Saturday, 12 December 2009

Roving Eyes

You know how it is. You get a title in mind and feel you have to write something for it.

That’s how it is with the roving eyes.

I was told by an English teacher at school never to use the word nice as it is a lazy word and I should look for a suitable alternative. I believe she was the same one who told me never to write “All of a sudden” but to use “Suddenly.”

These days if I want to use the word nice, I have to grit my teeth and force myself, but there are times when nice fits. For years I carefully edited Nice from my work and as for All of a sudden, it didn’t get a look in.

Oh and I was told “and then” no no no!

But I noticed other people using these words and phrases and gradually I allowed them to creep in to my writing.

I happen to like the word nice. So there Miss!

Which brings me to roving eyes.

The book I have just finished reading was full of eyes flying around like tennis balls. They were landing on cartons, flying to the door, falling on carpets, dropping on letters; those eyes were all over the place.

It was written by a popular and well respected writer and it was a damn good story, but those eyes plopping round all over the show bothered me. It’s something I never even noticed until Stephen King pointed it out and now I try very hard not to have any of those roving eyes wandering round in my work.

So the point of this blog? Well I think what I’m trying to say is do your own thing, get your own style and write what feels right.

There was no Christmas play for Lachlan. He came home from school on Tuesday looking dreadful and he’s not been at all well. Now his little sister is ill too.


  1. Awwh, I'm sorry Lachlan and his sister are poorly, there's a lot of it about.I hope they get well soon.

    It's really annoying that when people tell you not to use certain words in your story when you know there are many published stories that contain those very same words!!

    I totally agree with finding your own style.

    Julie xx

  2. Ah, hope Lachlan feels better soon.

  3. Yes, I too hope they'll be well again in plenty of time to enjoy Christmas. Talking of well-worn phrases, I particularly cringe at eyes being 'out on stalks', and 'I'll keep my eye out for it'. Ouch.

  4. I'm with you, sometimes the word "nice" just fits :D

  5. Hope Lachlan is better soon and can have a good Christmas.

    I recently had 'roving eyes' edited IN to one of my published stories. (I won't say who!) I imagined other writers reading it and tutting, but it wasn't me, honest!!

  6. I always have trouble describing what people's eyes are doing. Do the characters roll their eyes? Or do they throw the other character a glance?! Guilty as charged ma'am!

    Julie xx

  7. They are much better thanks, Julie. Now it’s my turn. Oh well, it doesn’t seem to last too long – I hope.
    I often roll my eyes though – you are not alone.

    Thanks Helen, he does, thank goodness.

    I’m definitely guilty of that one, Hydra – keeping an eye out for things. Terrible when you think about it, as if I usually keep them in my bag.

    It does, Lacey.

    Thank you Bernadette. I think I only noticed them in the book I was reading because there were so many of them (visions of eyeballs bouncing round like lottery balls).
    What an odd thing to have edited in - I hadn't picked up on it in any of your stories, but if the story is good which yours are I don't think it would stick out anyway.

  8. Have you read "The Maltese Falcon" (Dashiel Hammett)? His characters have eyes that can do everything except actual conjuring tricks. Not only that, they have eyes that can convey a range of expressions that our greatest actors would envy. Not bad for the most inert bit of the face. It's yer face muscles and your body language that produce expression. Your eyes can look up, down or sideways. They can be open, narrowed or shut . . and that's about yer lot!

    Nice? Used to mean little more than "precise" and engineers still talk about components "fitting nicely" Yonks ago, my English teacher advised avoiding ALL adverbs. "Adverbs are crutches for lamely chosen verbs" he said. I thought his "lamely" was a perfectly chosen adverb!

  9. I'm so glad the little ones are on the mend and hope you feel better soon, too.

    Nice is a lovely word. If more people were nice it would save a lot of bother.

    Take care.


