Sunday, May 3, 2009

As the Eyes Go Rolling Along

What’s up with the “rolling of eyes” phenomenon in practically every other work of fiction I read these days?

I first noticed it in a medieval romance. The book started out well enough. A likable heroine I was happy to follow along on her quest to find “true love”. But then, half-way through, she rolled her eyes. No problem. Everyone rolls their eyes sometimes. But then she did it again. And again. And again. Until I found myself groaning with each repeated “roll” and a hair’s breadth away from throwing the book against the wall in frustration. But I hung on tight and kept reading and otherwise enjoyed the story through to the end.

A few fiction and non-fiction books filled my reading interim, and I forgot about this “flaw” in an otherwise well written and enjoyable book.

Then I picked up the first of a young adult vampire series which shall remain nameless in this blog. I enjoyed the first volume without complaint. But to my dismay, in volume two of the series, the eye rolling began again. Only this time it was worse than the medieval heroine’s romance. Instead of the heroine rolling her eyes every dozen pages or so, almost all the characters in this nameless vampire book rolled their eyes on what felt like every other page, until I wanted to scream, “Stop, already! Can’t you think of some other facial expression to use, for variety’s sake?” This book was much too hefty to be tempted to fling against the wall. I was afraid I’d sprain my wrist and have to pay to fill in the inevitable hole so large a volume would undoubtedly leave in its wake. (I hoped the eye rolling might be toned down in the series’ subsequent volumes, but alas, that hope was in vain.)

Another fiction book or two, completely lacking in eye rolling, restored my equilibrium at the end of the vampire series. But then, a few weeks ago, I picked up a Regency romance, and what did I discover? A hero who rolled his eyes again…and again…and again…reviving the barely smothered scream described in the paragraph above. (This time the wall was only saved by the fact that I read it in my sister’s apartment and didn’t want to stick her with the bill for repairs.)

So, what’s up with all the eye rolling in novels these days? Is it a reflection of authors who watch too many smart-alecky kids on TV who constantly roll their eyes at their TV-parents? Is it living with kids of their own who constantly roll their eyes at their author-parent? I don’t have any children of my own, and I don’t currently watch TV shows with smart-alecky kids, so it’s truly a mystery to me.

Regardless of the answer, to me the bottom line is, any action repeated ad infinitum in a novel—eye rolling or any other gesture—is a sign of sloppy, or at least, careless writing. The characters in my books aren’t much for eye rolling, but it’s possible I have my own too-frequently-repeated mannerisms of one sort or another. If any of my critique partners catch me falling into this trap, I pray that they’ll stop me in my tracks and say (nicely, of course), “You’ve used this expression twenty times. Can’t you think of something else?” Trust me, I would count such a critique partner as worth her weight in gold!

But back to my original question. I’m not writing this to throw stones. I wouldn’t be so annoyed or baffled if each of the authors above had chosen a completely different mannerism to repeat (over and over and over). But the fact that all of them chose eye rolling begs the question I began with…what’s going on with the “eye rolling phenomenon” in fiction these days?

Can anyone fill me in?


Krista Darrach said...

Wow...Joyce I love your post. As soon as I click "publish" I will be running a word find in my novel for "roll" among other things.

The word that stuck out to me in the twilight series was "glower" in all of it's forms.

I agree as a new writer I have lots and lots of things to learn. Thanks for pointing this out.

Hopefully when you read my finished product - it doesn't become lodged anywhere in your house. :-)

Why Not? Because I Said So! said...

I am rolling my eyes here at all of that eye rolling! LOL! Thanks for pointing this out. I will be more aware of this particular problem as I write.

Valerie Ipson said...

It's a fine line that writers teeter on. We're told to give our characters mannerisms, sometimes called character tags, as a way to set that character apart from others for the reader, but, and it's a big BUT (no pun intended!!!) if we do it randomly or over and over as you describe than it serves no purpose except to annoy the reader.

