Amateurs smirk, professionals don’t.
I don’t know if it’s just me, but when characters smirk in a story it always makes the story seem just that little bit more amateur. One character, one smirk, is bad enough. But when all the characters start to smirk, one after the other, oh boy.
I’ve been reading a lot of two and three dollar eBooks lately. Some are great stories, others so-so, and some are downright bad.
It’s purely subjective, but for me one of the indicators of how good a story will be is the number of times characters smirk. One smirk is acceptable, but two or more close together early in the book, especially when it’s different characters doing the smirking, usually denotes a book that needed a lot more editing before it went to press. Or, to put it bluntly, self-published books.
When I read about characters smirking in a novel it’s often in a romantic part, where one character smirks to the other just as they’re about to get down and do it. What the writer usually means is that the character is feeling pretty pleased with themselves about something, that they are smiling in a self-satisfied manner.
Except to me, this is not what smirk means.
The Free Dictionary defines a smirk as:
To smile in an affected, often offensively self-satisfied manner
to smile in an affected, smug, or offensively familiar way
a smile that expresses satisfaction or pleasure about having done something or knowing something which is not known by someone else
a smile expressing scorn, smugness, etc., rather than pleasure
The origin of the word, according to most of the sites cited above, is from the Old English smearcian, related to smer derision; and the Old High German bismer contempt, bismeron to scorn.
It’s not the sort of smile you’re about to give to the man or woman you are having a romantic moment with. Not unless you’re raping or blackmailing them.
Even worse is when the characters always smirk. I mean, how often do you smirk? How many of your friends smirk all the time? I recently read a novel where there were six smirks on the one page, shared amongst two people.
It was Mark Twain who said that the difference between the right word and almost the right word was the difference between lightning and the lightning-bug. Smirking is like that. Oftentimes when it’s used, it’s not quite the right word. It always takes me out of a story. And I’m sorry to all you smirkers out there, but most times it makes the writing feel a lot more amateur.