The Eyes Have It: Ironing Out My Revisions

You’ve heard of the term “leg man,” and many women seem to notice men’s butts. Yes, I’m being very sexist here, however, I believe I now have your interest, and my previous first paragraph (see below) was much less stimulating. Thesis: All authors have certain body parts that capture their attention.

When I finished my first draft of Love’s Courage, the ecstasy of writing “The End” was quickly replaced with the agony of revision. Some people love revision, in fact, an author friend just posted that she preferred revision to drafting a new story. For me, revision is a bit like ironing. I dread it, but once I get started, I enjoy smoothing out those wrinkles. Well, one of the wrinkles I had to smooth out in Love’s Courage needed Oil of Olay more than an iron, because it surrounded the eyes.

My daughter Kate and her beautiful blue eyes.

My first draft originally contained the word “eye” or its variant 252 times—in a 239-page manuscript. Find/Replace refused to display them all, and I didn’t blame it. I had characters closing their eyes all over the place. Or they were squeezing, squinting, wiping, shading. Apparently, my go-to body part for illustrating emotion focuses on the eyes.

Grateful for the reprieve, she closed her eyes and dozed off.
Leaning back, he balanced his chair against the wall and closed his eyes.
Too weak to protest, she closed her eyes and surrendered to his ministrations.
These three were in the first sixteen pages. And there were probably more just like them.

Julie Sturgeon, Crimson Romance editor, pointed out that eyes are limited to performing certain actions such as see, roll, widen, narrow, and wink. When eyes follow, wander, scan, etc., gaze is the proper term. She calls such misuse “random acts of eyeballs.” Even knowing this, I was guilty as charged.

He tipped her face up to meet his eyes.
The man shook his [Andrew’s] shoulder, urgency in his eyes.
Her eyes held his as she spoke.

I changed many eyeballs to gazes, and then had to do a search for too many gazes. Oh, yeah. I had many characters holding gazes.

I changed eyebrows to brows, and tears that once burned and stung eyes, now simply burned and stung. but no longer in eyes. Readers get this. I had to eliminate a lot of burning and stinging. I was a regular Visine.

While reading The House on Tradd Street by Karen White, I was captured by this description:

Jack had pulled back slightly and was staring at my lips in a way that made my skin feel tight around my bones.

What I love about this passage is that I’ve never heard desire described like this before, but I immediately recognized the sensation. N.B. She neither closed her eyes nor held his gaze.

So, my take-away is that I need to concentrate on other body parts. How can I bring the reader into the skin of my character? Simply closing my eyes and thinking about it won’t work. Original, unique description. That’s my goal. Time to get back to revising.

As I told Rich about my eye problem, I waxed poetic

Eyes crying
Eyes spying
Eyes trying to fight

Eyes leering
Eyes peering
Eyes cheering the right

Eyes following
Eyes allowing
Eyes hollowing in fright

Eyes gazing
Eyes lazing
Eyes crazing -delight

The night has a thousand eyes,
And so did Love’s Courage, ’til now.


Any authors out there willing to share your favorite emotion-illustrating body part?











6 thoughts on “The Eyes Have It: Ironing Out My Revisions

    • Elizabeth Meyette says:

      Thanks, Diana. I was hoping someone would see the humor in this. The agony and ecstasy of writing, right?

  1. I have a real problem with roaming body parts. I’ve heard some readers say it doesn’t bother them if: He let his eyes run down the front of her. Or, Her eyes followed him from the room. I’m sorry. I’m just too literal at time. I’m hoping she was able to get her eyes back after they left the room. Poor girl. As for him, if his eyes hit the floor after running down the front of her, please don’t step on them.

  2. Pardon me for being a maverick on this issue, and allow me to play devil’s advocate. By being overly literal when it comes to body parts, a writer gives up the use of a rich and effective literary device: the idiom–two or more words that when used together take on a different meaning than when they are used individually. “Random acts of eyeballs” overlooks the fact that a phrase such as “their eyes met across a crowded room” is understood to be an idiom with a meaning of its own (they saw each other) and therefore is not interpreted word for word literally as meaning their eyeballs left their bodies and flew across the room, meeting in midair. I would rather read a book containing creative idioms involving the eyes than slog through a book teeming with dull unimaginative “gazes.”

  3. Elizabeth Meyette says:

    Excellent point, Jolana. I always taught figurative language to my students, and they had quite a bit of fun using idioms in their writing. I agree that figurative language can enhance our writing and bring a depth of emotion we might otherwise miss. I’ll have butterflies in my stomach now when I return to my draft for more revision 😉

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