I don’t typically use my blog for writing tips but I’m making an exception today. Any author who’s ever revised a book is familiar with searching for repetitive words, phrases, descriptions. When you have 300 occurrences of “just” “like” “smile” “shrug” in a 300 page novel, it’s too much. And it is not the fun part of editing—at least not for me.
I’m currently in my last stage of revisions for AS SEEN ON TV before I turn the first round of developmental edits to my editor. I’m at that stage. You know, the one where I’m mortified to discover how many times my characters “suck in a breath” and “widen their eyes.” Many recommend the Emotion Thesaurus for assistance in describing various character’s emotions. I own a physical copy and use it often. But it’s currently in my apartment and I’m…well, not. Also, I have come to the point where I’ve already over-used even some of the wonderful examples suggested in the guide.
My writing strengths are witty banter/dialogue and describing internal thoughts of my characters. Where I struggle is description of objects and faces. During my grueling review for repetition, I discovered overuse of the word “look.” It was easy enough to change some of the verb uses to “peer” and “glance” and “study” and “observe” etc. But I also found too many instances of using the word as a noun: “I gave him a questioning look;” or as a verb in this manner: “He looked at me with sincerity;” “She looked at me questionably.” Which begs the question, how does a face expressing sincerity actually look? How does a skeptical face actually look? (More repetition of the word look even in this blog post. Ugh!)
My first idea was to search various emotions in GIFS for help in matching feelings to facial expressions. It was helpful to a degree except I still needed to describe what I saw…using words. (Wouldn’t it be great if we could just affix images to our books instead??)
And then the answer came to me in an emoji. Yes, an emoji! I turned to Google, where I searched “skeptical emoji” “thoughtful emoji” etc. Lo and behold, along with the image of the emoji I searched, there was a description of the expression on its face! For instance, the paraphrased description of thoughtful emoji is “furrowed eyebrows with the thumb and index finger resting on its chin.” Using these emoji definitions as a guide, I was able to describe a thoughtful “look” with more specificity than simply “he looked thoughtful,” and as a result, I managed to reduce the repetitive language in my novel. I didn’t replace all of the instances of “look” because everything is okay in moderation and I also believe too much showing can slow the pace of the novel, but I changed enough to provide much-needed variety to the manuscript.
In summary, for those of you who, like me, struggle with describing facial expressions or simply use the same ones too often, I highly recommend you implement the “editing with emojis” method too. Obviously, there is more to revising a novel than searching emojis, but it is another tool to utilize when dealing with pesky repetition.