Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pass the Lip Balm, Please

Winter. Prime season for chapped lips. Unless you live in Australia like my friend, Donna H, or in any other country in the southern hemisphere, and are experiencing the lovely warmth of the sun’s rays shining down, (and of which I’m not in the least bit jealous because I adore when my back aches from shoveling and the nosebleeds from the constant back and forth from dry heat to cold air.) But I digress. Of course, it’s possible to get chapped lips in the summer, too, if you’ve been lying on the beach in the hot sun – not that I’d wish that on any of my friends who don’t have to wear winter coats, boots and mittens this time of the year.

The other place where chapped lips seem to abound? YA novels.

Did you ever notice that there’s an awful lot of lip biting in young adult novels? Maybe I just have a weird ability to narrow in on an obscure detail until it irritates me. Sometimes when I'm reading a YA novel, I see how long it takes before the protagonist bites her lip. Call me crazy but it seems like any time there’s an indecisive moment or anxiety, someone (and 9 ¾ times out of 10 it’s a teenage girl) is biting her lips! Bella Swan is a notorious lip biter. I suppose it makes sense that kissing cold, hard vampires brings about dry lips (along with the sensation of passing out). Melinda Sordino from Speak bites her lips, but I have to give her a pass – she needed some sort of an outlet since she was unable to communicate her secret to anyone.

I’m talking about the protagonist who pauses before speaking, who is unsure what to do or say, or is afraid she might get in trouble. And the thing is, how many of us in real life bite our lip when we’re frightened, confused, sad? I suppose somebody must bite their lip or the image would never appear in writing. The only time I do it is when I’m trying to stop myself from laughing at an inappropriate time. Or if I’m trying to bite the dry dead skin off my lips (sorry, that’s a gross image).

I think that biting one's lip is an easy and sometimes lazy way to show how our MC feels. If we’re not careful it can be overused, a cliche, and our poor character will have to run for the lip balm. So far I have one instance in which my MC Felicity bites her inside lip to stop herself from crying. Since it’s one of my pet peeves, I’ve been trying use other ways of showing her emotions rather than given her swollen lips.

That leads me to The Bookshelf Muse, a blog which is a great resource for writers. The muses, Angela and Becca, have created lists (and oh, how I love lists) of different ways to describe emotions, colors, etc. If you find your MC’s lips need a break why not see if there’s another way to express what she’s feeling? Perhaps she could fidget, hold her breath, or clench her fists.

Or you could just make sure she’s carrying a tube of lip balm in her pocket.


  1. I LOVE the bookshelf muse. I really used it a lot when I first started writing so I could get away from "she was soooo angry" and move to "she clenched her fists (because she was sooo angry)." I don't use it much now, but I've also noticed I'm pretty repetitious with these actions, so I should probably start using it again!

  2. LOL. I'll make sure my MC has lip balm!

  3. You made me laugh, Suzi! Thanks for the bookshelf muse site.

  4. Hi Jessica! Nice to meet you. Thanks for stopping by. The Bookshelf Muse is a great site, isn't it?

  5. Donna H. - I can think of a few of your characters who could use some. Not because they bite their lips, but because of where the live/work. ;)

  6. Donna W. - Your welcome! I like having it as a resource if I get stuck and need another way of expressing an emotion.