Guest Blogger Margie Lawson: Writing Stellar Smiles

smileRead a smile you’ve never read before? Could be awesome!

Read a smile you’ve read hundreds of times? Could be loathsome.

We all know those clichéd, overused, carry-no-interest smiles and grins.

Here are a few overused smiles and grins:

  • Half-smile
  • Weak smile
  • Broad smile
  • Silly smile
  • Ear-to-ear smile
  • Smile that didn’t reach eyes
  • Infectious grin
  • Impish grin
  • Fought a grin
  • Teasing grin
  • Wicked grin
  • Lopsided grin

Compare those to these three fresh smiles.

Serena’s Fall, M.K. Smith, 5-time Immersion-Grad

Rachel’s smile flicked by like a camera flash, bright and cold.

Days Made of Broken Glass, Laura Drake, 2-time Immersion-Grad

His slow, slimy smile bared her lie.

The Dirt on Ninth Grave, Darynda Jones, 2-time Immersion-Grad, NYT Bestseller

The smile I offered the jackass and his friend hid my grinding teeth.

This blog has 50+ fresh smiles or grins. I bet you won’t skim.

Let these fresh examples roll through your mind. And smile.

I’ll share Teaching Points for some of the examples.

Curse of Tenth GraveThe Curse of Tenth Grave, Darynda Jones, 2-time Immersion-Grad, NYT Bestseller

Reyes fought a grin and lost.

Darynda took a cliché, and played.

His smile defined smug.

Short and powerful!

He said it with a smile that was about one-quarter smirk.

She used specificity to make that smile fun. Not half-smile, half-smirk. Not as fresh or fun.

Agent Nguyen’s gaze landed on me. I waved a tight hello and got the feeling Nguyen was warming up to me. His smile held less acid than the ones he used to offer me, but that was all the warmth I’d get from him.

Struck by Eros, Jenn WindrowStruck by Eros, Jenn Windrow, 4-time Immersion-Grad

Grayson sat up and gave me the melt-your-heart smile that I’m sure made most women drop an egg.

I remember when Jenn Windrow wrote that line in Immersion class. Love it!

Len’s toothy smile reminded me of the day he surprised me with round-trip tickets to Pompeii, not the smile of someone who had figured out his girlfriend was a lying slut.

A smile, a memory, and sharing what the smile was not. Strong power word for backloading too. Smart writing!

The clueless brunette grabbed Grayson’s hand and wrote something on his palm in black Sharpie. Phone number? Bra size? Winning Lotto numbers? He gave her his dazzling I’m-a-horny-hunk smile.

Fun hyphenated-run-on with alliteration.

Grayson’s lips pressed flat before turning into a wicked smile. A smile I knew well. A smile he used when we were in bed together. A smile that told me he planned on having a good time tormenting me.

Jenn Windrow used the rhetorical device anaphora to empower that smile.

He gave me a killer smile that sent a bullet straight to my heart.

Cliché play with big-time power!

The ColonyThe Colony, Kathleen Groger, 2-time Immersion-Grad

He smiled in an I-missed-you way and pointed the gun at the floor.

“You’re okay.”

Hyphenated-run-on smile.

Adam smiled an I-may-or-may-not-be-kidding smile.

Hyphenated-run-on smile.

Those two smiles were not close to each other in The Colony.

I broke into a smile bigger than I had when I went into Disneyworld. The movement made my face feel funny. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d smiled.

That smile is themed to her life before her world was invaded by Raspers. Amplified with a sensation and a thought.

The Rasper’s face shifted from a mask of pain to a serial-killer smile.

Kathleen provided a powerful contrast.

He pushed it at me with a Joker-worthy grin.

Kathleen used the rhetorical device allusion. She referenced the Joker.

Seduction of Kinley Foster, Lisa WellsThe Seduction of Kinley Foster, Lisa Wells, 3-time Immersion-Grad

She gave him a smile that wasn’t quite happy but not quite fake. Sort of sad.

A three descriptor smile.

McGill’s lips twitched, but he didn’t smile.

Showing What Didn’t Happen.

“You pretend indifference, but I know beneath your polite, this-is-just-a-job smile is a man who likes me.”

