SYWTBAW: The Line Edit–People Are Not All Head and Shoulders

2. Take it out of the eyes, head and shoulders.

He smiled. She grinned. His eyes sparkled. Wariness crept into her eyes. Her mouth twitched. He shrugged. She lifted a shoulder. The corners of his mouth tautened into a grimace. Her brow furrowed. He waggled his eyebrows. She sucked in her cheeks. He frowned. Her lips pushed out mulishly. He pouted.

These are all great descriptors, but people are more than head and shoulders. Their body language extends beyond what they do in the most expressive parts of their features.

In my line edit, my editor noticed I frequently went back to the eyes and lips. It occurred to me as I made these corrections that I almost never look people directly in the face when speaking with them in real life. (I'm not being rude, I swear--it's an old childhood habit of deference.)

So I asked myself, whenever I was in the hero or heroine's POV, what would they notice if they weren't looking into their face? And how would the characters they were watching express themselves if they had no face?

He shuffled his feet. Her hands fluttered nervously. She never stopped moving. He held absolutely still. He punched the wall. She stamped her foot. She danced around. He straightened. His spine stiffened. She squared her shoulders. She took a deep breath. He sagged. She twisted a curl around a finger. He rubbed his temples. She shuffled her papers.

By making the actions specific, you can keep it out of the head and shoulders and give the narrative more depth and color.

Another easy fix? Adverbs. I know your writer's craft teacher says keep away from them, but used sparingly (aha!), adverbs can tell a reader what they need without drawing attention to complicated writing.

2 thoughts on “SYWTBAW: The Line Edit–People Are Not All Head and Shoulders

  1. Vicki, this is soooooo true! I noticed this in my story just a few days ago. My characters are just talking heads 90% of the time! Something I need to pay lots of attention to in rewrites.

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