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Fixing the grinning bobblehead character (1 Viewer)

vranger

Staff member
Board Moderator
Yeah, it's one of those nice little oxymorons.

So, let's break down what we're establishing here because this is after-all the hints and tips section:

1 - If possible construct scenes in a way that denotes happiness, therefore a smile, to avoid having to use 'smiled' too often.
2 - In moments when that happiness dissipates, there is cause to consider the 'quick fix' of a 'grin' or a 'smile'.
3 - Overuse leads to sloppy writing and removes the need to set up the scene in a more natural way
4 - Whilst 'smile'.'grin' can often be considered 'tags', just like 'said' ways of avoiding it should be considered when possible.
5 - Obsessively considering 'tags' that are essentially invisible words can lead to overthinking, so try to be objective in all cases.

Any others?

I think it boils down to "Don't avoid a tool because others overuse it or misuse it, just don't overuse it or misuse it yourself."

As I type that bit of advice, I still NEVER want to encounter the word "amazing" again. ;-)

For your #1:
First, "smile" is really just a placeholder in this conversation, because that's the example Foxee made light of ... it could be any expression. I don't think there is any reason to avoid it IF it is a part of a whole, and fits, rather than BEING the whole.
#2: I need more of what you're getting at.
#3: I'd paraphrase as "An expression can devolve into telling, when it should most often be used as showing."
#4: Yes--expressly on the subject of dialogue tags.
#5: Yes. To continue the thought: All writing in fiction should seem natural to the reader. We shouldn't have "invisible words", also referred to as "filler words". We want color. Expressions add color when judiciously included.

Before long, you and I should condense all this and collaborate on a blog. :)

BTW, this discussion is giving me WAY too much reason to deflect from what I'm supposed to be doing tonight. I'm in Chapter 20, closing in on 100K words, and I have to decide if bringing up the climax and ending the novel here is too precipitous. It's definitely there to do if I decide to. I've already used up my "port sipping" allotment for the evening, and I just had to switch over to my "fake port" substitute of grape juice with a splash of vodka and coffee liquor. ;-) (If you get it just right, that combination tastes surprisingly like Cockburn's Special Reserve with less alcohol and expense. LOL)
 

TheMightyAz

Senior Member
I think it boils down to "Don't avoid a tool because others overuse it or misuse it, just don't overuse it or misuse it yourself."

As I type that bit of advice, I still NEVER want to encounter the word "amazing" again. ;-)

For your #1:
First, "smile" is really just a placeholder in this conversation, because that's the example Foxee made light of ... it could be any expression. I don't think there is any reason to avoid it IF it is a part of a whole, and fits, rather than BEING the whole.
#2: I need more of what you're getting at.
#3: I'd paraphrase as "An expression can devolve into telling, when it should most often be used as showing."
#4: Yes--expressly on the subject of dialogue tags.
#5: Yes. To continue the thought: All writing in fiction should seem natural to the reader. We shouldn't have "invisible words", also referred to as "filler words". We want color. Expressions add color when judiciously included.

Before long, you and I should condense all this and collaborate on a blog. :)

BTW, this discussion is giving me WAY too much reason to deflect from what I'm supposed to be doing tonight. I'm in Chapter 20, closing in on 100K words, and I have to decide if bringing up the climax and ending the novel here is too precipitous. It's definitely there to do if I decide to. I've already used up my "port sipping" allotment for the evening, and I just had to switch over to my "fake port" allotment of grape juice with a splash of vodka and coffee liquor. ;-) (If you get it just right, that combination tastes amazing like Cockburn's Special Reserve with less alcohol and expense. LOL)

I'm sipping tea, like the pleb I am, you elitist!

By 2, I just meant: If you've got a scene in which smiling is obviously going on, as with my scene above, but then there's a natural break somewhere, like Tommy looking through the window (back to mother), then adding 'smiled' is perfectly fine.
 

Matchu

Senior Member
Surely 'smiling' is a part of that same disease as writing 'she stood on my left, she moved to my right, I put the cigarette into my mouth, my hand reached down to my pocket, then I lit my cigarette, when I exhaled clouds of delicious zzzzzzzzzzzz...

Also 'I breathed' which is a personal favourite. A micro-management that does not allow the reader to relax into scene, into their scene, & not your scene any longer. It's boring. Or early draft stuff for the one set of eyes only. We have to cover our eyes and press delete.

