Just Smile

smileHave you ever stared at a word for days on end?  I have, and coming to the end of the tunnel is bliss.  When writing, I tend to use “place-markers” – anywhere from a single word to a rough-sketch of a scene that I know will need to be fleshed out, moved, replaced or “cannibalized” for a concept.  Some people like to use special writing programs, and I’ve tried a few over the years, but I tend to do all of my writing in Word; it’s got review “post-its” I can type into the side margins, and I’m usually more organized than programs like Scrivener anyway.  When I go back over such sections, I take off my writer’s hat and put on my editor’s cap, and dive in.

I’ve been editing a manuscript, and at the moment I’m focusing on repetitions; the most recent word was smile.  Each time I came across the word, I needed to read the context, think about whether it should be removed, replaced, the sentence reworded, or left as-is.  I’ve discovered that there are not actually that many synonyms for “smile” in the English language; smirk, sneer, grimace, simper, scowl, grin… they each have their own connotations, and are not simply interchangeable – each choice will effect the overall meaning in distinct ways.   as William Blake once said, “There is a smile of Love, And there is a smile of Deceit, And there is a smile of smiles In which these two smiles meet.”  Sometimes it can simply be left out – the context informs the reader about which emotions are being displayed by the characters.  Characters in love have a different smile for each other than for frenemies, or antagonists, or superiors, or subordinates, and each situation in which various characters are combined might result in a different word for smile.  And does one smile warmly, or coldly?  Broadly or tight-lipped?

theoden-king-of-rohan-lord-of-the-ringsSometimes I wonder if I think far too much about such details; but I’d rather think about it once too often and get it right than not.  It might have seemed a tad extravagant for Weta Workshop to emboss the inside of King Théoden’s breastplate armour for the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and Return of the King (in which the character appears), knowing it would never actually be seen in the films; but Bernard Hill, who played the king, said that such details helped him easily slip into the role, even feeling the nobility of a king, and it thus enhanced and influenced his performance.  As visuals matter in epic films such as LoR, words matter in writing a novel, drawing the reader into the imaginary landscape of the world the author creates. ever-after

They also matter in script-writing:  In Ever After, starring Drew Barrymore and Dougray Scott, some of the dialogue lines are just downright embarrassing – especially those of Anjelica Huston:  They go to the trouble of being opulent and period-accurate in costumes, locations and scene dressings, and then throw in lines like Relax, child and I’m management!  The editor in me cringes.

One man’s smile is another man’s smirk; one woman’s grin is another woman’s sneer.  Now, on to the next item on my list of editing revisions!




Filed under Articles, Images, Musings, Nuts & Bolts, Research, Writing Exercise

18 responses to “Just Smile

  1. I enjoyed reading this piece. It made me smile.

  2. Thank you! Was that a grin, or a real smile? 😉

  3. I’m in the middle of a substantial novel revision right now and oh man do I relate to this. So many lazy words. And smile is definitely one I have to watch, too.

  4. You’re not alone! 🙂 Some words are lazy, while others just require more thinking into – it may be about changing the POV (point of view), or looking at the scene or action from a different perspective. And all the while, trying to remain in the voice, century and colour of any give character’s scene…!

  5. I love your meticulousness. I can be a bit lazy myself. Too impatient to rush to the end.

  6. I usually rush to the end in the first draft, then get organised after that! We have a saying in Switzerland: “Nägel mit Köpfe machen” – “Makes nails with heads” – i.e. if you put your hand to do something, do it right. I guess that’s meticulousness. 😉

  7. I like that saying. I’m going to find an opportunity to use it today!

  8. Make nails with heads with my blessings! 😉

  9. I’m slightly worried that if I was reading your piece, I’d know exactly where it had said ‘smile’ originally and then you altered it. Smiles deserve to be perpetuated, repeated, reinforced and celebrated. So there. 🙂

  10. I agree! My changes are organic to the characters and the emotions of the moment – you wouldn’t be able to find the edits, which is kinda the point of editing and writing well, isn’t it? 😉 Where a smile is due, it is given! But have you ever watched a film where the character does nothing but smile? Too much of anything is never as good as just the right amount… 🙂

  11. Well… Mickey Rourke in 9 and a Half Weeks comes to mind. 😀 But he could pull it off! I’m sure you’re right, and you’re a better writer than I am an edit-spotter.

  12. Mark Twain strongly advocated taking the trouble to find the right word rather than settling for a merely adequate word. Now that we compose soft copy on computers rather than hard copy on dead trees, it is much easier to implement a desired revision than it was in Twain’s time, or when I wrote my PhD thesis decades ago. (Some of my revisions on hard copy had to be implemented with the aid of double-sided tape and my Swiss Army Knife, with its delicate scissors and tweezer.) Of course, there is still the matter of deciding what to desire.

  13. It’s true; I believe the quote you refer to is, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.”

  14. Yes, that is the quote I had in mind. Tho I do feel Twain was stretching the general point, I know of one case where he nailed it. Indeed, I agreed so strongly that I wrote a post about that case:


  15. Thanks for the link. I see your point, and though I enjoy both lightning and lightning bugs, and both are essential in their way, I think his point is clear. 😉

  16. Pia

    I have that really weird quirk, not that I use the same word over and over everywhere, but quite often I repeat one or two in the same paragraph. As if my brain likes to repeat a pattern. Or perhaps I write so fast I’m still stuck halfway in the previous sentence. Sometimes I don’t even catch it when I edit, then later – argh.

  17. I understand; it’s like a particular mood in the scene leads the mind to a particular wording to express it; but once I recognize that in myself, I try to watch out for such things especially, when I edit, tweak and edit!

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