the eyes have it

ah, my attempt at a witty, punful heading!

My latest pet-hate with my writing is this: my characters are always, always looking. At each other, not at each other, out the window, across the room, up from the book, etc.

Of course, we do live eyes-first, so I can see why this problem has arisen. When you write in very close third, as I do (third person narrative, but glued so tight to the perspective of one character that their internal world is inextricable from the external), the narrative unfolds through a character’s gaze. The world only exists as they are looking at it/not looking at it.

A look indicates interest: open, suppressed, lack of.

The eyes are the window to the soul. I’ve thought often about this, because eyes are not the endless portal they seem to be, but are covered in a particularly slimy, shiny variety of skin. They are as closed off as the rest of us, except that they relay a sensory experience right to the brain – an experience that is no more true than sound or smell or touch, but that we allow to invade us all the same. The world enters our flesh through the eyes.

(I’m also using the word “flesh” far too much.)

Possible solutions to my problem: If the eyes allow the invasion of the world, then my characters can relate that experience, rather than simply looking. Or react to that experience. Seeing is an assumed state, if something is being described by a seeing character.

Maybe I can use my eyes, look around me at the other ways people give themselves away than simply by looking.

Maybe I can close my eyes and find the ways I do the same.

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About anna cowan

I look around, and here I am - housewife and aspiring romance novelist. This seems unexpected.
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2 Responses to the eyes have it

  1. Mini-Mike says:

    Its always frustrating when you notice what appears, to you, at least, to be an over-used device in your writing. However, when it comes to the behaviour of others, the first signs are always with the eyes. Whether its obvious or obscure and, whether we do it consciously or unconsciously, our knowledge of a person’s basic attitude, emotions or thoughts rely largely on body language, but in particular the language of the eyes. Whether they glisten or seem dull/unfocussed. Whether someone glances away or up or down when they talk, even slightly, can imply truthfulness or falsehood, conviction, insecurity, merriment or sorrow. Its a tricky thing. Strangely, today I was presented with a similar dilemma when looking over some of my old work. It was just one scene, but I felt I was being over-referential with regards to the looks between two characters. I think, ultimately, if you want to imply thoughts and feelings without simply stating a characters state of mind, you will always look to the eyes first. Then the hands 😉

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