Posting on a question about word frequency data, I read an excellent answer from @DPT about avoiding words that become so frequent, they're problematic. In a snippet of that answer, they wrote:
But, you end up with bobbing heads, smiling at each other, and it's neither realistic nor enjoyable to read about for very long.
It got me wondering whether my characters are head-bobbing, smiling marionettes. So, I analysed my own 106,000 word novel for the frequency of nods and smiles. I have 62 smiles and 28 nods.
Does that number make you think, 'Whoa there! Too many, man!'?
And how do you avoid it?
Because, I try to keep my writing plain and realistic. I don't want to start thesaurusing smile and substituting it for, 'She grinned.' 'He beamed.' 'She smirked.' And the same with nod. Because, when you change the word, you do slightly alter the meaning. A smirk isn't the same a smile.
Also, in real life, when someone says something agreeable, we smile and nod. That's what people do. We don't bow our heads or bob them, we just nod in acknowledgement.
And, if I substitute nods for dialogue, it rubs me, just slightly, in the wrong direction. Just as an example, take this scene I'm writing now. A friend meets my MC's husband for the first time. He's very charming towards her and he's a good looking guy. So, she says, 'He's a bit of alright.'
Having my MC say, 'Yes, he is.' or 'I know.' or 'Isn't he!' feels all wrong. Firstly, if someone said that to me about my husband, I'd just smile and nod. And secondly, my MC is p****d off with her husband right now. So, she just smiles and nods to be agreeable.
This is just an example, but attempts to make the point that changing the words or substituting dialogue, often doesn't work.
So, how do y'all handle your marionettes?