General info:
How it works
Too Many Emails?
Listserv Settings
Contact Us

Critiquing Lists:
Child/Young adult

Discussion Lists:

The IWW Blog Writing Advice

Other Topics:
Our administrators
Other writing lists
Books on writing
IWW History
Showcase of Successes

IWW 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 (http://www.internetwritingworkshop.org/).

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, 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 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 a 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 which 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 stiff curving of his lips.), a smile which 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'.

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 telling looks. There were submissions that used dialogue and others that avoided 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, the 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 there were excessive point-of-view shifts to give more details.

Hopefully everyone learned techniques and methods to develop character expressions for future writing. Thanks to all who participated with submissions and critiques.

Patricia L. Johnson

Web site created by Rhéal Nadeau and the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.