Janet Lorimer is the author of MASTER OF SHADOWS. Although this is her first adult fantasy novel, she has been writing for children for years, and is also a freelance author. When I asked her if she wanted to do a guest post, she thought of this article, which ought to be useful to anyone who writes fiction.
By Janet Lorimer
The thriller grabbed my interest on the first page, and I settled back for a good chilling tale. Then, not two-dozen pages into the book, the author shattered the mood with a line that left me howling with laughter. Here’s the line. See how you respond.
“…her eyes shot over to him, then clung briefly like two dark hooks before they abruptly let go.”
I know my laughter is not the reaction the author wanted his readers to have. And to be honest, there was a time when I might not have noticed the humor in that sentence, when I might have been guilty of making a similar gaffe. Luckily I came across an article entitled “The Eyes Have It” by Francis L. Fugate (Writer’s Digest, May 1982) that changed my ‘eyesight’ forever.
The author, a copy editor, noted that writers have more trouble with characters’ eyes than with any other part of human anatomy. The tense mood is easily shattered when a line such as the following pops up: “Their eyes clashed and Martha uttered a shriek.”
Fugate included other examples, such as these Victorian gems: “Henrietta dropped her eyes into the fireplace and they evaporated into far-away nostalgia,” and “She picked up her eyes from the deck and cast them far out to sea.”
The trouble seems to stem from what writers want their characters’ eyes – mere organs of sight – to do. It’s tempting to assign mystical qualities to the eyes, and easy to make the mistake of attaching figurative action to these literal orbs. There’s only so much action we can ask of our eyes. They can open and close, narrow and widen, even roll and perhaps twinkle.
Fugate advised writers to double-check every reference to a character’s eyes with a jaundiced eye. I took his advice, wincing every time I found myself guilty of ‘literary detached retina,” and I started paying close attention to keeping my characters’ eyes in their sockets!
By the way, if you’re wondering what happened after the lady’s eyes ‘hooked’ our hero, his eyes “…followed her as she made her way to the car.” I hope his eyes don’t get in the car with her. She’s on her way to jail.
Thanks for letting me post this, Janet! It was a hoot!
By the way, Janet is sending me a copy of MASTER OF SHADOWS, so I expect I'll be writing more about it in the coming weeks.