Do you ever feel that moment when you're writing a character's actions, and all of a sudden his mouth opens wide and his eyes bulged to the size of apples as he lets out a furious sneeze, spattering it all over the waitress? I mean, don't get me wrong, it would probably make for some stellar comedy, but in terms of realism, well...
You ever tried keeping your eyes wide open when you sneezed? I mean apart from that one time in elementary school when they dared you to try it and your eyes felt like they were gonna pop out of your head. I bet you haven't. But I digress.
In real life, when you sneeze, you rarely keep your eyes wide open, your mouth might part slightly, and you'll probably sneeze onto your arm, not your waitress. At least, not intentionally. So why am I telling you all this? Is it just because I'm weird and I want to share it? No.
I mean, it is a little bit. Don't get me wrong, I'm weird as can be, but that's not the intended purpose of this post. I want you to think for a minute. Close your eyes. Actually, do that after this paragraph maybe. You won't know what to do otherwise. Picture the last time you sneezed. Or coughed. What did your face look like? What did it sound like? Do you remember? What about the last time you judged someone's clothing? Did you raise your eyebrows when you saw them? Did you laugh? Was it more of a chuckle, or did you cackle so hard the dog came over to make sure you were okay? Picture it. See it in your mind's eye.
Do you see it?
If you don't, that makes sense. Why would we remember something as trivial as what our face looked like when we were checking out that super cute classmate that we're never going to ask out? We wouldn't. It's not relevant.
Not unless you're writing.
We can't physically see the characters in our books. So how are we supposed to describe the way someone looks when they're standing in front of their soulmate, and all they want to do is kiss them? (Cringe. I've never written romance, but it's kinda easy to pick on) Briefly touching on the concept of "Show, don't tell", it may be easy to just say "She had a look of desire on her face, and it seemed as if all she wanted was to pull him close and kiss him."
Firstly, ew. That just sounds awful. (And only partly because I'm bad with romance!) But we don't need to tell people that she looked like that. People are smart. We can instead say, "Her eyes travelled the length of his body, coming to rest on his radiant blue eyes. She bit her lip and took a step forward, softly placing a hand on the side of his face." Bang. (No pun intended) Without saying it explicitly, we get the sense that she desires him just from her actions.
Now, why is this cringy material relevant to our topic of 'being weird'? Glad you asked.
A few moments ago, I asked you to try and picture the way you look when you take certain actions. If there's a mirror nearby, look at it. If not, use the front camera on your phone. I know you have one. Now, look confused. Describe it. Every part. The scrunching up of your forehead, the angle of your eyebrows, the tilt of your head, crooked lips. Anything and everything. Now write it down.
Congratulations. You just described confusion without saying that you were confused. I bet you looked silly gazing confusingly at a mirror though. Try another. Maybe anger. Joy. Shock. Every time you do, look in that mirror and describe what you see. Eventually, after doing this many times, you won't need to anymore. You'll be able to write a character and say that "He grit his teeth and his face turned a dark shade of red. Breathing heavily, he clenched his fist with such strength that blood began to drip onto his knuckles." It certainly beats saying that "His face was red with anger."
Practice makes perfect. So grab that mirror, and practice making faces at yourself.
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