“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!

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 tried to shake away the memory as the whip found its mark again, this time
across his neck and shoulders. He heard Smith roar 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

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

“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

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:

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A native Oklahoman, I've been influenced by the west all my life. I love to write short stories and novels in the historical western and western romance genres, as well as contemporary romantic suspense! Check my Amazon author page to see my work:
I live in Oklahoma City with my husband of 40 years. I love to hear from readers and other authors--you can contact me here:
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  1. Yep, there’s the “look” challenge, the “flying body parts” and the “roaming” eyes challenge. I forgot where I read it, but my favorite sentence of all time was this: He cast his eyes out to sea and they rolled back with the tide.

    Of course that wasn’t as bad as the one that read: He put his hand in his pocket to grab hold of himself.

    Thanks for reminding me to check my ms before my September deadline.

  2. HA! Margaret, I love those! Thanks so much for giving me a laugh this morning! I really had fun with this, just going through and looking to see where the “first instance” occurred in some of my work. Thanks for mentioning the “flying body parts” and the “roaming” eyes challenge.

  3. Our very own filly sister Karen did an awesome deep POV workshop at RWA. But even though I know all of this, the no-no’s still manage to creep in once i a while LOL. Since I’m working on a new wip right now, I’m very aware of each word.

    Good post, Cheryl. xoxox

  4. I’m still laughing at Margaret’s post. Now, I’ve added more words to look out for. I’m still working on WAS. Anyway, back to work.
    Thanks for another lesson in the world of writing.
    Hugs. Mary j

  5. Me too, laughing at Margaret’s posts. Good reminders to all of us. But still, sometimes, you just gotta use it.

    Cheryl – your passages “look” good!! Great visuals without the word!!

  6. Margaret, you are too funny — and Cheryl you are so wise to point these things out so that we can edit those manuscripts. I had a copy editor once who changed some of my work to read much like Margaret’s funny comments. Needless to say, I changed it back, my opinion of copy editors (Not your REAL editors) taking a plunge.

  7. Oh that was fun! And humbling! One of my recent LIHs had way too many “looks” and they start on page 2; but the newest ms, the current one, doesn’t have a look until page 14. Thanks for the reminder, Cheryl! I also have trouble with finding words for “walk.” How And then there’s “he felt… thought . . . saw.” All those phrases distance the reader.

  8. Cheryl,
    Good idea! Now that you mention it, I guess all the senses could be overused like that, couldn’t they? I need to go back and re-read and double check for some of that!

  9. Thanks, Tanya! Sure wish I could’ve been with y’all at RWA this year–I would have loved to have gone to Karen’s workshop! Glad you enjoyed the post.

  10. Hi Charlene,
    Thanks so much for the kind words. I’ve started trying to just describe what the person is seeing–we know they are “looking” and seeing what’s being described.

  11. Kay,
    I bet you were just fit to be tied when you saw what that copy editor had done to your story! I would have definitely changed it back, too. I am going to have to commit these examples of Margaret’s to memory. They are too funny.

  12. Vicki,
    You are so right about that distancing thing, and it’s something that just sneaks in sometimes without us meaning to do it–more often than not! LOL I try to watch for it, and have gotten to where I can “feel” that I’m being distanced by something so that makes it easier–I just hunt for it until I find out what it is! LOL

  13. Hey, Cheryl! After I posted here, I went back to the ms and immediately “de-looked” a couple of sentences. Thank you, Filly sister, for some excellent advice and awareness!

  14. I found ‘looked’ on the middle of page nine, that’s in the book, not on my word document.

    Callie braced her rifle against her shoulder and took careful aim, the whole world slowed down. The noise faded into the background. She felt pulled away, out of the action, her mind was working, her nerves were steady. The bleeding hand didn’t hurt. As she looked at the trail behind the colors were so vivid and her vision so sharp it was almost painful.
    The pulsing hooves behind them gave her the attackers’ exactly location and she steadied her gun. The slow moving coach gave her a chance at a steady shot.

  15. One I try and cut is ‘knew’. He KNEW or she KNEW. I think that’s distancing.
    Instead of saying, “She knew he’d be late.”
    I have her think, “He’ll be late.”
    That’s deeper in her pov and more emotional.

  16. Hey Vicki,
    I had a lot of fun with this. I wanted to just sit down and look at everything I ever wrote…then I was AFRAID to look at the ones that are already “out there.” LOL

  17. Mary I loved your excerpt. I really felt like I was right there with her. You drew me right in, girl! And that’s true about “knew”, but I just never thought of it. Thanks for that tip! I’m glad I could help you out with “look.” LOL I’m going to be changing a lot of stuff, too.

