EYE See Issues in Manuscripts

Let’s talk about eyes and how we use them in fiction. As a freelance editor, I see a lot of common errors or misuses of words, so I thought I’d talk about some of the problems I see having to do with eyes or looking.

One of the issues I see has to do with describing the color of the character’s eyes. While it works to say Joe has brown eyes, some authors want to be more descriptive, so they say things like chocolate eyes or coffee eyes or mocha eyes. To be clear, chocolate eyes are chocolates that look like eyes. You’ll often see these around Halloween. My kids love them. If you want to use chocolate to describe the color of the eyes, it works best to say chocolate-colored eyes. See the difference? The same applies to coffee and mocha eyes, BTW.

Another problem I encounter is flying body parts. With eyes, this is usually a sentence involving eyes that darted around the room. Yes, we see this expression in best-selling novels, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. Best-selling authors can get away with a lot more than midlist authors and beginners. In this case, it would be better to use, “His gaze darted around the room.” Or you could write, “He glanced around the room.” Or simply show us what he sees in the room, and we’ll know he looked around.

Sometimes an author will use eyes to tell the reader what the character is feeling, something like, “He turned angry eyes on her.” Let’s think about this for a moment. Eyes don’t have feelings. They can’t get angry. The guy can, so show his body language, facial expression, or strong dialogue so we can see how angry he is.

Something similar is when an author writes, “Her eyes glared at him.” No, actually, she used her eyes to glare at him. It would be best to say, “She glared at him.” Or you could show this by saying, “She narrowed her eyes at him.”

The last issue I want to point out is the use of “stared.” Stared isn’t the same as looked. Not even close. Here’s Merriam-Webster’s definition of stared. “To look at someone or something for a long time often with your eyes wide open.” Did you catch that? To look at someone for a LOOOONG time. If your characters are talking to each other, they should (for the most part) be looking at each other. However, some authors try to avoid using “looked” and replace it with “stared.” So now that comfortable conversation between your two characters suddenly became a little creepy. How can you feel comfortable talking with someone when they’re staring at you? Either I would start to wonder if I had food stuck between my teeth or snot dangling from my nose, or I might think the person was plotting to kill me. And if he kept staring, I would be convinced he not only wanted to kill me but to also chop me up into little bits. So let’s try to avoid having our characters stare unless they’re looking out a window at a tree or something, okay? Instead, use verbs like: look, gaze, glance, glimpse, gander, and peek. Easy peasy, right?

What kinds of eye/look issues have you encountered in your writing or reading?

Lynnette Labelle
2015 Daphne du Maurier Finalist
2015 Molly Winner

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2 Responses to EYE See Issues in Manuscripts

  1. Graeme Ing says:

    I’m definitely guilty of the stared one! Good advice. Thanks.

  2. Lynnette Labelle says:

    Graeme Ing: You’d be surprised how many authors use that. 🙂

    Lynnette Labelle
    2015 Molly Winner (Romantic Suspense)
    2015 Daphne du Maurier Finalist

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