I’m seeing a lot of “eyes” these days in the works I’ve been editing. Understandable, since they’re both for vision and for expression. Problem is, we rely on the use of the word “eyes” far too much, and we also tend to rely on the sense of sight too much. Of course, there are times when we simply can’t avoid discussing eyes–they’re the first thing people notice about other people, they’re the windows to the soul and central to gleaning information into a person’s character, and they’re far more expressive than ears.
So we can’t cut reference to them out completely, but we can cut them down. Top two ways to do that is to (1) cut out the FBPs involving eyes and (2) find a good thesaurus. The third way–which requires the author to get more imaginative–is to figure out how to express something, usually an emotion, more creatively.
Floating body parts–eyes doing things without the benefit of the rest of the body. Usually, fixing this is as simple as using a synonym for “look.”
His eyes are on her retreating figure = He watches her retreating figure
All eyes turn to me = Everyone shifts their attention to me
He fixes his eyes on the problem = he focuses on the problem
His eyes scanned the horizon = He scanned the horizon
Then, you have the physical manifestations of emotions that can be altered:
My eyes water = I get teary
His eyes narrow = he glowers/glares/scowls
A headache kicked up behind his eyes = His temples throbbed
His eyes become cold = His expression hardens
Granted, I have yet to find a great substitute for the eye-roll, because that one action speaks volumes. If you come up with something, let me know. Meanwhile, the best thing to do is to not use it often.
Don’t be afraid of the word “look.” There’s nothing wrong with it or any of its synonyms. Don’t be afraid to find alternative ways to illustrate emotion, either. Remember the line in the Eagles’ classic, “you can’t hide your lyin’ eyes”? When my brother was young, the best way to tell he was lying was to watch his ears turn red. Get creative in your depictions.
Some people lower their eyes when they’re thinking, avoiding eye-contact, or whatever it is you, the author, want to express by that action. So, instead of “lowered his eyes,” he can “study his shoes.” Instead of raising his eyes, he can meet your gaze. He can shift his focus from one thing to another. Instead of his eyes glazing over while he’s engaged in some thought, he can disappear into his thoughts.
He can scan, survey, scour, look, glance, stare, glare, glower, leer, regard, notice, squint, scrutinize, glimpse, peek, gape, gawk–pick it, but let him be the one to do it, not his eyes. Keep his eyes in his head.
A quick word about “gaze”: a gaze is “a long, fixed stare” not a short sweep of all things visible. We (and I definitely include myself in this group) tend to use this word incorrectly. It may be a good idea to watch our use of gaze. Keep an eye on it, so to speak. Try to use it more closely to its meaning.
Anyway, the moral to the story is that the “eyes” shouldn’t always have it. Find alternatives.