It’s Written All Over Your Face

facial-expressions-It’s important for a fiction writer to learn how to describe human facial expressions.  A person’s face is the most communicative body area, and often it reveals a character’s feelings.  Amazing, isn’t it, how many things we can make our faces do!  There may be as many facial aspects as there are possible mental states.

Small wonder there are so many English verbs devoted to describing a person’s mien:  blanch, blush, grimace, grin, smirk, etc.  It surprised me to find the Wikipedia article on Facial Expressions only listed six “classically defined facial expressions:  Anger, Disgust, Fear, Joy, Sadness, and Surprise.  However, the article goes on to list “other examples of feelings that can be expressed” including:  Concentration, Contempt, Desire, Empathy, Frustration, and Love.  Maybe the list isn’t infinitely long, but it doesn’t end at six.

Writers aren’t restricted to single-word descriptions of human facial expressions, of course.  Sometimes it’s useful to describe what’s happening on a character’s face and trust the reader to recognize the expression and deduce the character’s feelings.  In Clement Clarke Moore’s poem known popularly as “The Night Before Christmas,” we encounter the line, “His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,” and we know St. Nicholas is smiling, and therefore is happy.  Although you could break down all facial expressions and describe them in detail in your story, that would get tedious, so be sparing in your use of that technique.

Of course you shouldn’t restrict yourself to describing facial expressions alone.  Your characters adopt bodily poses, make hand gestures and other movements.  These can also express mood, sometimes more accurately than the face does when a character is trying to hide his or her feelings.

Returning to my subject of faces, I should also mention that characters (like real people) can have, well, characteristic or habitual facial expressions.  These might be due to an almost perpetual non-neutral mood, or some nervous habit.  Giving a character one of these habitual expressions can help readers become familiar with the character.

While doing research for this blog entry, I came across some great references for writers.

  • Descriptive Faces–A Resource for Writersis a blog set up by writer Charity Bradford where she discusses facial expressions in detail.
  • The Nonverbal Dictionary contains a list of at least 250 nonverbal expressions, each linked to detailed discussions.
  • The Bookshelf Muse website offers a book called The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman, and Becca Puglisi.  Although I haven’t read the book, some sample entries from it are available on the site.
  • The MacMillan Dictionary has a website listing words for describing facial expressions, and their meanings.

Was this helpful?  What are your favorite ways to describe character’s facial expressions?  Can you think of an example where a writer did it particularly well?  Feel free to send me a comment on the subject.  Since this blog entry is in the written medium, you can’t see what’s written all over the face of—

                                                          Poseidon’s Scribe

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January 27, 2013Permalink

Thanks to My Fans

TheSixHundredDollarMan5AgainstAllGods3fI just wanted to thank all of you who voted for my stories in the Critters Workshop Predators & Editors Readers Poll.  The results for 2012 are in, and my story “The Six Hundred Dollar Man”  came in 2nd out of 8 steampunk short stories.  My story “Against All Gods” was tied for 4th in a list of 38 romance short stories.  I feel so much gratitude for the amazing fans of—

                                                      Poseidon’s Scribe

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January 21, 2013Permalink

Promoting Your Short Story with a Video

Should you use videos to promote your short stories?  Do they help sales?

promo videoBack a year ago when I came up with this idea for a blog post topic, I figured I would have made a few short story promotional videos by this time.  That didn’t happen, but lack of experience has never prevented me from having opinions.  (In fact sometimes I have more to say about things I know less about!)

Some writers have developed videos to encourage sales of their short stories, though the practice is more common for novels.  Many people today watch videos online, sometimes while surfing on a topic of interest, and it’s possible they could run across the video about your story, like it, and buy the story when they otherwise wouldn’t have known about it.  This is especially true if the video gets lots of hits.

If you decide to make a promo video, how should you go about it?  First, let’s list some basic principles:

  • The point of your video is to influence people to buy your story.
  • To do that, the video has to convey what your story is about, what readers can expect when they read the story—the genre, setting, conflict, and protagonist.
  • The video must be appealing and enticing.  Don’t ever bore the viewer.  Keep image changes frequent, and don’t make the video too long.

There are various software packages available for making videos and prices range quite a bit based on features and user-friendliness.  The two main elements of any video are the visual portion and the aural portion and the software will have the ability to deal with both.

The visual portion usually consists of some combination of moving images (video), still images, and text.  For videos and still images you can shoot your own, use free ones that are in the public domain, or seek permission to use those that are owned by someone else.  If you do use still images, I suggest using zoom in or out, or some other way to keep the picture changing to avoid viewer boredom.  Any text you use should be in a big, readable font with good contrast against its background.

The audio part of your clip can consist of music, voice, or both.  Music can really help make the video appealing.  If you have musical talent, you can create and tape your own tunes to use.  If you have musical friends who are agreeable, see if they’ll accommodate you.  Otherwise you’ll have to get music that is in the public domain, or seek permission and pay for the use of owned music.  Make sure the images in your video shift in sequence with the music.  If you decide to have a voice-over, make sure the narrator enunciates and doesn’t speak too fast.

Is there value in making such videos?  Do they increase sales?  I can’t really answer that, due to my lack of experience.  However, I do know that time spent making promo videos is time not spent writing your next story.  Also, I don’t see these videos very often on author websites.  In various blogs about promoting stories, I don’t see the making of videos highlighted as a sure-fire marketing strategy.

