
support the facial expressions. Some critiques mentioned that although
the expression came through in the story, it did not seem a good fit
with the story line. If the language became too flowery or detailed, it
ran the risk of interfering with the facial expressions. Sometimes
were excessive point-of-view shifts to give more details.
Hopefully everyone learned techniques and methods to develop
expressions for future writing. Thanks to all who participated with
submissions and critiques.
Patricia L. Johnson
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Modified by Gayle Surrette.