Sep 24, 2010

How Do You Write a Smile?

by Joan Sowards

Don't take me too seriously on this one, but I like my characters to be happy and I find it a challenge to write a smile. Yes, I know it’s all right to write he smiled, but sometimes it gets monotonous. In an 80,000-word novel it takes a lot of creative writing to keep your character creatively smiling.

The English language doesn’t have enough substitutes for the word smile. Grin, beam, and smirk is all my thesaurus offers. To avoid each smile from sounding like the last, the writer will sometimes use modifiers such as toothy, wide, lopsided, ridiculous, or that the ends of her mouth turn up. If the character’s eyes light up, her smile smiles differently than two pages ago.

Maybe someone should make a long list of smile descriptions, cut them in slips, put them in a jar and market it to writers. Whenever they need to write a smile, they can draw one out and, kazam! It’s done. (The inventor will probably make more money than from book royalties.)

Another word we English conversers got shorted on is laugh. There isn’t a word for an ordinary, boring huff. If it is an everyday grin—no emotion involved—there’s not a lot to choose from. Everyone laughs. If we don’t blow out our breath in a quiet laugh, we just smile, or there we go grinning again.

The best we can do is chuckle, and if you’re under sixteen you can giggle. If you are a little loony you may twitter and chortle. Boys snicker. Males hoot. Old women snort and cackle (may I never be that old.) And if you just lose it altogether, you are allowed a guffaw or two.

None of these offer what I’m looking for. Got laughs?


  1. twinkle in the eye? I always liked laughter danced in her eyes????

  2. Maybe that says something about our society. I have heard (although never verified) that eskimos have many words for snow--that societies generally have a lot of words for those things that are important. We do have a number of words for money....

    Would love a list of alternative phrases for smile and laugh, though.

  3. I love your observations, Joan. Well said. I think Rebecca has a point, as well. I started thinking about how happiness and laughter is depicted in the scriptures. Hmmm, I'm going to give that more consideration!

  4. I just happened onto a blog with an "Emotion Thesaurus" on the
    Click on Amusement and there's a long list. Maybe one will be just right for your happy character.

  5. I enjoyed your post. It brightened my day. I am glad to know of the resource Valerie found too.


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