Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Eyes of A Character's Soul

The eyes are a portal for humankind. They let others into our soul and provide an avenue for us to take in observations.

God prefers to look at us through our heart. He knows our thoughts, motivations, inspirations, conspiracies, analysis, synthesis, evaluations and everything that stimulates our brain.

We, however, cannot see another person's heart. The only way we can test another person's spirit is by looking at their eyes. 

By developing the eyes of our character, the reader will better understand the intention of a given action. Statements like "He looked to the left" really tell us nothing. 

As writers we often fall back on vague words: look, smile, smell, heard. I know I do it, too. One of the reasons I'm writing this post is for my own benefit. 

All right, let's get to it. How can we best write scenes using the eyes?  

Try not to use the words: look or see.

Photo Courtesy
What can you tell me about this child's eyes?

The emotion appears to be sadness.
How do the eyes show this emotion?
Dark shadows around the eyes. 
No tears
Focused, looking at a person/event/etc
The thoughts, though, may not be focused on what is being said.

If we wrote one or two sentences infusing this image of a child in our story--or change it to a teen, or adult --what could you write? Are your sentences as crystal clear in communicating what is going on as this photo is?

Try not to use the words: look or see.

What can you tell me about these eyes?

The emotion appears to be happy.
A person who is laughing/happy
has raised cheeks with a bit of color. 
Their eyes are slightly narrowed due to the raised cheeks. 
The eyebrows are raised slightly. 
The head might be tipped back a tad. 
The eyes contain more color.

Try not to use the words: look or see.

Photo Courtesy
What can you tell me about these eyes?

The emotion appears to be angry. A person who is angry:
has cheekbones in resting position. 
The eyebrows will draw close to the nose.
The eyes will narrow - squint
The eye color will become brilliant
Redness will appear either in the skin around the eye or in the white of the eye
The individual will only turn away to emphasize their anger. If the person turns away, they are not likely to return their gaze. 

Every emotion has a corresponding response in the eyes. Can you tell if someone is not telling the truth by looking at their eyes? How? 

*First, they can't keep their eyes on you. Their eyes will drift to the left or right or even down. *Their eyebrows may raise as they try to convince you they are really telling the truth. *Sometimes the color is enhanced. 
*The cheekbones remain relaxed. 
*And unfortunately, the person's nose does not grow to confirm our suspicions
What else can you add?

If you take a moment to write in your journal some descriptions of the typical emotions faced by your characters and how their eyes would appear at that moment, you will find an arsenal of words to use in lieu of "look" and "see". 

Recently a judge on a TV show asked the performer what they were looking at. The performer had turned his head to the right of the judge instead of facing her directly. The judge said, "Are you scared of me?" 

Have you ever said to a family member, "Look at me."?  

What is the individual doing when they don't face the person speaking to them? Well, the judge thought the performer was scared. The parent may think the child is not listening. It can also show lack of care, avoidance, etc. 

If your character is afraid, doesn't care, is disconnected in anyway, have them tip their head away or down. 

Eye to eye forces confrontation.

A character who doesn't make eye contact loses control. So, 
*If your character is happy and no one looks, they will feel like no one cares. 
*If your character is sad and no one looks, they will feel like no one loves them.
*If you character is angry and no one looks, they will feel like no one is listening.
*If your character is the villain and no one looks, they will feel like no one will obey them and will work quickly to resolve the issue.

On the other hand, if your character is the one who chooses not to make eye contact:
*They want to get away
*They don't believe the other person
*They have been rejected
*They have been emotionally hurt
...and want the moment to end.
*In the case of a villain, he/she is done with the situation. They don't want to hear any more, see any more, deal with it any more. Usually underlings are ordered to finish up the process (killing, etc)

Photo Courtesy

For our discussion: 
What can you say about these eyes?

I'm looking forward to chatting with you in the comment section.

Photo Courtesy for top photo: by Demen-photo modified for this use.


If you found any typos in today's post...sorry about that. 

Mary has moved to Michigan with her husband, closer to her three college kids. She misses the mountains of Montana, but loves seeing family more often. She writes young adult mystery/adventure Christian fiction, is honing marketing and writing skills, and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids.

Visit Mary at her website and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter


kaybee said...

The child in the fist picture is losing someone she loves, maybe through a custody battle, or a military deployment, or even something like the Holocaust.
This is a good post. We hear so much about why we shouldn't use eyes ("She dragged her eyes up to meet his," "their eyes met"). But there are positive ways we can use the eyes to express an emotion or a situation. Thanks.
Kathy Bailey

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Mary, what a fabulous post! I struggle with using the eyes a lot, but not very effectively. Your tips and suggestions here are very helpful. Look and See end up in my first drafts, but they need to be re-vamped for my final draft. These suggestions will be very helpful!

I'd say the gal in the last picture looks wistful. I'll have to think more on how to describe after the kids get off to school. :)

Mary Vee Writer said...

I like your ideas about what the child in the first picture is experiencing. These are ideas I hadn't thought of and make a great point...the writer expresses--paints the eyes, but the experience of the reader adds vibrant life.

Good talking with you, Kathy.

Mary Vee Writer said...

I love the word, "wistful". It is a word that is not overplayed and powerfully expresses so much.

Cara Putman said...

Fantastic post, Mary!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thank you, Cara :)