They say that our eyes are the “windows to the soul.” Isn’t that sweet? Yes, yes it is. Which is why this would be a fantastic place to practice some poetry, but instead, how about we exploit this little tidbit to benefit our writerly lives? Let’s explore the eyes—in the art of using body language in fiction.
It’s undeniable that our eyes are very special, but what exactly do we see when we stare into someone’s eyes? Information about their emotional state, that’s what. Can you imagine what damage this type of knowledge can do in the wrong hands? Oh boy!
For the villains, they can manipulate, hurt, and deceive. For the heroes, they can help, console, or protect. OR vice versa! Hey, it’s not mutually exclusive, and that’s the beauty. As the reader, you can get an insight on the emotional turmoil they’re all going through. And as the writer, well, you hold all the power, don’t you? But with great power comes great responsibility . . . err. . .
With all that power, don’t go crazy adding visual expressions every other paragraph. Save them to enhance crucial moments in your story.
Here are some body language “tells” to further enhance your characters’ emotions:
Part Two: The Eyes
“When the eyes say one thing, and the tongue another, a practiced man relies on the language of the first.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
* Aroused, Bedroom, or Doe Eyes. Sexual desire is a common cause of pupil dilation. So to indicate arousal in your character, go ahead and describe dilated pupils peeking through her lashes in the dim light. Or, you know . . . use your own wording.
* Blinking Eyes. Use this when your character is nervous or troubled about something. When the blinking rate goes up, it indicates lying, stress, or sometimes arrogance. On the other hand, rapid blinking also flutters the eyelashes and can be a shy romantic expression.
* Calculating Eyes. Described as eyes that move from side to side or looking down, use it to indicate your character is processing information or planning something—good for villains. It’s also much harder for a person to maintain eye contact while making calculations, so keep that in mind.
* Closing Eyes. When it’s for more than a second or two, this may indicate he's lied to you, since this is a type of defense mechanism. But it can also be used by visual thinkers so they can better see the internal images without external distraction.
* Damp Eyes. This can be used to indicate anxiety, fear, sadness, suppressed weeping, exhaustion along with redness of the eyes, or if your character has been crying recently.
* Darting Eyes. Have your character’s eyes dart back and forth or side to side to indicate insecurity or distraction. You can also use it to showcase your character being uncomfortable, and/or that he’s looking for an escape route.
* Drooping Eyes. Described as a lack of eye blinking, or what we call a “blank stare” on the person’s face. Use it to indicate your character is bored or tired. “Dress it up” with your character glancing at her watch, yawning, or with a repetitive finger or foot tapping to drive it home!
* Friendly Twinkle. This can be used to put other people at ease—either readers, or one character to another to show positive interest. A friendly twinkle in a character can help break the ice, make a character like another or feel comfortable, appear to be a welcoming person, or give others a cue to their fascinating personality.
* Following Eyes. If your character is following someone around with her eyes, it can indicate she’s either interested in or scared of that person.
* Glancing. Use this to indicate your character’s desire, attraction, disapproval, or suspicion. Dress it up with a smile to suggest interest, or add in a frown to indicate suspiciousness and hostility.
* Gazing Eyes. Looking up and down at a whole person can be used to indicate your character is sizing them up, either as a potential threat or as a sexual partner.
* Shielded Eyes. Covering or shutting the eyes can indicate your character’s attempt to block out someone or something he doesn’t want to hear.
* Staring. This can be used to indicate your character’s interest, shock, disbelief, surprise, or aggression of something or someone.
* Squinting Eyes. This can be used to indicate discomfort, stress, an assessment of something or someone, uncertainty, tiredness, and even anger. If your character receives a squinted eye expression right after he says something, it could mean the person doubts his words, or disagrees with him. Squinting can also be used by a character who is lying so the other person can’t detect their deception.
* Looking Up. Have your character look upward to indicate she’s thinking, or that she’s bored or being judgmental.
* Looking Down. Have your character look down at someone as an act of power and domination. Or have them looking down but avoiding the other person as a sign of submission, or to indicate guilt.
* Looking Sideways. Looking to the left can indicate your character recalling a sound. Looking to the right can indicate that they are imagining the sound.
* Looking Down and to the Right. This can be used to indicate internal dialogue or emotions. If you had a character talking to himself, this would be his visual expression. In some cases, his eyes will also look down to his right if he's going to lie.
* Looking Down and to the Left. This can be used to indicate recollection of smell, taste, or feeling. For example, if your character was abducted and she was asked to describe what she remembered about the place she was being held, her eyes would move in this direction.
* Looking Up and to the Right. This can be used to indicate recollection of images or the imaginative construction of something—in other words: lying. If she’s looking upward and to her right, she’s accessing her imagination and is making it up.
* Up and to the Left. Looking upward and to the left can indicate recalling a memory. If she’s describing something she’s seen, she’d look upward and to the left— truthfully accessing her memory.
Eye contact between two people is a powerful act of communication and may show interest, affection, or dominance.
* Prolonged Eye Contact. Use this to indicate your character might be lying. In trying to avoid looking shifty-eyed, some liars will purposefully hold their gaze a bit too long. They might also stand very still and unblinking.
* Limited Eye Contact. Use this to indicate your character is feeling insecure. Or, she might also be lying and trying to avoid the lie being detected.
This is the one part of the eye where we have no control. Dilation happens automatically since we have no conscious control over our pupils, and can be used to showcase your character’s true emotion, especially if they’re trying to hide it.
* Pupil Dilation. To indicate excitement, or when they’re around people they like or admire, have your character’s pupils dilate. It can help in showcasing a character's loyalties. Pupils also dilate when it is darker to let in more light, so next time your character is in a dark room, like a club or dimly lit restaurant, you can describe your character’s eyes as dilated.
* Pupil Contraction. You can have your character’s pupils contract to indicate disgust, anger, irritation, annoyance, or when your character isn’t attracted to someone. Also, people with small pupils can appear threatening or just unfriendly, so use this tidbit to enhance a scene.
* In general, dilated pupils are positive while constricted pupils are negative.
* Lowered Eyebrows. This can be done with a lowered head, which can conceal the eyes. It can indicate deception, annoyance, and can be a sign of a dominant person.
* Raised Eyebrows. This can indicate surprise, cynicism, fear, discomfort, openness, and as a sign of attraction.
* Middle-pulled Eyebrows. Described as being pulled together. This can be used to indicate your character is angry, frustrated, or confused. It can also indicate intense concentration.
* Eyebrow “Flash.” Described as a quick repeated up-and-down movement. This can be used to indicate your character’s recognition and greeting of someone. (More effective for me: if they’re pretending they don’t know the person, but are betrayed by their eyebrows.)
So there you have it! Some extra details to use for your characters’ eyes and eyebrows. Be sure to come back in the next few weeks for more body language tips for your novel.
See Part One—Facial Expressions here.
See Part Three—Arms, Shoulders, & Posture here.
See Part Four—Legs, Feet, & Bonus Tips here.
By S. Katherine Anthony
S.K. Anthony (Shanny) is a writer, a reader, and make-stuff-up-er who lives in New York. She is an award-winning author and a bestseller on Amazon. When she isn’t busy with her toddler twins, S.K. finds herself being transported into the world of imagination. Well, either that or running away from spiders . . . she is convinced they are out to get her!