Oh yes, 'eyes.'

Yaffle(prof)
 

TheMightyAz

Senior Member
Surely 'smiling' is a part of that same disease as writing 'she stood on my left, she moved to my right, I put the cigarette into my mouth, my hand reached down to my pocket, then I lit my cigarette, when I exhaled clouds of delicious zzzzzzzzzzzz...

Also 'I breathed' which is a personal favourite. A micro-management that does not allow the reader to relax into scene, into their scene, & not your scene any longer. It's boring. Or early draft stuff for the one set of eyes only. We have to cover our eyes and press delete.

Oh yes, 'eyes.'

Yaffle(prof)

I don't think it's as clear cut as that. It's a matter of asking yourself: Is there any other way of showing she/he would be smiling? Is it necessary at this particular point to directly describe he/she smiled? It's not a yay/nay, it's a sometimes. It's up to the writer to use it judiciously.

Sometimes people critique for the sake of it and not out of necessity. I think this is one such situation. Having it pointed out puts it uppermost in your mind so of course those 'smiles' and 'grins' are going to stand out. For a clear answer on the question, it's important to imagine it hadn't been pointed out and meet the problem objectively.
 

Matchu

Senior Member
My Novel
So you see, so, so, pay attention to this guy, he walks into the room, he shuffles, and he's just come through a door, y'know? See the door, anyway move from the door to his face, a long scar. He hasn't shaved this morning, but there is no fluff on the scar. Back to the door, it's green, and a woman sat across this room is smiling. She's got a big, big smile. I know what that means. Slow down, slow down. She's so lovely but actually a killer, oh so beautiful. He makes a terrible mistake and he smiles also. 'Are you taking the piss!' she says.
 

vranger

Staff member
Board Moderator
I ran some stats on "smiles in writing" this morning, and originally was going to include them in this post. However, I didn't want it to get lost in the mists of downward drifting threads, so I blogged it instead:

https://www.writingforums.com/entries/4573-How-happy-is-your-story

The gist is that successful authors have characters smiling, sometimes a LOT. To answer my question at the top of the thread, my smiles per thousand words IS in the Goldilocks zone.

WHEW!

So: Sorry, no smile guys. The inclusion of smiles in no way signifies a bad writing habit ... unless you get up to something like two smiles per thousand words ... then the Smile Police MUST visit you!
 

Foxee

Patron
Patron
So: Sorry, no smile guys. The inclusion of smiles in no way signifies a bad writing habit ... unless you get up to something like two smiles per thousand words ... then the Smile Police MUST visit you!
Okay, thanks for digging into this but let me clarify:

I feel like the OP is perhaps being restated as a strange all-or-nothing campaign against writing smiles. This is not the case though is easy to have happen in a forum setting.

This is in "Hints and Tips" because I'm mentioning something that, when it is done badly, makes for weak and awkward writing. The article that I've linked to in the OP did a pretty good job of explaining some ways to improve.
 

JBF

Senior Member
No. Mirth. Whatsoever. Beatings to continue until morale improves.

But on a serious note, the misuse of smile or grin or what-have-you isn't so much that the expression itself is bad. More that it's on par with writers who throw in physical cues that don't actually do anything. A major example would be those (usually new-ish) who fill space on the page by constantly describing what a character is doing with their hands.

If a character cracks their knuckles, it needs to signify something. Same as if they rub their eyes, or cross their arms, or any number of minor shifts and movements that people make all the time. This is a rookie mistake because it takes up real estate without forwarding the story. It's action that doesn't move. Of course people do it, but we're ideally following some kind of narrative thread as opposed to transcribing the details of someone's day.

Supposing a character is shown grinning all the time I'm going to assume this is an authorial cue that said character is lacking confidence, slightly dim, or fixing to brain somebody with a folding chair.
 
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vranger

Staff member
Board Moderator
A I-just-landed-a-sweet-deal-and-although-I'm-your-friend-I'm glad-it-was-me-and-not-you shit-eating grin.

I may have had this in the back of my mind when I wrote in my last scene:

I smiled. Not one of your 'I just got an unexpected check in the mail' smiles, but more like a 'that neighbor I've never liked just dropped a paving stone on his foot' smiles.
 

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