GRRR . . .
And Sandy frowned. In one page--in approximately 250 words--the characters in this manuscript have smiled seven times, laughed four, grinned twice, and frowned once. Oh, and between all that smiling and laughing, there were four sighs. FOUR SIGHS! (Not counting the ones coming from me).
And, no, these characters were not in the audience of Saturday Night Live, David Letterman, or any other show. They were eating dinner and discussing a recent murder.
Unfortunately, this is one of the most common problems I see in manuscripts. In fact, I'd be willing to say that at least 90% of the fiction manuscripts I see overuse the common actions of smiling (always the worst offender), laughing, frowning, nodding, shaking a head, and grinning.
Most writers are not aware they do this. They've been told to use action, use body language. They've been told to cut passive verbs like was, were, is, are and so forth. They've been told to omit helping verbs like could have, would've, beginning to, starting to and so on. They dutifully have scanned their manuscript and cut back on these things.
I challenge you to do a FIND for the word "smiled." See how many times you've used that word. Surprised? Try "laughed." "Grinned." "Frowned." "Shook." "Nodded." Oh, oh, oh. One more. "Felt."
I challenge you to replace as many as you can with more descriptive body language. First, consider the emotion this character is actually feeling. Is he bored? Joyous? Frustrated? Then, figure out a unique way to show your reader this emotion. (Or, cheat. Pick up a great book like The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi or Writer's Guide to Character Traits by Dr. Linda Edelstein). Then, have your characters scratch a mole until it bleeds or drop pieces of steak on the floor when no one is watching or polish the diamond on their ring. Or growl.
"Doing this one thing will bring your writing up to the next level," Sandy said and smiled. "I promise."