Facial Expressions 01/06/20

A few things happen when I stop drinking. The first is that I have more time on my hands than I know what to do with. It takes a few weeks to fill up the moments with proper leisure time. Usually I’d just make myself dumb with Ultras, then listen to Korn on Spotify or something. Not drunk, listening to Korn on Spotify sounds less interesting, at least less frequently.

The second thing is that I become very, very weird. If you thought I was weird when I was boozing, just you wait until you see me sober. I break into song, speak in tongues, stand on my head. All kinds of bonkers shit.

Anyhow, I am still plugging away at the editing gig. I’ve moved on from the last job, which the client was very pleased with. I’m on to the next one, as Jay-Z would say.

This one got me thinking about how writers convey the feelings of their characters. It’s often important to them that the read knows at all times how everyone in a given conversation feels about something. And they show that through facial expressions.

The reason for this is obvious: we were all mostly raised on TV. The standard American television show largely consists of the soap opera shots, and by that I basically mean the human face. Translated into novels, that leads to a lot of descriptions of facial expressions. Frustration, amusement, wryness. Is wryness a word? I’m an editor, I promise.

There is a problem with this: it becomes very tedious to constantly read about people’s facial expressions, because there are only so many (although some writers are very talented at finding new ways to indicate someone smirked). It’s not the worst thing in the world, and some readers even like it, but I often recommend that a writer go back and delete all of these reaction shots. Instead, they should include things going on in the ambiance. Let’s say two people are having a drink at the bar, and one of them admits to the other that he’s been sleeping with the other man’s wife. The cuckold could turn red, could grip the bar til his knuckles turn white, could frown. Or, the music on the jukebox could stop. The classic record scratch. That does the trick, and you don’t even have to look at their faces.

It’s a novel, folks! You can do anything you want with it. If that is including a lot of close-ups, I can work with that. But I’d challenge you to get next-level with it. How do you describe something like this without describing it directly?

There’s so much going on in a reader’s mind. The imagination is a powerful thing. How do you gently direct their attention without yanking them around by the collar?

Again, unless that’s your thing.

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