Tuesday, August 28, 2012

THE "LOOK" CHALLENGE by Cheryl Pierson

“Look” is one of those words for which writers are always on the lookout. Like other words related to the senses, “look” can distance readers from the point-of-view character’s experience, so we try to use it with caution. The Look Challenge is a game writers play to remind us to keep an eye out for the overused word and replace it with something more evocative when appropriate. The rules of the Look Challenge require us to find the first occurrence of “look” in one of our works in progress, and then post that sentence and the surrounding paragraph(s).

The Look Challenge is only a beginning for us to try to find our overused words as

writers—and kind of a fun game to play. I have to say, it is a word I have to be careful of in my writing because I do tend to use a lot of facial expressions when I describe my characters, and for me, the characters’ eyes are so important! You can also use this challenge for other sensory words (heard, felt, etc.) that "distance" the reader from the character.

Just for fun, I’ve gone back into some of my current soon-to-be released galleys and WIP manuscripts and checked for the first showing of the word “look”, or any of its variations. I’ll share some of those with you now, and writers, please feel free to do the same in your comments! I’m always curious about how others are doing with these same issues we all have and how they “fix” them!

Here’s mine from Gabriel’s Law, one of my western historical WIPs that placed third in the SARA MERRITT contest a couple of years ago. Half-breed gunfighter Brandon Gabriel is being attacked by the men of the town who hired him to get rid of a gang. Now that the gang is gone, they don’t want to pay him. This is the first occurrence of “LOOK” and I was pretty proud that it didn’t show up until page 3-4.

He shook away the memory as the whip found its mark again, this time across his neck and shoulders. Smith roared in pain as the backlash caught him on the cheek. But Brandon made no sound. His harsh training had been equal in both worlds, Comanche and Anglo. He clenched his teeth and bit back his groan of pain.

They converged on him, and he was almost thankful. At least, they were finished with the whip. Now, it would only be a matter of time. Still, he fought as they tried to grasp his arms. They struggled for several minutes before subduing him, four of them holding his arms pinned behind his back, forcing him to stand.

Arnold Smith’s florid features swam into his view, redder than usual...he was looking at him through a haze of his own blood.

“You understand, don’t you, Gabriel?” Smith asked. “It’s just business.”

This snippet is from my upcoming October 2012 release, TEMPTATION’S TOUCH. It’s a contemporary romantic suspense. Recently divorced Kendi Morgan rushes out in the darkness to give some high school kids who constantly party on her land a piece of her mind. Only, instead of the teenagers, she finds that she has instead come upon two men murdering a third. In horrified silence, she watches, unable to do anything about what she sees…until the killers drive away and she realizes that the victim may not be dead after all. This didn’t show up until page 7! Doing better!

For an instant, she hesitated about shining the light higher, onto his face. If the murderer had shot him in the head, she wasn’t sure she could look at that. But she had to know if he was dead.

“What else could he be, Kendi?” she whispered to the wind.

Her lips compressed tightly. She took another hesitant step forward, shivering from cold and nerves.

Lightning flared, followed by a roar of thunder, and Kendi flinched. In the sudden brightness, she thought she had seen the man move. But that was impossible. He was dead. She had helped kill him by not diverting the attention of the two goons who had murdered him. That, she would never forget as long as she lived.

This last snippet is from my holiday novella A NIGHT FOR MIRACLES that will be re-released with a new publisher, WESTERN TRAIL BLAZER, this fall.

When widow Angela Bentley takes in injured ex-gunhawk Nick Dalton and three orphans on Christmas Eve, she is determined only to lend a hand where needed. But when the children drag in a small, scraggly Christmas tree, Angela finds herself wanting to create a memorable holiday for them. Can these visitors become the family she longs for? For those who believe in miracles, anything is possible--even true love, in the most unlikely circumstances.

The girl’s shy expression had turned to one of hopeful expectation, her cornflower blue eyes lighting with genuine joy. Angela gave her a nod, her gaze returning to settle on the man. In the striking depths of his sapphire eyes, Angela saw a personal agony with which she was familiar, a pain completely separate from the physical wound he had suffered.

A wound to his soul.

It drew her to him in spite of her intention to remain aloof. She placed a steadying hand on his side. He muffled a groan and stiffened at her gentle touch. “I’m sorry,” she murmured. He looked to be in much worse shape than she had first thought. When Angela drew her hand away, it was smudged red-brown in the fading light, and sticky with his blood. He took a shallow breath, raspy and ragged.

The older boy looked at her, eyes wide.

“Let’s get him inside,” she said, hiding most of her alarm. The stranger slid from the saddle with a harsh groan.

I hope you all have enjoyed my “LOOK” Challenge snippets. I had fun with this, and

will continue to be on the “LOOKOUT” for more instances of using “LOOK.” Please feel free to join me in posting your snippets from a current WIP or recent release. Give us a LOOK at how you use LOOK. LOL

GABRIEL’S LAW will (hopefully) be available in 2013.

TEMPTATION’S TOUCH will be available October 24, 2012 in both print and e-book format.

A NIGHT FOR MIRACLES will be available in time for the holidays this year as well.

For all my short stories, novellas, novels and other works in anthologies and collections, please click here:


  1. Good examples, Cheryl. I try not to use the word "look" but it is necessary and conveys the message. You don't overuse it, thouse, which is great. Another reason I lvoe your writing.

  2. THANK YOU, CAROLINE! I really do have to be careful--my early stuff had a lot of "look, heard, felt," type stuff and even now, I catch myself doing some of it.

  3. I rarely use the word look after a CP knocked it into my brain that it can be overused.

  4. Paty,
    It's one of those things you don't notice in your own writing, but others can see it if they're watching for it. I've gotten a lot more careful about it now.

  5. Isn't it amazing how you get used to using some words and they crop up quite frequently. I went through and got rid of a lot of 'looks' and it does read tighter now. We are creatures of habit, aren't we!

  6. Paisley,
    I never realized it until I was reading through a ms. one day and noticed I'd used some form of "look" 3 or 4 times on one page! I started looking through it and just kept finding them. I was glad to see the "look" challenge--made me feel not so all alone. LOL

  7. Cheryl--I still have trouble with this, but at least I often catch myself and correct the errors.
    This summer, I judged four entries for a Houston RWA chapter. One of the stories was good, but she overdid look, saw, felt, understood, etc. I told this contestant I had a self-editing doc if she wanted it. Going through the coordinator, she said, "Oh, I need so much help! Thank you. I want to learn and do better." That made me feel good because she sounded so eager.
    I learned about this sort of thing from Eve Mallery at TWRP, who was my first editor, one who held my hand and led me through the editing process. She gently taught as she went along. I credit her with more than she'll even know.
    Good blog, with excellent hints...thanks, teacher.


Thank you for visiting Sweethearts of the West! We are very sad to require comment moderation now due to the actions of a few spam comments. Thank you for your patience.