  10. Terrific post! I often find myself writing something along the lines of, "their eyes met," or "she looked directly into her father's eyes." What is it about eye contact that some of us get so fixated on!? I'm just going to have to be extra vigilant about this now that you've called it to my attention!

  11. I've never read it, Doctor FTSE. That's very interesting about the word nice.

    Lamely - yes! I like adverbs. I think they have their place just like everything else in our language as long as they remember their place and don't become annoying.

    Thanks, Suzanne, I am already starting to feel better. How true about everyone being nice x

    Thank you Cammie. Be careful about being too vigilant - it can stifle creativity. But on the other hand it's a good exercise to think of other ways to describe things.

  12. Long ago I stopped worrying about what my English teacher said. Mine also didn't like that nice word nice, but for some reason they all loved adjectives and adverbs. They also tried to teach me proppa gramma, which may work very well in academia, but not in commercial writing. If you want someone to read your work easily and with enjoyment, you make it conversational. And nice is conversational. As for Suddenly and All of a sudden, well, surely that's a style thing?

  13. I grew up in the sixties and I think "nice" was looked down on in that era and considered boring, like "semi-detached" and "suburban". Nowadays we need all the niceness we can get.

    Glad to hear the little ones are better and that you're on the mend.

    Talking of being vigilant, I went to a writing workshop a few months ago and it seems some people are so terrified of "telling" rather than "showing" that they agonise over every word. One lady told us, for instance, that she'd wanted to avoid saying that a character hesitated because that would have been "telling" - instead, she'd "shown" the character taking a step backwards. The leader, a successful writer of short stories, said that there was nothing wrong with what she'd done but that we are, after all, "telling" a story, and I couldn't help thinking that some people were taking this a bit too far and would end up being more diffuse than ever if they had to paraphrase every thought or action. Like miming in print really.

  14. You’re so right, Diane. Until I forgot what I’d been taught at school I was getting nowhere. Having moaned about that particular English teacher, I should say I had some really good ones.

    Thanks Kath. I do think we need to be careful not to fall into the trap of being so careful about every word that we lose the creative flow. It stops being fun then doesn’t it? Since the arrival of the internet I’ve read so much about the wrongs and rights of writing that I feel I’ve lost something of the pleasure of writing because I find myself remembering that someone somewhere said something is wrong.

  15. Behind with my comments as usual ... sorry to hear about the sickness and missing the play - hope everyone is well now. And I agree with you. If 'nice' fits, stick it in. We all have our pet 'hates', and we get afraid to go against the ones we've been told off about, if we're feeling a bit insecure (that's another one we were told not to use - 'a bit')! Similarly, I read so much recently about not using adverbs, it
    put me right off my stroke. I had to tell myself sternly to ignore the fear, and use an adverb if I damn well wanted to! x

  16. Teresa I think you were taught by the same English teacher as me - one Mrs Winsey who was very scary. I still find my fingers seizing up when I try to type 'nice' or start a sentence with Then. There's no such thing as 'a sudden', she used to say. 'Got' and 'went' were forbidden as well.

  17. Having just edited my novel, I found I have a tendency to 'glance'. If a character wants to know the time they 'glanced' at their watch. If they wanted to know how another character was reacting, they 'glanced' across the table at them. Why do they 'glance'? Because I was told at school that 'looking' was too simple!

    Sometimes, simple is just what is needed though, isn't it?

  18. Thanks, Olivia. You're right, it does put you off when you have people telling you what not to do.

    Making up a bit for missing the play today - there's a family fun evening at the school with carols round the Christmas tree. They have a snow machine, but somehow I don't think they'll need it as we seem to be in for more of the real thing.

    Some of those English teachers have a lot to answer for Womag. Yours sounds like my teacher's twin sister!

    Yes, Simon, I quite agree. Simple is best. Funny how we can use a word a lot to replace another isn't it? I've found myself doing that with a phrase when I'm rewriting something, thinking it will fit then realising a sentence or two later that I'd already used it in the first draft!