Need Your Help: How Do You Describe Facial Expressions in Fiction?

So I recently posted about the importance of facial expressions for authors. Today, I received a comment about facial expressions in fiction. It was a good question: How do you do this effectively?

I’m curious about this, too, so I posted this question here. I know there are several great fiction writers out there, so I’m hoping some of you will share your ideas about this.

We can just say that the girl looked happy. But show is often preferred over tell, right? There are also other ways to show that she was happy (e.g. she was jumping up and down, waving her arms wildly, when she saw me get out of the bus), but suppose we wish to describe facial expressions (not necessarily happy ones). Who has some good advice for how to do this?

How about describing faces, period. I’ve read some books where a face was described as “angular,” for example. I didn’t have any idea what that meant, so I really had trouble visualizing the character. If you have suggestions for how to describe a face in clear terms that will aid in visualization, with or without facial expressions, please share your ideas.

Thank you.

The funny thing about this blog is that when I ask for comments, very often there aren’t any, but when I don’t, sometimes there are plenty. Perhaps today will be an exception to the rule. 🙂

Character Marketing (Exemplified with Sherlock Holmes)

All authors know that they need to market their books. Many authors also realize that they must also market themselves – i.e. their own brand as an author.

But it’s also important to market the characters of fictional works.

There are two types of character marketing:

  • The first type is marketing and branding a very memorable character, much the same way as marketing and branding the book or author. An example of this is Sherlock Holmes.
  • The second type of character marketing occurs in the writing of the book itself. Here, the narrator and other characters help to market a character.

Authors can brand a memorable protagonist or antagonist using similar techniques that they use to brand the book or the author’s image. This is what authors who include the name of the protagonist in the title are hoping to achieve.

Play to your strengths. What makes your book special? If your book has a character that many people in the target audience are apt to fall in love with, this may be a strength that you wish to utilize in your marketing.

What makes a character memorable? Sometimes, marketing within the book – from the narration or from the dialogs of other characters – can help with this.

Why is Sherlock Holmes so memorable, for example? We all know that he is a super sleuth. How did he get this reputation?

It’s not because the narrator started the book by writing, “Sherlock Holmes was the greatest detective who ever lived.” You can’t sell many books by telling everybody your book is the greatest book ever. This technique doesn’t work with character marketing either.

Character marketing must be more subtle, like book marketing.

In the case of Sherlock Holmes, the author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, developed a supporting character, Dr. Watson, to aid in this. (Dr. Watson may have been introduced by the author for another reason, but this is definitely a major benefit that Dr. Watson delivered.)

The adventures of Sherlock Holmes are presented as memoirs of Dr. Watson, who has a firsthand account. Dr. Watson appears quite humble about his own abilities, while making Sherlock Holmes seem superhuman. He doesn’t just tell the readers that Sherlock Holmes is incredible: He shows them.

For example, Dr. Watson recounts conversations where Sherlock Holmes impresses everyone – even the reader – with his amazing powers of deduction, making the problem seem impossible in the beginning, yet the solution so clear in the end. The mystery itself seems impossible to solve until Sherlock Holmes solves it, and the solution always seems so clever.

It’s not just the puzzle that matters: It’s the presentation. Dr. Watson’s presentation markets Sherlock Holmes as a super sleuth.

Dr. Watson’s role also allows Sherlock Holmes to have a measure of humility. It would be far more arrogant for Sherlock Holmes to write his own memoirs. Furthermore, Sherlock Holmes actually mentions in his dialog with Dr. Watson that his memoirs tend to make Sherlock Holmes appear far more extraordinary than he actually is. This helps market some modesty.

The next time you read an amazing book, think about how the narration and other characters help with character marketing. Also, think about how this technique can help with your own writing.

If, like me, you lover Sherlock Holmes, the best reference is:

The formatting is fairly good. If you prefer print, the Dover Thrift Editions are a great deal.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers