Sweaty Lips and Writers’ Tics

Show don’t tell.  We’ve all heard it before.  It’s practically cliche at this point.  I’ve also found that writers develop “tics” when it comes to show-don’t-tell.   We realize we can’t say: “The girl was scared.”  So we show it by saying: “Beads of ice cold sweat popped up like tiny pearls on her upper lip.”  We love that so much, next thing we know, we’ve got sweaty lips all over the place.

If you read a lot from any one author, you’ll start to pick up on his/her tics. I’m not innocent.  I have them, too.  I’m a big fan of people chewing on their lips.  It shows nerves, indecision, guilt . . . . Very useful.  It’s become such a problem I have to search for the term LIP all over my manuscript before the final edits.  So!  With all this in mind, I’m building a Show-Don’t-Tell Bank.  A Go-To list of ways to show different emotions without succumbing to my comfortable but tic-ish expressions.  For example,


  • Penelope chewed on her bottom lip until the skin began to tear away.
  • Judy’s stomach clenched like a fist.
  • Aurelia kept her arms tight against her body so no one would see the dark, wet circles spreading through her shirt under her arms. (Boy, that one would help a lot with word count!)
  • Meredith fought the urge to cry out.


  • Angry, red blisters burst open on the back of my neck.
  • Joe was blind and burning and looking desperately for a “We’ve Got Air Conditioning” sign.


  • Jorge’s smile by-passed his ears.
  • Doug hopped up and down then wet his pants, putting a damper on everyone’s mood.
  • Justin tapped his foot under his desk and watched the clock without blinking.  Just two more minutes!

I’d love it if you’d add to the Show-Don’t-Tell Bank.  Or if you prefer, share your own writer’s tic!

Oh…and if you want some weird beauty tips on sweaty lips, check this out: http://tinyurl.com/y4pkmwn



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3 responses to “Sweaty Lips and Writers’ Tics

  1. I don’t know a writer who isn’t haunted by this, especially one who has put enough words on the page to have amassed a fair number of clips, essays or books. I can’t think of a tic at the moment but I’m going to be paying attention during the next several days as I do edits and I’ll stop back in with a laughable example, I’m sure! Thanks for bringing this to mind, as it will make my work better as I move forward!

  2. Sharon Bially

    Anne – I was just thinking about this topic last week after reading a well-critiqued and well-publicized recent book in which a main character has a very clear “emotion-showing” tic that gets constantly repeated. Once, twice, three times — then I’d had enough. It was overkill. I also just got back the line-edits on my own book (soon to be self-published), and the editor has metaphorically slapped my hand for using a particular tic a bit too often. So I’m correcting this. But howcome the published book (by a big publisher) got away with it?

  3. EBS

    Anne – You are turning out material faster than I can read it. You are on a creative roll. We use to call that diarhea of the brain. I don’t suppose you want to use that in your list. M

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