Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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May 19, 2014

Character Eye Descriptions: The Window to Your Story

By Sharla Rae, @SharlaWrites

Sharla_EyePhotopinIf poets are to be believed, eyes are the windows to the soul.

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.

 Eye color

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?

  • Eyes like silver lightning: sharp, doesn’t miss a thing, spirited, quick-witted
  • Gunmetal eyes: sounds like a lethal male, perhaps emotionless
  • Glacial blue: Can suggest nationality, or cold personality, angry expression
  • Milk chocolate eyes: sounds yummy, soft, warm
  • Chips of emerald ice: sharp, cold heated
  • Faded azure lace: an older person with blue eyes, lace suggests a woman, perhaps homey

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.

  • Brown
  • Hazel
  • Blue
  • Green
  • Silver
  • Amber and Black [rank about even according to which resource you’re looking at]
  • Red or Pink [mostly in albinos]

Just for fun here’s a website that tells you the meaning of the color of your eyes.

 Eye Appearance

 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.

Eye Movement

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.

Eye Movement

Anchored her attention on
Angry gaze sliced
Blinked owlishly
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 caressed
Eyes crossed in exasperation
Eyes retraced their path to
Eyes rolled skyward
Eyes wandered
Flayed him with
Focused on her lips
Followed as the model passed
Gawking at girls
Gaze cruised her figure
Gaze dipped to her
Glance flickered
Glanced sideways
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
Staring fixedly
Strange pale eyes darted
Studied with piercing scrutiny
Subtle wink
Swung her restless gaze
Tracking the other man’s gaze
Unglued her eyes from him
Unrelenting stare
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]

Burned fanatically
Devoured her beauty
Eyes implored
A look designed to peel his hide
Almond shaped
Appraising glance
Astute gaze
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
Commanding visage
Crudely insulting stare
Deep set beneath heavy black brows
Disapproval gleamed in her eyes
Dissatisfaction plowed his brow
Disturbing smoke-hued
Elliptical eyes with heavy lids
Eyebrows like checkmarks
Eyes all gooey with
Eyes like a shark
Feline eyes
Flashed with gaiety/anger etc
Flat black, dispassionate as bullets
Frankly assessing
Get a load of those blinkers
Gleam of deviltry
Glittering with
Green flinty rocks
Hallows of madness
Hard as nails
Heart-stopping eyes
Held hostage by his eyes
Intent and unwavering/riveted
Irritated visage
Liquid pools of
Luminous glow of happiness
Mellow as the sky at sunset
Narrowed to slits
Nebulous gaze / unreadable
New moon-shaped
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
Twenty-twenty vision
Veiled expression of
Visionary eyes
Visual exploration of
Watery eyes
Where did you get those peepers
Wild and frightened
Wore spectacles/glasses/winkers

Eye Disorders and Conditions
[You might like this website]

  • Astigmatism: causes fuzzy or blurry vision due to irregular curve in eye lens or cornea.
  • Gimlet-eyed: sharp and piercing
  • Goggle-eyed: bulging, rolling or staring
  • Megalophthalmic: unusually large eyes, often a congenital condition-think goldfish
  • Strabismaic: eyes are not properly aligned. Sometimes Cross-eyed or walleyed
  • Walleyed: eyes diverging instead of focusing simultaneously on the same point; eyes turned outward away from nose; also used to define a wild irrational staring, glare or fierce look
  • Cross-eyed: converging strabismus, eyes turning toward the nose
  • Diplopia: double vision
  • Cataract: opacity of the lens of the eye, cloudy
  • Glaucoma: hardening of the eyeball, often resulting in poor vision or blindness
  • Leucoma: disease of the eye in which the cornea becomes white and opaque
  • Pinkeye: highly contagious form of conjunctivitis-eye appears rimmed in pink, bloodshot, often swelled and sometimes full of pus.
  • Nystagmic: eyeballs moving rapidly and involuntarily
  • Ablepsia: lack of sight; blindness
  • Farsightedness: ability to see objects at a distance more clearly than close objects
  • Nearsighedness:(shortsightedness, myopia) see objects only at close distances

Eye Parts

  • Cornea: transparent covering of the iris that produces refraction needed to focus image on retinea
  • Eye socket: hollow of bone in face holding eyeball
  • Eyeball: globe of the eye
  • Iris: colored circular muscle in front of eye that controls amount of light that enters the eye
  • Retina: inner layer of the eye wall composed of nervous tissue stimulated by light to send impulses to the brain.
  • Optic nerve: nerve that sends sight impulses from the eye to the brain
  • Pupil: round contractile aperture in iris of eye, regulating light into the eye
  • Vitreous humor: jelly-like material that fills eyeball and forms its shape
  • Eye lashes: hair around the eyes

Eye Corrections
[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.

  • Aviator: sunglasses with oversized lenses; associated with pilots
  • Ben Franklins: glasses with small ellipitcal, octagonal or oblong lenses worn on the middle of the nose; in slang often referred to as granny glasses
  • Bifocals: glasses having split lenses to improve both near and farsightedness
  • Contact lenses: lenses worn directly on the eye
  • Eyeglasses or spectacles or winkers: worn to correct vision; lenses set in frames that hook behind the ears
  • Horn-rimmed: glasses with dark or mottled brown frames; frames are usually heavy
  • Monocle:single lens used over eye for correction
  • Lorgnettte: eyeglasses on a long handle
  • Lorgnon: (French – pince-nez) eyeglasses that clip onto the nose; framless, circular lenses that set on the bridge of the nose
  • Loupe: magnifying glass generally held in the eye and used by jewlers

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?

About Sharla

CC-Final-Small-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.

eye photo credit: Brittany Greene via photopin cc

51 comments on “Character Eye Descriptions: The Window to Your Story”

  1. Great, Sharla - This helps. I have to remind myself though, not to overuse 'eyes'. Better to intersperse other body movements to express emotion as well, or my scene gets boring....and I run out of terms! Hard to write fresh with 'eyes' - it's all been done!

  2. Perfect timing with this wonderful information! I'm deep into revisions and looking for fresh ways to show emotions, using both eyes and body language. One question. If eyes can't travel or fall, how do they caress? 😉

  3. Great collection of eye-related description. 🙂 As long as a person doesn't use the eyes too often to describe, this can be powerful. It's an easy area to overuse, especially with emotion.

  4. Terrific post! So many things to remember. I smiled at your dropping body parts. A writing instructor long ago made fun of those things--Like you, he pointed out eyes--and heads--that drop a lot. Thanks for the great lists. Tweeted/shared.

    1. Thanks Barb. The body parts thing is always touchy. A time or two I've read where an author forgot that both arms were already occupied and wrote in a third arm accidentally.

  5. Great list Sharla Rae, sometimes I get stuck on watched, gazed, searched. Nice to see som many great options, 🙂 I reblogged so I could save this list

  6. This was great Sharla! Lovely of you to take the time to write all this down for everyone. Very helpful. Goes on my blog keeper shelf. 🙂

    1. It's funny. Eyes and their movement sounds like it should be easy but really not, esp. when you want to show more than just the obvious. Thanks for Laurie for stopping by.

  7. You are so the queen of lists, Sharla. And all are awesome. I'm saving this with the others. Thanks so much for sharing. I'll do the same.

  8. Hands down (!) the most comprehensive discussion of this topic anywhere. I wrote an "eye moment" just last night. Now I'm inspired to go back and punch it up.

  9. This is a wonderful, unusual and very useful post. Thanks so much. My characters seem to glance and gaze a lot too much for my liking (they're far too nosy) so it's great to have your lists.

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