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Exercise: Telling looks (Version 2)

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 (http://www.internetwritingwor kshop.org/).

Prepared by: Margery Casares
Posted on: 21 Jan 2001
Reposted on: 15 Feb 2003
Reposted on: 15 Feb 2004
Reposted, revised on: 9 Jul  2006

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 is 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 understandable 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 feels she is actually experiencing the things she reads. This skill is one that separates the pro from the novice.
A world of description is available to writers through words. If not a word of dialogue is spoken, could you, as a writer, describe the smile of one of your characters?

Keep in mind, there is a smile that indicates pleasure: "She grabbed her skirts and did a little dance, humming under her breath."

And a smile that indicates scorn: "We could not fail to notice his quick grimace, as audible as the sting of his words had been."

And a smile that indicates uncertainty or embarrassment: "The child's face flushed a bright red, and he cleared his 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 and not tell the reader "he smiled," or "she frowned."


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.

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Modified by Gayle Surrette.