A hyphenated-run-on smile – and sharing she doesn’t buy his indifference, knows it’s a cover-up.

She gave him a serene smile. One as fake as most of the eyelashes he’d seen today.

Themed to their world.

Two Paragraphs:

Ian gave her a smile that reminded her of the teenager he used to be when he’d hang out at her house after football practice with her brother. Of the boy who pulled her hair and teased her excessively.

But mostly, the smile reminded her of the boy who’d spent the evening watching movies with her when he found her crying because the cool girls didn’t invite her to the middle school end-of-year party.

Lisa Wells slipped in several hits of backstory and deepened characterization, all based on a smile.

Short Passage, Two Smiles, Several Humor Hits

“What size are you?” the sales lady asked.

Kinley glanced at the ladies over the top of her glass. “A two mostly.”

“A two?”

Kinley took a sip. “Sometimes a four. A six feels nice.”

The sales lady stared at Kinley with a smile—a smile that didn’t grow or falter. Not so much a smile as a comment.

Liar, liar, pants on fire.

“Okay I’m an eight, but a small eight, so don’t bring me any large eights.” Kinley stared into the eyes of the sales lady, daring her to suggest otherwise.

She didn’t. But her serene, “I call chubby-girl” smile did.

Kinley folded. “Oh, what the hell, go ahead and throw in a ten. You know…in case they run small.”

First smile – Showed What’s Not Happening.

Second smile – Hyphenated.

Humor Hits too!

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 10.12.38 PMSerena’s Fall, M.K. (Marcus) Smith, 5-time Immersion-Grad

We’ll wrap up with lots of examples from Serena’s Fall. I’ll share a few comments in this section.

  • “Serena.” Rachel gave me the kind of oh, it’s you smile practiced to not look practiced.
  • My breath quickened, trying to find the oxygen his notice-me smile sucked out of the mall.
  • At the back of the store, Rachel opened her lips in a slow, nasty smile. “He wants you.”
  • Rachel tossed a vicious look that wouldn’t pass anyone’s test for a smile.
  • I wanted to slap the smile off her face, but I’d probably cut my hand on her nose stud.
  • Smiling is hard. Everyone does it, even blind people. But a real, sun from behind the clouds, all natural smile, the kind that reaches up to make crow’s feet dance? That smile can’t be faked, and makes everything a little better, a little funnier, a little more alive. Chloe had that smile. And she could bring it on command.

Another example:

(NOTE: A police officer had just pulled her over for speeding.) Rachel adjusted her top and practiced a pouty smile in the rearview mirror like she was about to receive a warning.

Rachel stepped out and crossed her arms under her chest, showcasing the results of the extra buttons she’d undone. She even threw a touch of southern sweetness into her smile. Rachel could win the Oscar for getting out of trouble.

Easy to see the visual provided in those paragraphs!

Chloe’s smile hovered at the edge of nervous, and she fingered the last scroll.

She tossed her hair, throwing a smile in my direction mid-flip.

Simple, but oh-so-fresh. I see the action and the smile.

Chloe smiled at me, a little innocent smile. A smile that never saw real darkness.

Deepens characterization.

She grinned like a little girl in a big girl’s body. Gods help anyone who falls for her.

So rich. And smart.

Deepens characterization. It’s also taps a universal truth.

Strong Passage:

I lied with my voice and a faked up smile. “Sounds great.”

“Fantastic. We can do dress up. I’ve got lots of choices.” Her tone was as friendly as a possessed doll.

My smile twisted and vanished. My heart thumped to catch up on missing beats. I exhaled. I didn’t like Rachel’s plastic life, but something about her combined with this boat made my skin grow legs and crawl. I shot a pleading glance at Chloe—don’t let me go alone.

Quick Analysis of that passage:

I lied with my voice and a faked up smile.

Marcus shared the incongruence between her voice and her expression.

Her tone was as friendly as a possessed doll.

Fresh and powerful dialogue cue.

My smile twisted and vanished.

Only five words about her smile, but they carry a punch.

My heart thumped to catch up on missing beats. I exhaled. I didn’t like Rachel’s plastic life, but something about her combined with this boat made my skin grow legs and crawl. I shot a pleading glance at Chloe—don’t let me go alone.