  18. My LOOK showed up early in the Prologue to my WIP, Fly Away Heart, the children, Lilith and Wilding and Robin Pierpont find themselves is a precarious predicament. Lilith Wilding has climbed out on a limb that is about to break and below her, the river is surging from white water. If she survives the fall, the white water will surely kill her. Robin Pierpont has made his way to a secure limb just above her in a risky but desperate plan to save her, gulping down his terror of deep water.
    Here is the passage containing the word, “look”:

    Robin felt Lilith’s hands clinch his with a strength he never would have guessed she possessed. Common sense told him that Teekonka would catch her. There sure wasn’t any way the big Lakota was going to be able to climb up to where they hung and this limb couldn’t take any more weight. He knew Poppy was right. He would have to let go. He just had to convince Lilith of that fact. He spoke to her in a composed, assertive voice. “Lilith, you know Poppy is as good as his word. If he says he’ll catch you, then he will.”
    Her tear-stained face looked up at him, her eyes dark with terror. “Please, Rob, you promised. You said you wouldn’t let go.”
    Her pleading words dug deep into his conscience. Lilith might look fragile and girly on the outside but he knew she was tough as any oak on the inside. He would just have to use logic. He only hoped the right words would come to him. “Okay, Lilith, tell you what, you just hang on as long as you can then until Poppy gets tired and goes in for dinner. Pretty soon your hands are going to be too slick with sweat for you to hang on and then what?”
    “I don’t know.” Her voice sounded so small that it bit into his heart.

    Ya know, it seems like LOOK just slips out of my brain and onto the page. I see I have some cleaning to do with this wip. Thanks, Cheryl. This was a very helpful blog.
    I hope to see Gabriel’s Law released soon.

  19. Aw, Sarah! I can’t wait to see what Robin and Lilith’s story is! This looks so good! Thanks so much for sharing with us. And thank you for your kind words about Gabriel’s Law. I have promised myself that I am going to work on the edits on that over the holidays if I can’t get to it before then. But I’m wanting to make it happen THIS YEAR. LOL

  20. Cheryl–this was great, and so were the comments. I’m still laughing.You always have the most intriguing teaching posts. But I guess that’s natural to you since you teach writing. I wish I’d taken your class early one and saved myself from a lot of headaches.
    As usual, I come away with something to think about…and Temptation’s Touch? Oh, I remember that one!
    Well done.

  21. Hey Celia,
    Thanks so much for your very kind words, my friend. Margaret’s comments were so true and funny–I’m going to have to remember those examples. Yes, Temptation’s Touch will be out in October–more to come in the near future about that one! Thanks so much for stopping by my friend!

  22. Look, you gals, look is a word that has to be used some of the time. You can gaze, glance, peer, scowl, view, appraise, study, peep, gape, observe, watch, ogle, scrutinize, survey, inspect, examine, etc. just so much in a story before a good old fashioned “look” seems like the best choice.

    As was mentioned, there are many words or phrases which are overused. This has made us aware of many of them. This post will have many writers going to their works, old and new, to peruse (scan, search, inspect, check) the pages for those dreaded repetitions. Others will just look them over to check for problems.

    Thanks for another informative post. I enjoyed the comments.

  23. I didn’t get a chance to comment yesterday because I was away from home all day, but I love this challenge. “Look” first appeared in my wip on page 6.

    “He strained to see through the brown air thick with dirt, hoping he’d spy the sick heifer he’d gone out looking for when the sandstorm blew up. Although he’d tied his bandana around his nose and mouth, his eyes were exposed to the elements. They probably had half the dirt in the county in them. He could barely see and they stung something fierce. So did his lungs. Despite the bandana, particles of sand invaded the tender lining of his throat and chest like marauding little beasts.
    What he wouldn’t give to be safe inside the sod house in which he and his sister lived.”

    I’m certainly going to watch my usage of this word in the future. It’s something that just slips in when you’re not aware of it. Thanks for the lesson, Filly Sister!

  24. LOL Patricia! YOU ARE SOOOOO RIGHT! We do have to use “look” sometimes, because no other word will do. As you say, there are only so many of the other choices that you can use before your writing starts to sound silly. I think, what I got from this, is to just be careful about the usage and don’t fall back on it because it’s easy.
    Thanks so much for coming by–I always enjoy your comments!

  25. Linda,
    I’m so glad you chimed in with an excerpt. I loved the way it starts with “He strained to see..” rather than “He looked…” LOLLOL You did really well to get to page 6 before it showed up! KUDOS!

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