|Courtesy of ismellsheep, WANA Commons|
One way to balance the showing and telling of physical description is to showcase a few details that really help 'tell the story' about who your character is and what they've been through up to this point. Think about what makes them different and interesting. Can a unique feature, clothing choice or way they carry themselves help to hint at their personality? Also, consider how they move their body. Using movement will naturally show a character's physical characteristics, keep the pace flowing and help to convey their emotions.
Descriptors: shades of blue, brown, green, gray, and hazel; almond-shaped, round, big, piggish, squinty, narrowed, close-set, far apart, glassy, feverish, watery, pink-rimmed, bright, dull, dancing, sparkling, speckled, laughing, smoldering, vapid, empty, dead, blind, far-sighted, near-sighted, cloudy, milky, protuberant, deep-set, sunken, blackened, bloodshot, dazed, hard, cold, limpid, dry, scratchy, yellowed, jaundiced, sharp, intelligent, gentle, kind, monochromatic, lazy, icy
Things Eyes Do (and other words/phrases to describe those actions)
- Look: see, watch, glance, gaze, glimpse, notice, observe, peek, stare, view, take in
- Move: roll, shift, narrow, blink, bat, wink, close, open, widen, dilate, dart, follow
- Cry: leak, tear up, fill, water, overflow, glisten, drip, pour
Key Emotions and Related Eye Gestures:
- Sadness: cry, grow dull, close, tear up, lose focus, grow distant
- Anger: narrow, sharpen, grow cold, harden, increase in intensity, snap or spark, glower, stare, glare
- Joy: brighten, sparkle, tear up, laugh
- Fear: widen, dilate, squeeze shut, jump, dart, stare, stop blinking, dry out
Simile and Metaphor Help:
- Without my glasses, I was as blind and vulnerable as a just-born squirrel.
- I met his gaze and wished I hadn't. His ball-bearing eyes were small and black and inhuman. If he blinked, they'd drop out of their sockets and bounce across the floor, and the loss wouldn't deter him in the least.
Clichés to Avoid: bedroom eyes; eyes that pierce or look through you; eyes being the window to the soul; doe eyes; eyes as big as saucers; eyes that shoot daggers; sunken eyes that make one's head look like a skull; blind as a bat
HINT: When describing any part of the body, try to use cues that show the reader more than just a physical description. Make your descriptions do double duty. Example: Principal Miller was short and squat with too-long arms. Between classes, he slouched into the hallway and watched us with his bulging eyes, waiting for someone to screw up so he could pounce. "Frog" was the obvious nickname, but he wasn't nearly so smart. We called him Slug.
BONUS TIP: The Colors, Textures & Shapes Thesaurus in our sidebar might help you find a fresh take on some of the descriptors listed above!