Visceral response. A thought and sixth sense is used as a stimulus for another visceral response, followed by a glance that carried a message.

BLOG GUESTS: Please read at least ten of the examples out loud.

They all carry a compelling cadence. The more cadence-driven writing you read out loud, the more you train your cadence ear.

How do you write fresh smiles and grins? You do what these authors did.

  • You play with clichés.
  • Use hyphenated-run-ons.
  • You use rhetorical devices.
  • You deepen characterization.
  • You Show What’s Not Happening.
  • You share incongruence between face and voice.
  • You theme to the character’s world, setting, emotions.
  • You use Humor Hits, if humor fits your voice and scene.
  • You make sure your sentences carry a compelling cadence. Always.

And you use dozens of other deep editing techniques too.

Easy. Right?

These authors are all Margie-Grads. They write fresh facial expressions.

Thank you for stopping by the Eight Ladies Writing Blog!

Please chime in and share a smile or a grin. 🙂

Or just click in and say Hi. Let me know you’re here.

Post a comment, and you have TWO CHANCES to WIN! The drawings will be Wednesday, 9:00 p.m. Mountain Time.

Lecture Packet from Margie Lawson

An online course from Lawson Writer’s Academy – worth up to $75!

Check out the courses offered by Lawson Writer’s Academy. Upcoming Classes Start June 1st.

About Margie

Margie Lawson, RWA Speaker Photo, HawaiiMargie Lawson—editor, international presenter—teaches writers how to use her psychologically-based editing systems and deep editing techniques to create page turners. Margie has presented over ninety full day master classes for writers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and on cruises in the Caribbean.

To learn about Lawson Writer’s Academy, Margie’s 4-day Immersion Master Classes (in Denver, Washington, D.C., Phoenix, Canyon Lake, Dallas, San Jose, Albuquerque, and in Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane, Australia), her full day workshops, on-line courses, lecture packets, and newsletter, please visit

63 thoughts on “Guest Blogger Margie Lawson: Writing Stellar Smiles

  1. It’s been a lot of fun to see Margie’s tweaks lately. I’m still working on my smiles, but this gave me quite a few to enjoy today. I will donate one:

    “Shame you got here too late for the wet t-shirt contest, Sheriff.”

    Janey Law looked me over like a man, instead of a criminal. That was different. Her eyes doubled-down on me, and it looked like she was about to smile. I was betting on momma bear or hunting wolf, with full teeth. I held my breath….Neither. She pulled the impish-goddess card and got me with “It looks like you got wet enough for the both of us McEuen. Glad you decided to take a bath.”

      • Is it stalking if we hang out at the same shadey sites, or is it co-haunting? I’m trying to finish up my story and see what I’m in for, because I’ll be at your early Sept course.

      • I miss Fridays too… I’ve been trying to get this darn book done & I’ve been in fluxing between flow & flummoxed. I will make a point of it. 😀

        • (-: I understand about book struggles. I know that sometimes when I’m stuck, the Friday sprint gets me unstuck and going again. (But some weeks, I’m just plain stuck, and even the freedom of the writing sprint seems impossible to deal with.) Well, when you’re up for it, do drop in!

    • Hugs to Multi-Immersion-Grad Jenn —

      You know I love your writing. I’m so excited about STRUCK BY EROS! Can’t wait until it’s released — July 8th!

      • I’m just waiting…it’s pre-ordered for my Kindle! I hope I can get it downloaded while in Europe…it’ll give me something great to read on the plane ride home!

  2. Loved this blog, Margie. You had me pulling out my works-in-progress and searching the word ‘smile’ to see how mine were measuring up (cliche alert!). Have had the pleasure of reading many of the works presented here, and got a big sneak peak at Jenn’s STRUCK BY EROS. Also have it safely pre-ordered. So glad the Eight Ladies asked you to guest post. You’ve had such lovely effects on my writing.

  3. Hello Immersion-Grad Mindy!

    Thank you! I loved working with you in Immersion. Your writing is big-time fun too! I bet you’re digging deep and making your writing uber-strong!

  4. Some great smiles here!

    I’ve taken to adding [] to my manuscript where I know I need to come back and find an original way of saying she smiled or he shrugged or some similar less-than-stellar motion. And this blog post will help!

