Don’t be scared
I’ve done this before
Show me your teeth

Lady Gaga, “Teeth”

It’s a strange sensation to read a romance novel immediately upon finishing a horror novel. It lends a certain otherworldliness to the romance. Sentence structures are completely different, the point of a paragraph so at odds with each other. I keep waiting for one of the protagonists to reveal that they were murdered recently. I’m waiting for cannibalism in a sex scene. I’m waiting for the romance novel to show its teeth.

I’m not certain what it is about teeth that I associate with horror or trouble. But I’ve noticed in my writing during the past five years that I use teeth as some kind of gauge. If I’m going to make a character come across as sinister, I give them some kind of memorable and painful looking teeth. When I was writing on Improbable Island, my one character had a fixation with other people’s teeth. It produced some good comedy and some even better grimdark stuff.

It doesn’t have to be fangs or tusks. I particularly enjoy cannibal teeth: filed to points. Sometimes it’s that there seem to be more teeth showing than should fit in the character’s mouth. The ‘making of’ discs of the Lord Of The Rings movies had this long section about how they played with the Mouth Of Sauron character. It’s one of my favorite parts of the movies (the fight between Gandalf and Saruman was pretty brutal. Loved that part, too).

I enjoy bits of vampire stories when the vampire character is trying to hide their fangs. It makes me laugh because it reminds me of teenagers trying to hide their braces when they smile. In a werewolf story, the lengthening of the teeth depicts the descent into a feral mode. Both indicate some lack of control on the character’s part.

I also get a little weirded out by my cat. She’s an adorable little ball of fluff, but when she yawns, holy Moses. The needle-fangs in that kitty’s mouth! Sometimes, when she’s being cute, she’ll roll over and show her belly and stretch out. And the tips of her fangs poke down into her lower lip. Makes me glad she likes me and doesn’t bite me.

Then there’s how teeth show something of a character: you respond very differently to a man in a tuxedo who grins at you than you do to a man in a tuxedo who’s putting his dentures in a glass for the night. Or the stereotypical redneck with one tooth and a cigarette.

You wince when you see someone use their teeth to pop open a bottle cap. You see effort when they use that same set of teeth to get the cork all the way out of the expensive bottle of wine.

Chewing on a ball of tinfoil? Eeeek! Or the sound of the dentist’s drill.

Expressing frustration by saying you’ll go chew down a tree. Splinters. Bark. Bitter sap on your tongue.

What about strange substances on the teeth? Black ichor dripping, chunks of raw flesh trapped between them, blood running down them from lacerated gums. Or are they polished and aligned – a sign that the character is rich, possibly. Non-human teeth in a human mouth. Jaws full of razor blades or flat stones. Crunching on things that a normal human wouldn’t, like bones and gristle or apple cores and stems.

How about the primal desire in a sex scene to mark the other person? Bite them. Chomp the air at the tip of someone’s nose; it’s all in good fun. A dog savaging a meaty bone, slinging it from side to side, growling, teeth bared. How they’re used is just as important as how they look.

I love how versatile they are.

Show me your teeth.

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