As I watched the closing ceremonies of a fantastic 2010 Winter Olympic Games, I looked out the window of the Southern California condo that serves as my West Coast office. The full moon shone in its silver glory. On the TV, a golden full moon beamed over Vancouver. Appropriate, considering the Canadian hockey team had just beaten the U.S. for the gold medal, and the host nation had just reminded the world what the Olympic spirit is all about. The Canadians’ hospitality – and performances – were truly golden, as they set an all-time record for gold medals won in a single Winter Olympics.
I digress … but only slightly. While considering the different shades of the full moon, I started thinking about eyes, and how vital they are to our perception of the world – and our readers’ perceptions of the people who make our stories. Whether we’re writing novels, articles, essays, poems or journal entries, we can show and illustrate our subjects’ inner and outer worlds by writing effectively and evocatively about their eyes. I’m not just talking about simple descriptions of color or shape, although both are very important to give readers a visual imprint of the subject or character. I’m talking about peering so deeply into one’s eyes that we see the truth of what is percolating, simmering or resting in their hearts, souls and psyches.
This involves what I consider to be the other side of deep listening – listening to the language being spoken in the eyes of the person sitting across from you, or staring out at you from the pages of your story. The way people focus (or not), divert their gaze, increase their rate of blinking, widen or narrow their eyes says much about both the inner character and what is really happening emotionally. Plumbing even deeper, eyes literally cast different qualities of light or shadow to reveal the emotional gravity, pace and impact of situations, no matter how convincing the words they may speak – or even the disarming smiles that may cross their faces.
A quick example from my forthcoming novel, The Voice, an exchange between the father and daughter protagonists, Tom and Christine Timoreaux:
He could apologize no more; every word carried deepest sincerity. There was nothing left to say. She smiled in acceptance, yet the light and shadow swirling in her eyes suggested something else, a conflict, a grip that refused to let go.
Great writers use the eyes of their subjects or characters to build dramatic scenes without describing a single emotion. They simply show the subject’s eyes in full action, reflecting the one part of our physical body that, unless we’re ice-cold psychopaths, cannot lie. They dive as deeply as possible, riding the eye-to-soul highway to tell the stories that lips, egos, body language, emotional walls and secrets do not otherwise reveal.
Every time we write, let’s work to master the language of the eyes. Listen with your eyes when talking to others, or hanging out with them. Look for quality of eye contact, movement, joyful dances or shards of pain – and the sense of light or shadow that comes along with it. Tune into your heart and intuitive mind, and try to feel the other side of those expressions, what is happening in your subject’s heart and soul, what they’re hiding, what they’re revealing. Then write the material. Just like good eye contact itself, that level of writing will keep readers staring at your pages. It will also help your writing become more and more authentic, so that it touches the place where all of us can relate – the universal truth.
The eyes definitely have it – in life, in writing. Showcase them and uncover the deepest stories that they reflect.