    • Hello Immersion-Grad Iola!

      I’m still excited about your honor — 2016 ACFW Genesis semi-finalist!

      Glad you mark your WIP and go back and write fresh. Perfect!

  5. Loved this blog! Read it first thing this morning before I’d even gotten out of bed.

    Margie’s courses have upped my writing game! Fresh writing. Rhetorical devices. I can’t for Immersion in June!

    • Hello Soon-To-Be Immersion-Grad Tracie!

      Did you know M.K. Smith’s examples are from Marcus Smith, the guy hosting your Immersion class in Dallas. Uber-talented! Can’t wait to work with you. Soon!

  6. What a great post. And so needed. I am revising a book right now and wrestling with way too many smiles. I have realized that I often use a smile when another expression would actually be more appropriate. Thanks so much for this!

    • Hugs-to Immersion-Grad Claire!

      You made an excellent point. Often it’s smart to nix the just-a-beat, carry-no-power smile and write another expression or something different — dialogue cue, touch, proxemics, gesture, dialogue, whatever fits!

      The blog could have been 1000 times longer. But them it would have been an online course.

      I already teach Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist. And the lecture packets are available all the time.

      Now everyone who reads this post, knows!

  7. I love the classes you offer and have taken four now. Rhay Christou was wonderful and the lectures I bought of yours (especially rhetorical devices) were fabulous and helped me a ton. I would love to be entered in the drawing. There are plenty more classes I’d love to take when budget allows. Thanks for all your great insights.

    • Hello Carla —

      Sounds like you’re a Lawson Writer’s Academy fan! Rhay Christou is an incredibly talented write, and teacher. In June she’s teaching From Blah to Beats: Giving Your Chapters a Pulse!

      Glad you dropped by the Eight Ladies Writing Blog. Thanks so much for chiming in!

    • Hugs to 2-time Immersion-Grad Kristin!

      Yes! Reminders work.

      And–your writing is deep-editing smart too.

      Can’t wait to see you in your third Immersion in Melbourne in August!

  8. I need to copy Mindy and go through all my “smiles” as well…and every other expression for that matter – they’re getting better since immersion!!

    • Hugs to Immersion-Grad Tammy!

      It’s smart to do a FIND on every word like smile, grin, frown, grimace, scowl, and see if they need to be nixed or fixed.

      I just used assonance. Nixed. Fixed. Rhyming vowel sounds.

      Remember that rhetorical device? I bet you remember all 30 rhetorical devices I teach!

      Can’t wait to see you in January — for Immersion at your lake house in Florida. YAY!

  9. Oh, this is a blog to bookmark, definitely. I am ALWAYS looking for ways to make my smiles more fresh, deepen the characterization, twist some cliches, do some humor hits, all that stuff. And it works for enhancing the writing too.

    • Hugs to Immersion-To-Be Greg!

      I know you’ll do all that deep editing stuff, and make your writing stellar!

      Can’t wait to see you in your first Immersion class in September. I think I’ll see you in an Immersion class in 2017 too. 😉

  10. This was such a revelation in immersion — the power of deepening a smile. So much character, tension, and feeling can be shown through such a simple gesture. And we all know from experience that smiles vary so much. Thanks for fresh examples, Margie! I hadn’t seen Jenn’s stuff, so that was a particular treat.

    And I’ll share a couple of smiles from my current WIP:

    Logan glided into the classroom wearing a Bowie Lives On T-shirt, over-the-ear headphones, and his easy-does-it smile.

    “Give me three minutes.” He smiled a pretty-please.”

    • I love what a little Bowie does here. As a newly-converted Bowie fanatic, it hits me hard. The “Lives On” phrase turns into “on and on and on” — which is from “Slow Burn” (Heathen), and what better thing to have in a romance than a little slow burn? And then, of course, there’s the Bowie smile (gothic graveyards aside (-:). Logan sounds so pretty and angelic. I’d give him three minutes, sure.

  11. This was a great reminder of what immersion is all about. Smiles and emotions and what’s not being said.
    Whoever said ignorance is bliss? It’s downright awesome! Now I have no excuse for my stilted dialogue and oft repeated ‘glances’ and underwhelming sense of setting.
    I sure miss the mountain.

