The Perils of Smirking: A Story From Before I Became An Editor

Looking back at my early days of writing, long before I was an editor at Samhain, I got a lesson about editing that hit hard, and it came from my brother:

This story comes from 11 years ago, when I was working on Bleeding Heart Yard (later renamed “A G**damned Love Story“)


So my brother finally got around to reading Bleeding Heart Yard.  I’m always worried about what he thinks about my work since his opinion pretty much carries the most weight with me.  My wife may be my motivation to write, but she’s also easy to please.  Too easy, sometimes.

Wyatt, on the other hand, is like performing at the Apollo.  If you can avoid getting heckled off stage, your have a shot at making it.

Thankfully he liked the book, but that didn’t mean he didn’t have critiques for me, the kind that as a writer I feel obliged to pass on.

The subject of his email said it all:  STOP SMIRKING

Turns out he noticed I had characters smirk a lot.  I didn’t think I did, but I did a word search in my manuscript and sure enough it popped up twenty times.  That’s bad.  I had a look at Trooper #4 and found it there nineteen times.  What’s worse is that I immediately knew I didn’t need most of them.  That nineteen dropped down to six instantly.

See, the problem is that writers develop a blind spot for certain words.  Certain go-to phrases and even just descriptive words that they need to fill in a blank.  Smirk apparently is one of mine.  You use it enough that you no longer pick it up on your radar, really.  Nobody else mentioned this to me, but I’m glad Wyatt did.

What was worse was that I wasn’t exactly using the word correctly.  I always saw it as a kind of half-smile, but Wyatt pointed out that a smirk has a condescending nature to it.  It’s not a positive kind of descriptive term.  He sent me a picture of George W. Bush displaying what can only be called a quintessential smirk.

Or, as he put it:

Almost no one smirks in real life, and when they do, everyone wants to punch them to death. Smirking is an asshole thing to do. It’s affected and douchey. And that’s why almost no one does it.  Stop having your characters smirk all the time unless you want me to hate them and punch them to death.

To which I realized, wait a minute.  I smirk all the time.

Ah crap.

This might explain much about my relationship with my brother.

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