What do you think of videos for the promotion of short stories?  Ever made one?  If so, how did it work for you?  Leave a comment and let me know.  Or put your comment in the form of a video.  Still waiting to go viral on YouTube, I’m—

                                                   Poseidon’s Scribe


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January 20, 2013Permalink

You Might Be a Writer If…

Jeff FoxworthyDo you have what it takes to be a writer?  If you did, would you know you did?  Sometimes it’s difficult to tell.  To make it easy for you, I’ve developed a handy test along the lines of Jeff Foxworthy’s ‘Redneck Test.’  See how many of these apply to you.

You might be a writer if:

  1. You’ve ever jotted down a plot idea by interrupting a shower.
  2. You celebrate the birthdays of William Strunk and E.B. White.
  3. You’ve day-dreamed an entire talk-show interview about your best-selling novel.
  4. You have a favorite intransitive verb.
  5. You’ve cried over the loss of your favorite pen.
  6. You’ve ever invoked Hemingway to defend a drunken binge.
  7. Your muse is as real to you as your spouse, and that seems to bother your spouse.
  8. You have checked the Thesaurus…for mistakes.
  9. You’ve ever sneaked in extra writing time while at your day job, in the bathroom.
  10. Your computer keyboard cringes when you come in the room.
  11. You’ve ever said, “Honest, Officer, I was doing research.”
  12. Your few remaining friends groan when they hear you say, “Want to hear about my latest story?”
  13. You’ve called a company to rant about grammatical mistakes in their advertisements.
  14. You read the dictionary for pleasure, and then re-read it.
  15. The last three months of your wall calendar read October, Nanowrimo, December.
  16. Your study is wallpapered with rejection letters.
  17. Microsoft Word software development engineers call you for ideas.
  18. Your three children have told you they hate their names.  All three of them, Shakespeare, Dickens, and Dostoevsky.

Lastly, you might be a writer if:

19. Your spouse has asked when you’re coming to bed, and you’ve replied “as soon as I finish writing this intimate bedroom scene.”  An hour later, your characters collapse in satisfied weariness, but your spouse is no longer in the mood.

For those of you out there who are already authors, feel free to comment and add any other items to my test.  If you weren’t sure if you’re a writer, let me know if you found the test useful, or at least interesting.  As always I strive to be of help to beginning, struggling writers.  It’s all part of the free service provided by—

                                                             Poseidon’s Scribe


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January 13, 2013Permalink

Write like Leonardo da Vinci?

Leonardo da VinciTrue, Leonardo da Vinci was an anatomist, architect, botanist, cartographer, engineer, geologist, inventor, mathematician, musician, painter, scientist, and sculptor.  Arguably he was the greatest genius of all time.  But…he never wrote fiction.

Still, it may be possible to adapt da Vinci’s methods to the task of writing great fiction.  “But wait, Mr. Poseidon’s Scribe,” (I hear you objecting), “Leonardo was a genius.  I wasn’t born a genius.”

It’s been argued before that genius is some combination of luck and time spent at an activity.  You can’t do much about the luck, but you can spend time learning, practicing, honing your skills.  If you’re going to spend that time, why not ask how Leonardo spent his time?

how-to-think-like-leonardo-da-vinci-160x197In his book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, Michael J. Gelb has already researched the methods Leonardo used and distilled them into principles.  You need to get this book and read it to understand the seven principles.  As you read the book, you’ll be able to extrapolate how each one applies to writing fiction.  Here are those seven principles:

  • Curiosità:  An insatiably curious approach to life and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning
  • Dimonstrazione:  A commitment to test knowledge through experience, persistence, and a willingness to learn from mistakes
  • Sensazione: The continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, as the means to enliven experience
  • Sfumato:  A willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty
  • Arte/Scienza:  The development of the balance between science and art, logic and imagination; “whole-brain” thinking.
  • Corporalita:  The cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness, and poise.
  • Connessione:  A recognition of, and appreciation for, the interconnectedness of all things and phenomena; systems thinking

Just reading through the list should remind you of what you know about da Vinci. Leonardo never wrote down these principles himself; he was far too disorganized for that, though he intended to get around to it someday.  Michael Gelb developed the principles from what is known of da Vinci’s life.

Even the bare descriptions of each principle should suggest to you how each one applies to writing fiction.  Maybe you’re scratching your head at the Corporalita principle, wondering how that one relates to a sedentary activity like writing.  It does, trust me.  I will devote seven future blog posts to a discussion of each principle, and how you can use each one to improve your fiction writing.

LeonardosLion5At this point, I can’t resist a personal plug.  Leonardo da Vinci is such a fascinating historical figure, I wrote a story about the mechanical automata lion he constructed for the King of France.  Had that been all da Vinci did, it would have been achievement enough, far beyond the norm of the day, but it’s barely a footnote in any list of his accomplishments.  My story, “Leonardo’s Lion,” deals with the question of what eventually happened to that clockwork marvel.

Right after you buy my book, buy How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, and get started writing with the skill of your inner genius.  When you become famous and people ask how you learned to write so well, be sure to tell them it was all due to a blog post written by—

                                                 Poseidon’s Scribe

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