    • Hugs to Immersion-Grad MaryAnna Rose —

      Great to cyber-see you here. But lots more fun to see you and work with you in Immersion class!

      Love your writing and your story. I know you’ll deep edit and make your facial expressions and dialogue just-right fresh. And you’ll slip in a few more hits of setting too. You know what to do, and you have the skills. Dig in and power up!

  12. Hi Margie! Thanks for the email on the post. A great read and reminder. 🙂 (oh look it’s a smile lol)

  13. First, Margie, thanks so much for continuing to teach us through these guest blogs. It brings back and reinforces the learnings from fab30 and that wonderful immersion class in Phoenix (when are you coming back?) So what to do with all this great information?

    For starters, I’m adding your ‘fresh smiles’ punch list to my ‘Make Lists” standing assignment from Immersion – the stuff I can do with snippets of time – the vanrides to work, waiting room “waits,” car rides on the open road, (the dictation s/w on my smart phone works in the car. If I can make the dashboard bluetooth feature work with notes, I can do it hands free.), lunch at my desk, or “coffee shop” time. I also need to ‘fresh list’ the other facial expressions – scowls, grimaces, fear, distaste, resolution, horror, hope, avarice (for the antag) – no to mention body language. Creating separate lists, or sublists, makes refering back to them a little easier.

    Next, print this blog out for my weekend camping folder – no assurance of wifi where we’re going, but I have 3 glorious days of pioneer camping. We’re sharing the camp duties, and I’ll have about 12 solid hours of free camp time to write and edit, and 6 hours of travel time. All the deep editing tools,lecture packets, and both laptops are going with me, along with a camp chair,LED lamp, and table. Snippets of time add up!

    Finally, make some time for family and friends this weekend. We write best when our minds and hearts are refreshed.

    God bless,

  14. Great blog. Read to the end then did a “FIND” on the smiles and grins in current WIP.
    I learned so much in Immersion. Sooooo helpful when I was revising the novel in April.

    • Hugs to Immersion-Grad Sharon –

      I so enjoyed working with you in Immersion class in Phoenix. Fun work! I still remember uber-quirky Jefferson. Awesome character.

      Thanks for dropping by Eight Ladies Writing!

    • Hugs to 2-time Immersion-Grad Melissa!

      You were smart to pay attention to my quick tip list on how to write a fresh smile. And you know it applies to all facial expressions and dialogue cues. I bet you’ll use that list!

  15. Hi Margie! All those fresh descriptions sure made me smile.😃 And I saw in the comments that you are coming to Florida! I have to go to your website and check that out now!! For fun from my MS: “. . . his mouth tweaked into the most self-satisfied mother of all smirks.” and “Her smile gleams like a steely iceberg and looks just as cold and calculating.”

    • Hello Loretta —

      Great examples! Fresh and fun. Thanks for sharing!

      The Immersion class in Florida is already full. But you could be put on a waiting list. Or — want to come to Colorado?

  16. Good point! Smiles are a tool and a weapon, and sometimes both the carrot and the stick.

    I found a great smile recently: “David Bowie used to have a smile like a Gothic graveyard.”

    There’s such a lot of great description in this article. “England’s fond conception of him as a space-age panto dame.” “Frowning figures from the Bowie organisation are looking obscurely busy.” (What beautiful fricatives in that phrase! All buhs and fuhs and zuhs.) “Shy and unamplified, he was a curly-permed folksinger on a night of rock monsters.” The author is Paul Du Noyer. Easy-breezy-magazine-y, but so, so sharp and on target.


    Great to see you all here! Thanks so much for dropping by Eight Ladies Writing. selected TWO WINNERS!

    The winner of the Lecture Packet is ……………….. PAMELA STEWART!

    The winner of the online course is ……………….. MARYANNA ROSE!

    I’ll email you two and get you set up with your lecture packet or online course.


    A big THANK YOU to 2-time Immersion-Grad Justine Covington for inviting me to guest blog and for setting up the blog so beautifully. You’re smart and cool and fun…and detail-focused too! Awesome combination.

    Thank you all again for reading the blog, and posting comments. You all made me SMILE!

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