Back in September, I published Emotional Beats: How to Easily Convert your Writing into Palpable Feelings. As promised, I will be posting the book on my blog. So, here is the next installment, featuring Part 2 of the book: Body Parts. This post deals with eyes:


Emotional Beats | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

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As the saying goes, eyes are the window to the soul. They are also a writer’s best friend, as they can convey a wide variety of emotions. The only thing you need to watch out for is using overworn words: doesn’t “he gaped, unable to peel his gaze off the woman” sound better than “he stared at her”?

  • Her eyelids fluttered shut.
  • A flash of movement caught her eye.
  • Her eyes clouded.
  • He blinked owlishly.
  • She blinked with feigned innocence.
  • Her eyes rolled skyward.
  • Her eyes wandered.
  • Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him.
  • She slammed her eyes shut.
  • She squeezed her eyes shut.
  • Disapproval gleamed in her eyes.
  • She gave him an incredulous look.
  • She treated him with a look of unmitigated disappointment.
  • Her icy gaze stumbled upon him.
  • Rheumy gray eyes picked apart the girl’s dress.
  • His head tossed his gaze this way and that, like he had plenty to say but not enough time to say it.

He looked, she looked

I know it’s really easy to say, “he looked at her,” but you may also consider some of the alternatives. After all, there are so many other lovely words, like:

  • gaze,
  • glance,
  • surveyed,
  • glared,
  • raked,
  • searched,
  • watched,
  • scanned,
  • inspected,
  • inventoried,
  • probed,
  • watched.

How do I look?

An easy way to depict an emotion is to describe the look on a character’s face. So, just what kind of looks are there? Here is a selection:

  • Absent: when your character is thinking of something else or wishes they were elsewhere.
  • Appealing: when your character appeals to another.
  • Beatific: an extremely happy and peaceful expression.
  • Black: used when your character is angry or unhappy.
  • Bleak: a cold and forbidding expression.
  • Bored: like an absent expression, only stronger.
  • Brooding: when your character has something in their mind and is mulling it over.
  • Bug-eyed: a character who’s surprised, or caught unawares.
  • Dark: much like a black expression, this signifies an angry or unhappy character.
  • Deadpan: a character who’s pretending to be serious, when they are, in fact, joking.
  • Doleful: a sad expression.
  • Dreamy: much like an absent look, a dreamy look signifies that your character is thinking of something else; something more pleasant than their current situation.
  • Etched: when a feeling is etched on someone’s face, it is perceived as intense.
  • Expressionless: when your character wishes to hide their feelings.
  • Faint: The opposite of etched; a feeling that barely registers.
  • Fixed: an expression that does not change or look natural. It can signify brain damage or simply a lack of empathy.
  • Glazed: it indicates a bored character.
  • Glowering: a furious character.
  • Grave: a solemn expression. It can indicate a character who’s worried or scared.
  • Haunted: a character who’s spooked by something.
  • Meaningful: characters exchange meaningful looks to avoid putting their thoughts into words.
  • Mischievous: much like Loki, this is a character who enjoys causing trouble.
  • Mona Lisa: like the enigmatic smile of Da Vinci’s famous painting.
  • Pained: a character who’s expressing something that causes them anguish—physical or emotional.
  • Pitying: it can indicate genuine pity, but also that your character does not think someone deserves better.
  • Pleading: when your character pleads with someone to get their way.
  • Poker: Much like an expressionless look, this signifies a character who wishes to hide their feelings.
  • Quizzical: a character who’s confused or surprised.
  • Radiant: an extremely happy expression.
  • Roguish: a roguish expression suggests an individual who does not mind doing something wrong, as long as it’s not harmful.
  • Sardonic: a sardonic character makes fun of others and shows them no respect.
  • Set: like a fixed look, a set expression may hide your character’s actual thoughts.
  • Shamefaced: your character feels shame about something.
  • Slack-jawed: like a bug-eyed look, this is a very surprised character.
  • Sly: used when your character knows something that others do not.
  • Straight-faced: when something funny has happened, but your character does not wish to laugh.
  • Sullen: a (teenage, usually) character who is in a dark mood and does not want to talk.
  • Surly: like sullen, this is a character who is upset.
  • Taut: a nervous or angry character.
  • Thoughtful: describes someone lost in thought.
  • Tight-lipped: may indicate someone who is annoyed about something, but also someone who wishes to make no comment.
  • Unblinking: an intense stare, where a character does not blink at all.
  • Unnatural: like a fixed look, it can indicate brain damage or simply a lack of empathy.
  • Unreadable: like an expressionless look, it shows a character who does not wish to share what they are thinking.
  • Vacant: like bored or absent, it describes a character who is not paying attention. It may also show someone who can’t understand something.
  • Wan: a very sad and tired expression.
  • Wide-eyed: like bug-eyed, it indicates surprise or fear.
  • Withering: a withering look deliberately makes a character feel silly or embarrassed.
  • Wolfish: a character with a wolfish expression is intending others harm.
  • Wry: a character who thinks something is funny, but not necessarily pleasant.

Next week: facial expressions. View all posts on the subject, or buy the book on Amazon – free on KU!

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