Saturday, August 22, 2009
The Eyes Have It
The Eyes Have It
By Rob Parnell
One of the assets a writer should develop fully is the power to observe.
Most writers grow up instinctively studying the world they inhabit. They have an interest, nay, some might say a fascination for everything around them. Whilst other, less creative people, seem to have no problem accepting life as it appears and transpires, the writer is often in a state of wonder - and takes little for granted.
It starts early on. During childhood I remember taking notes on the changing seasons and on people's appearances and foibles. I also remember thinking that it was my ability to see meaning in what I observed that was somehow important - and that I should one day make sure my impressions were recorded - in fiction or in some other creative way.
Now I realize that most all writers feel this way. It's not so much that the events and the impressions are fabulous in themselves - but that the effect they have on us seems acutely significant.
When we first learn to observe, we let our minds and bodies direct us to inspiration. We write what we feel.
This process inevitably becomes more pragmatic as we get older. Instead of being moved by mundane, everyday things, we later focus on relationships and 'out of the ordinary' experiences - because, when you get past wonder, you need to deliberately look for 'angles' and new insights to entertain your readers.
But there's one particular marvel that I have never grown tired of.
And that is - eyes.
I never grow tired of studying people's eyes.
It's weird because, if you look hard, they seem to say so little. Just two mysterious little orbs that almost everyone has but that are in many ways unfathomable.
Of course, it's the face that frames the eyes that gives them their power. You can see joy, sadness, love, fear and the whole gamut of emotions if you look for them.
The eyes reveal sincerity and honesty. You can tell when people are telling the truth - or when they are feeling something different from what they're saying.
They reveal pain - emotional and physical - even when the person might not be vocalizing that pain.
Nuances like shame, embarrassment, uncertainty, pride, egotism and arrogance are all there too, if you take the time to be extra observant.
If you want to add richness to your writing, study people's eyes. Let them reveal to you the depth of personality that is beyond the immediately apparent. People are rarely one dimensional - everyone is a product of the influences they've encountered. We are all different in this respect - and to appreciate that is the mark of a true creative artist.
Study, but don't stare. People might think you odd - or an author!
Smiling eyes intrigue me - especially in photos. Sometimes the face is saying “happy,” but when you look hard, you can see the smile is often fake - especially in celebrity and model pictures. Take a look at the covers of magazines next time you're out and you'll see what I mean.
Of course, as writers, we sometimes see what we want to see - or interpret emotions and agendas that might not actually be there.
But this makes little difference. Perception is a two way street.
If your mind picks up false impressions, they are no less valid, because the good writer knows that it is the effect of a person's look that is just as important as its intention.
If the lover wants to see love in the eyes of a partner but instead senses ambivalence and contempt - which emotion is the real one?
If you interview someone and they say one thing but you know the opposite is true, which impression should you report? The sound byte - or the glazed expression?
Writers can only draw on their own observations - and process their own thoughts. To read too much into a look is not such a bad thing - especially if you use it in your writing. To see layers in people, to sense their conflicting agendas and to be aware of a person's subtleties are all good qualities in a writer.
Being a good observer makes you a better writer.
Your eyes are your secret weapon.
Use them well - and record what you truly see.
Till next time,
Rob Parnell is a prolific writer who’s published novels, short stories, and articles in the U.S., U.K., and Australia, and a teacher who’s conducted writing workshops, critique groups, and seminars.
Please visit Mr. Parnell’s Web site at: