The eyes are the window to the soul
by Christine Kling
At last we have slowed our travels, and finally I’ve started the new book. I adore road trips, but there comes a time when the itch to start building that fictional world becomes almost painful. Travel is all about focusing on the outside world while writing is about turning one’s eyes within. It was time to get focused.
Every new book is a chance to “get it right” this time, to become a better writer. I’m building my characters and outlining my plot, and my new baby (this one will be number 7!) is still early in her first trimester. I have already come up with a possible name for her, but I’m keeping that quiet.
The phrase I used as a title for this blog refers to eyes being the windows to the soul, and it is often mis-attributed to Shakespeare. In fact, the phrase is an old English Proverb. Whatever the origin, the words have been echoing in my brain this past week as Wayne and I welcomed the arrival of the first grand baby (pictured above) into our newly combined family. Baby Brynn’s eyes were so bright and full of personality only hours after they first blinked in the air. They would roll around and then lock onto your eyes. I had forgotten that sense one gets that newborns are wise and know some secrets to the meaning of life that they will soon forget as the hours pass. I can look at her tiny fingers or adorable toes, but I don’t feel the same connection I feel when I look into her eyes. It is like eyes are windows into the mind at the very least, and we are always left wondering what is going on in the minds of babies.
Given that I know that when I interact with all people, eye contact is one of the most important things that determines my relationship with them, I suppose it’s not surprising that I often write about eyes when I am describing characters. But often can become too often! Many of you know that I use the software Scrivener, and one of the things it can do is report on the “word frequency” in a manuscript. In my last book, to my chagrin, I discovered that I used the word “eyes” 180 times!
When I learned that, I kind of went, Whoa! As writers, we want to write original prose, to use the language in wonderful ways and repeating words over and over isn’t exactly exciting. That doesn’t mean that I want to look for different words and suddenly start referring to visual orbs or some other ridiculous “synonym.” I also don’t want to get so caught up in language that I throw the reader out of the story. Then again, I don’t want to write long paragraphs of meaningless details about a character’s hair color or wardrobe choices. It’s not about lots of details, but rather about significant meaningful ones.
I was always a fan of Ernest Hemingway’s minimalist style. He said more by what he didn’t put on the page than what he did. In his book Death in the Afternoon, he wrote:
“If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.”
I’m always looking to become a better writer and to learn from my own weaknesses. I think my over-reliance on describing eyes to telegraph what a character is thinking comes from my fascination with eyes, but also from not getting to know enough about my characters. Writing only about a character’s eyes, in Hemingway’s view, leaves hollow places in my writing.
I use these character templates in Scrivener to start building the details of the characters who will inhabit this new world, and I’ve noticed that in the physical description, I always include the color and often the shape of the eyes. Okay, it is important to know that, but I don’t have to write it. Maybe this time I’ll be able to be more minimalist — to omit writing out all those eye descriptions and instead write only the tip of the iceberg.
Eventually, I’ll get better at getting better.