“He grinned”

Is it just me, or are others also annoyed when fiction authors often write that some character “grinned” (especially with no elaboration) in the middle of dialogue? To make things clearer, what I have in mind is simply something like the following hypothetical excerpt (though of course the effect I mention is more likely if the locution is repeated, rather than if it just happens once in a book).

John grinned. “That’s a very good idea,” he said.

When I read this, I get the vague sense that the author is trying to manipulate me into liking the speaker, and viewing him as a jolly, open-hearted, sincere sort of fellow; and while of course most effective fiction writing involves subtle manipulation by the author, this seems too blatant.

But maybe I’m misperceiving the reason for my reaction; perhaps the true reason is much more idiosyncratic and irrational. Or maybe I’m just becoming one of those old, grumpy curmudgeons. In any case, let me know, please, if you have the same reaction — or a different one.

Eugene Volokh teaches free speech law, religious freedom law, church-state relations law, a First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic, and tort law, at UCLA School of Law, where he has also often taught copyright law, criminal law, and a seminar on firearms regulation policy.

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Eugene Volokh · May 27, 2014

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