NZ Forest Native Birds
Don't make characters do impossible things with their eyes!

I’m sure you’ve read sentences like the following:

  • She dropped her eyes to the floor.
    (Whoops! Hope they didn't get broken. But why remove them from their sockets in the first place?)

  • I raised my eyes to the ceiling.
    (Hey, eyes, I’ve changed my mind. Come back down! I can’t see without you.)

  • His eyes bored into mine.
    (Excruciating for me; probably not much better for him.)

  • He cast his eyes over the water.
    (All right! All right! No more smart aleck comments. I promise!)

  • Her eyes fell from his.

  • He screwed up his eyes.

  • Her eyes fell on something half-hidden …

  • Her eyes clung to his.

  • His eyes were riveted on ...

  • Her eyes followed him.

  • She tore her eyes from his (or from anything else).

Well, I think you got the point long before you came to the end of those samples. But, just to give you a good laugh, here are a few that actually landed on editors’ desks:

  • Suddenly, all the eyes in the room rose from their fixed positions on the floor to stare at him.

  • The eyes of the braver animals ran down my neck and spine.

  • Of course, his eyes couldn’t help but embrace the pool in front of them.

  • Carlotta’s eyes dropped to the handkerchief in her hands.

At one time writers could get away with something that creates strange images in a reader’s mind if taken literally. However, these days most editors don’t like characters doing impossible things with their eyes and expect writers to mean exactly what they write. So go through your manuscript for the word “eyes” and make sure you haven’t written anything similar to the above. You might think it doesn’t matter—you’ve seen things like this so many times in published books that it must be all right—but to an eagle-eyed editor it looks dated at best, amateurish at worst. Besides, you don’t want your writing to be anything less than the best, do you?

Characters can also be made to do weird or impossible things with other parts of their anatomy:

  • Amy took her head out of the oven.
    (Anyone for roast human head? Oh, sorry; Amy was actually CLEANING the oven?)

  • Jeremy crossed his left leg over his right and planted both feet firmly together. (Perhaps Jeremy is supposed to be an incredibly supple acrobat.)

Here’s another sentence structure that creates weird images in a reader’s mind:

He had an older sister who wore weird clothes, a shiny new bicycle and a large hairy dog.

But one of the worst I have ever seen (worst because it comes from a winning entry in the Katherine Mansfield Award 2001) has to be the following:

… a phrase soon attached to this hard undergarment in his daughter’s head.

I had to read this three times. The image of a boned undergarment inside someone’s head was so weird! I know all writers write things like this in their first drafts, but most of us fix them in subsequent drafts. It isn’t as though this one is difficult to fix: “…a phrase his daughter soon attached to this hard undergarment.”. Or: “…a phrase his daughter’s mind soon attached to this hard undergarment.” Also, “associated with” would be better than “attached”.

© L A Barker Enterprises
All rights reserved

If you have any comments or questions, please email me.


Back to Top