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Shooting Glances

There are a lot of glances being shot on the pages of most novels. Sarcastic ones, annoyed ones, angry ones…characters always seem to have meaningful looks and glances for each other.

This is often a tic for writers. What do I mean by “tic”? Something you do in your writing that you’re not aware of. Something you usually do a lot. Some writers have favorite words, other writers have pet descriptions, and yet others have go-to actions and gestures for their characters.

Why do I think so many writers rely on “She shot him a glance” or “He gave her a look” in their writing? Because it’s a cinematic construct that we’re used to in movies and on TV. When a real life person or a movie character shoots a glance, we can read their body language, see the expression on their face, and interpret meaning from their eyes.

Right away, we can get the flavor of the look or glance and what it is meant to communicate to the target character and to us, the viewer. Loaded looks are pretty much the staple of soap operas and sitcoms. A lot goes without being said in words in these visual mediums.

But that’s just the problem. In prose, we don’t have the added benefits of seeing the character’s facial expressions or reading their looks as they give another character a meaningful glance. And if we can’t see the look…it loses a lot of its meaning. The glance becomes vague instead of specific, as it can be on the screen. And vagueness is the death of good prose.

What’s the solution? Try to wean yourself off of glances. Sure, you can use a well-placed glance or look if you have enough context to make it count. And you can always qualify the glance, ie: “She shot him a murderous glance” or “He fired daggers at her with his eyes,” but these are so overused that they’ve verged into cliche territory. It may be easier to just face it — a loaded look in prose will never carry the same weight as it does in visual mediums — and more on to finding a fresher way for characters to communicate, something that reads better on the page.

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