I had an AHA moment at Storytellers when Jeff Savage talked about this in his class. He said use the character tags, but they should have meaning to the story. Like a policeman twists his wedding ring when he's anxious--in the story he tried to keep society safe, but failed at keeping his wife safe. Even in this case, you wouldn't overuse it.

If kids, and characters, roll their eyes too much, they should be grounded!

Joyce DiPastena said...

I attended Jeff's class, too, Valerie, and remember his advice. I thought it was excellent! But as you (and Jeff) say, an identifying mannerism is one thing, but it shouldn't be overdone to the point of annoyance. And why does "eye rolling" seem to be the most popular "mannerism" just now? That's what I'm so curious about!

Katie Parker said...

See, now I'm picturing eyeballs rolling all over the floor. Thanks for your reminder about not overusing that expression, or any other one.

The Heartless Gamer Girl said...

Sheesh, Joyce, now I'm paranoid. I know I've used the eye-rolling but hopefully I haven't overdone it. I shudder to think. I'll have to watch out for that in my upcoming books and any other overused expression out there. And hopefully my current books aren't too annoyingly full of overused anything!

Great post!

G.G. Vandagriff said...

Joyce, I can't fill you in, but your blog was hysterical! Sloppy writing is the bane of our age. Can you imagine Jane Austen making such a statement over and over? I sure hope I haven't!

Anonymous said...

Joyce, I recently finished a book by a really cool lady we both know, whom shall remain nameless, (because I like her too much to embarrass her,) and throughout the first half of the story the protagonist rolled her eyes again and again until I was dizzy and very annoyed. My son told me that some teenaged girls seem to have this irritating characteristic, and that their mothers are on the receiving end of the expression. I tend to believe him. Could this be the reason they end up in books written by mothers?

BTW ... I got into reading Loyalty’s Web via I ordered it as soon as they switched to another author's story. I was hooked. I need more!!!

Deb from Yuma

Donna Hatch said...

I wish I could help you. I seldom watch tv so I don't know if that is where the eye rolling comes in. My teenagers do it, but not to that extreme. I don't usually care if the heroine rolls her eyes, or if the hero drags his hand through his hair a few times in each book, but if that's the only mannerism, or if ALL the characters in a book do it, then it's just plain sloppy. Lazy. I read a book where all the characters kept giving everyone else a _____look. She shot him a triumphant look. He gave her a smug look. She gave her a pleading look. It was close to being a wall-banger. After that, I did a search on my own manuscript for the work look and promptly changed all but about two or three.
I agree in that critique partners are crucial in this, because we as authors usually can't see these in our own work.
In The Stranger She Married, a CP told me my hero Cole raked his fingers through his hair way too many times, and so I got rid of about half of them.
May we all be more diligent about overdone gestures, phrases and expressions!

Joyce DiPastena said...

Hi Deb,

Wow! I'm glad you liked my first chapter enough to order a copy of Loyalty's Web. Thank you for your support!

And everyone else...if any of you who have left comments here write Regencies, no, it wasn't any of you who had the annoying eye-rolling hero. So relax and breeeathe. You that I've read here are doing great! :-)

Joyce DiPastena said...

Hi Donna,

In Illuminations of the Heart, my hero was constantly dropping his head into his hands and writhing his fingers through his hair. I knew I'd overdone it, and have worked really hard to switch a lot of those scenes to some other description. I hope I've succeeded, but my future readers will have to be the ultimate judges of that. Definitely the kind of trap that ALL writers (including myself!) need to look out for!

Meljprincess said...

I wish I could answer your question! Eye rolling is right up there with blinking!

Mel K.

LK Hunsaker said...

Joyce, yes, it's lazy writing. Eye rolling does say a lot when you're face to face, but a writer should be able to describe emotions better than that if they'll take the time to do it.

I've caught myself having to go back and fix too many raised eyebrows, lol. I use it with one character as a trademark because he raises only one and the heroine finds it cute, but otherwise, the reader doesn't need to see quite that much that often.