Thursday, November 22, 2012

Looking at Looks

Actors in movies communicate as much with a “look” as they do with their spoken words. Their eyes show a mischievous twinkle, a hint of fear, or a romantic gleam.  How can we convey those same “looks” on the page for our readers so they can “see” our character’s emotions?

The temptation is to simply write they “saw” something.
It looked like it might rain.
She watched the man cross the street.

These statements can inadvertently create distance between your character and the reader. You've told them what your character saw instead of letting them experience the moment through your character’s eyes. (The old “show don’t tell” mantra strikes again.) Try describing what your character saw without using the verb ‘saw’. (And no cheating. No synonyms either).

“It looked like rain.”
Could become: 
“The streetlights switched on in the afternoon’s gathering gloom and her hair poofed out in an annoying before-storm frizz.”

“She watched as the man crossed the street behind her.”
Could become: 
“The man crossed the street. She quickened her steps, but his pace matched hers.”

These do a better job of showing what’s happening and also have the added bonus of setting a mood.

Another “looking” pet peeve is giving the eyes unusual physical abilities.
  • His eyes ran over her.
  • Her eyes shot daggers.
  • Her eyes swept over the vista.

Eyes can’t actually run or shoot or sweep.  And using these could inadvertently create the wrong image in the mind of your reader. (Often a humorous one that completely destroys the mood.)

“Seeing” is one of our senses, and including the senses in our writing helps readers “see” where they are in the story.  So let your characters look at, watch, gaze, stare, glance, glare, and glimpse what is going on around them. But let the reader “see” through the reader’s eyes and experience the glorious vista of your character’s world for themselves.

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