Tuesday, July 27, 2010

DC4W: Smile

Technique Tuesday

Continuing our on-going series on Dale Carnegie for Writers (DC4W), the second principle in the Six Ways to Make People Like You, the second section in How to Win Friends and Influence People, is, "Smile."

I scoffed the first time I heard that the phone company (yes, back when there was only one phone company) trained its operators to smile when they spoke with customers. "Why bother," I wondered, "when you can't see them?" (Yes, this was also before Skype and web-cams.) But I quickly learned that, because it changes the shape of the face and vocal tract, you really can hear a smile.

Smiles are inherently disarming. Anthropologists speculate that hominids showed their teeth without exposing their canines to signal non-aggressive interaction. As simple as it is, meeting someone with a smile immediately changes the tenor of the interaction.

"Okay," you say, "as an author, I can manage a smile when I'm in public."

That's a good start. Smile at everyone who comes to a signing, reading, or presentation. It's a small way to give honest, sincere appreciation to the people who have been generous enough to come.

But much of your time as an author will be solitary. Does the advice still apply?

First, and foremost, smiling even when there's no one else to see is good for your mental and physical well-being. This may sound strange, but not only do I feel better when I smile, it feels like the words come a bit easier. Clearly a smile by itself won't cure an illness, nor will it cause you to pour out a flawless novel. But like the old BASF* tag-line, while a smile won't make the thing for you, it will make it better.

Second, I believe readers can hear the smile (or its absence) in your writing. I'm not talking about overtly sunny writing: smiling doesn't mean you're limited to rainbows and ponies. We talk (often obsess) about Voice. Just like a spoken voice, I think a smile comes through as part of your written voice, particularly in terms of the enthusiasm with which you tell the story.

And if none of that moves you, at the very least you should practice smiling during the lonely hours so that when you must be seen in public your facial muscles will be able to manage more than a grotesque grimace that frightens children and small animals.**

*"At BASF, we don't make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better."
** Do you hear the smile behind this sentence?

Image: luigi diamanti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net