If you’ve followed any of my previous blogs on writing, body movement and show don’t tell, you know by now that body language can be an excellent tool for conveying the internal emotions of your characters. Today I want to talk about eyes. Eyes are, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest tools an author has to convey emotion.
Every movement of the eyes says something about the emotions of the character. Sending a signal to your reader of what your character is feeling. Remember the old cowboy movies. In every gunfight they squared off and watched each other’s eyes. Why? Because the eyes would show an involuntary movement just seconds prior to the hands moving toward the guns.
The muscles of the irises are controlled by the nervous system. The pupils of the eyes dilate in response to emotional stimuli, especially excitement and sexual arousal. Keep that in mind if you’re admiring someone—they just may know what you’re thinking by the size of your pupils.
Eyes are more than just blue, green, grey, etcetera. Eyes speak in ways that our voices can’t. And unlike the spoken word which is often controlled by the speaker, eyes speak the truth.
And it isn’t always necessary to actually use a color. “Her eyes were the color of a deep pool of shimmering water.” Although the color is not used, the reader can use their imagination here. A deep pool of shimmering water could be green or blue bordering on black.
Eyes can set up a scene, but you have to extremely careful that the foundation is properly laid out. For instance, women’s eyes will get misty when they’re happy, sad, anxious or scared.
Accusing eyes: Your character has walked into a scene where you’re standing over the body, holding a bloody knife. You can see the accusation in his/her eyes. This perhaps might work better in a romantic setting where you walk in to find your lover embracing another man/woman.
Hungry eyes: A small waif on the street, standing outside a restaurant gazing longingly at the food.
Watchful eyes: Her eyes were watchful, searching his face for signs of betrayal.
The sultry look. A come hither look that says I’m ready, are you?
Lashes lowered over misty eyes. How could he have done this to her?
Downcast eyes. A possible signal of guilt, shame or sadness.
Fear normally causes the eyes to widen, but desire also causes the eyes to widen and the pupils to dilate. Angry eyes widen and are usually fixated on the object of their anger.
Beady squinted eyes: Could be a sign of interest as the character squints at something of interest. Normally a character with beady squinting eyes is distrusted.
Combine your character’s eye color/movement with eyebrow, mouth and nostril movements and you have an emotional picture painted with words. The color of eyes also changes with emotion. Darkening during angry or passionate moments and becoming lighter during happy or excited moments.
Remember – sometimes less is actually more. Too much description will bog down the reader and interrupt the flow of your story. Carefully placed tidbits create a mood the reader can not only see and feel, but empathize with.