By Sharla Rae, @SharlaWrites
Rather than using clichéd or common descriptions, why not use "explicit" eye descriptions to give your reader a real peek into a character’s psyche?
I’ll touch on eye color, movement, and appearance and, of course, I have some helpful lists to inspire ideas.
It’s a given that writers mention eye color as a character feature. Color can be mentioned every so often to remind readers what the character looks like. But! Don’t hit them over the head with it.
Besides using eye color as a facial feature it can sometimes be used to identify who is speaking especially if the color distinctive.
Blue eyes widened and she threw up both hands. “Now hold on a minute.”
Her amber cat eyes narrowed. “xxxx”
A character might have plain old blue or brown eyes and that’s fine. But why not use color terms that say something about the character or what they're thinking?
Here’s a great eye color list that will help you describe “who” your character is. This is one of the best I’ve seen to date and includes pictures.
Want to know the most common and rare eye colors in the world? The following are listed from most common to least.
Just for fun here’s a website that tells you the meaning of the color of your eyes.
Eye appearance/shape isn’t too difficult to write -- round, almond, bug-eyed, beady, sloe-eyed, hooded, upturned/cat, downturned etc. We might also include how the eyes are placed on the face: close-set, deep-set, monolid, protruding etc.
Certain eye conditions or disorders can affect eye appearance and are excellent descriptors. You may not want to use the scientific terms but the descriptions of the terms are also useful. See my list below.
Appearance also includes emotional expression and often involves the eyebrows.
Appearance frequently blurs lines with eye movement and more often than not demonstrates emotions and personality. You'll see examples of this in the lists below.
Is it just me, or do eye movements mess you up too?
No doubt you’ve heard or read something like: her eyes traveled/fell down the stairs where he stood.
The eyeballs rolled down the steps? Believe it or not, this is a common mistake. And yes as a newbie writer my crit group had a good laugh on me with such a mistake. Words like “gaze,” “visage,” "glance," fixes the problem.
A tiresome descriptor for eye movement are the over-used look, looked and looking. If our eyes are open they are looking and it really doesn’t say much more than that. There’s nothing wrong with using look but never varying with more explicit substitutes is boring and causes echoes.
Try: gaze, glance, surveyed, glared, raked, searched, watched, scanned etc. You’ll find lots of these in the lists below. Notice, too, that some have very specific connotations.
As mentioned above, eyebrows are very much a part of eye movement and play an important part in expressing emotion. Blinking eyelashes show emotion too but at the risk of sounding silly, don’t overuse this one.
And now for my lists. These include eye movement, appearance/expression, disorders and conditions, eye parts and types of eyeglasses.
Anchored her attention on
Angry gaze sliced
Blinking with feigned innocence
Brow furrowed as his mouth turned grim
Brows knitted in a frown
Bushy brows beetled
Cocked a brow in surprise
Dragged his hawkish gaze
Drilled her with
Eyed him demurely/boldly
Eyes crossed in exasperation
Eyes retraced their path to
Eyes rolled skyward
Flayed him with
Focused on her lips
Followed as the model passed
Gawking at girls
Gaze cruised her figure
Gaze dipped to her
Glare traveled with unnerving thoroughness
Glared daggers [overused]
Inspected the cabin
Inventoried his surroundings
Lashes swept up and she blinked
Leveled a glowering look
Lingered over the script lines
Lowered her eyes/opened
Narrowed to crinkled slits
One heavy brow slanted in strong disapproval
Penetrating gaze probed
Perusing the sea of faces in hopes of
Plugged his eyes back into their sockets
Pried her eyes off the hunk
Probing visual caress
Raked with disdain
Searching the depths
Shifted her angry glare to
Shot him a disgusted glance
Sighted out the corner of her eye
Slammed her eyes shut and hummed the pain
Squeezed his eyes shut and gritted his teeth
Strange pale eyes darted
Studied with piercing scrutiny
Swung her restless gaze
Tracking the other man’s gaze
Unglued her eyes from him
Up went his brows
Violet eyes strayed to the
Watched until distance obscured
Wrenched his gaze
Eye Expression and Appearance
[Some of these cross over with Movement]
Devoured her beauty
A look designed to peel his hide
Avid eyes attested to his quick wit
Beady rat eyes
Blazed like torches
Boomerang brows like Ayatollah Khomeini’s
Bright with age
Bulging with fright
Chaotic, helter-skelter eyebrow—like his mind, unsystematic and fickle
Crudely insulting stare
Deep set beneath heavy black brows
Disapproval gleamed in her eyes
Dissatisfaction plowed his brow
Elliptical eyes with heavy lids
Eyebrows like checkmarks
Eyes all gooey with
Eyes like a shark
Flashed with gaiety/anger etc
Flat black, dispassionate as bullets
Get a load of those blinkers
Gleam of deviltry
Green flinty rocks
Hallows of madness
Hard as nails
Held hostage by his eyes
Intent and unwavering/riveted
Liquid pools of
Luminous glow of happiness
Mellow as the sky at sunset
Narrowed to slits
Nebulous gaze / unreadable
Penetrating blue of his eyes
Possessed the power to make her
Rheumy old eyes
Sharp with intelligence
Slits for eyes
Sliver of emotion in those cool eyes
Sloped down at the corners like a sad pup
Small evil eyes
Sneaky close-set eyes
So tired his eyeballs seemed to sag out
Steeply arched brows
Sunken in the head
Tears of remorse flooded
The dark mystery of his eyes
Triangular brows/always surprised
Veiled expression of
Visual exploration of
Where did you get those peepers
Wild and frightened
Eye Disorders and Conditions
[You might like this website]
[A good overview of modern lenses]
Note: Although it’s not exactly known when eye glasses were first invented, they appear in a 1352 painting.
Now let's have some fun. What are some of the funniest mistakes you've made with eye descriptions or eye movement? What is your biggest pet peeve?
Sharla has published three historical romance novels: SONG OF THE WILLOW, LOVE AND FORTUNE, and SILVER CARESS. SONG OF THE WILLOW, her first solo effort, was nominated by “Romantic Times Magazine” for best first historical.
When she’s not writing and researching ways to bedevil her book characters, Sharla enjoys collecting authentically costumed dolls from all over the world, traveling (to seek more dolls!), and reading tons of books. You can find Sharla here at Writers In The Storm or on Twitter at @SharlaWrites.
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