11+ Ways to Say “He Smiled”

Photo © 2005 Dey Alexander

One of the banes of writing fiction is trying to find interesting ways to say ordinary things. And smiling is one of those. Everyone smiles. It’s built into our DNA to smile. We smile to show happiness, friendliness, or even to cover up how insecure we feel. And our characters smile, too, a lot.

So how do you avoid sounding hyper-repetitive when you describe how happy, friendly, and insecure your characters are? Here are 11+ suggestions. (The ‘+’ is because some of the following items produce multiple possibilities. You’ll see what I mean.)

  1. ‘He smiled.’ If his smiling is important enough to mention, but not important enough to make a big deal over, just write, ‘He smiled.’ Especially if there are qualifiers, such as ‘He smiled politely,’ then quickly go on to the important stuff in the story.

  2. ‘[description elided]’ That is, write nothing. If his smiling is just a by-product of some other action, if the reader will naturally imagine him smiling anyway, or if his smiling doesn’t matter to the story anyhow, get rid of it.

  3. ‘He beamed, grinned, smirked, simpered, sneered, leered, laughed, joked, teased, and joshed.’ Hit your thesaurus and other word-finding tools. Find the strongest verb that describes the character’s action.

  4. ‘His lips curved upwards.’ or ‘The corners of his lips rose.’ An old standby.

  5. ‘His cheeks dimpled, and the corners of his eyes wrinkled.’ Another old standby, as is…

  6. ‘His eyes twinkled.’ … and…

  7. ‘His eyes lit up.’ … and…

  8. ‘His teeth shone bright.’ … and…

  9. ‘He showed his party teeth.’ … and all their variations.

  10. ‘He [something] with joy.’ There might be a more appropriate noun than “joy,” depending on his motivation in the story.

  11. ‘He appeared amused.’ Very weak, because “appeared” is just one step away from the verb “to be.” But hit your thesaurus for “amused.” Maybe this is the best way to communicate how the viewpoint character interprets his expression.

Keep writing!
-TimK

About Tim King

I'm a sometimes writer, blogger, and software developer. My loves include friends, Star Trek, and coffee. If you enjoy the content here, would you be willing to buy me a cup?

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