Monday Motivation: Don’t roll your eyes, madam, at me

 In All About Writing, Monday Motivation

He uses variants of the phrase “he rolled his eyes” four times in Open Season; three times in the next book in the series, Savage Run; thirteen times in his next, Trophy Hunt; once in his next, Out of Range; six times in In Plain Sight and ten times in Free Fire.

He’s CJ Box, the author of twenty one novels, seventeen of which feature the Wyoming game ranger, Joe Pickett. I have just read six of them on the trot. They’re easy reading, the stories are gripping, the stakes invariably high. His central character is appealing, with an independent wife and one feisty tom-boyish daughter, and another who enjoys nothing more than to dress up in her grandmother’s discards, and apply make-up. I love them all – including Joe Pickett’s believably dangerous opponents.

But then there are those endlessly rolling eyes. I really should email the man. It  is such a tired cliché, people!

But it’s such a useful cliché, I hear you cry. What would we do without it?

Well, begin by working out why and when it’s used. Kathy Steinemann, who runs a useful website offering resources to writers, suggests that the phrase is used to express, variously, one or other of the following:  annoyance, boredom, contempt, disbelief, impatience, nonchalance, sarcasm, scorn, skepticism and smugness.

And she then proceeds to offer alternatives for each of these applications. So when your character wishes to express disbelief, he could, yes, roll his eyes, or… blink rapidly, widen his eyes, frown incredulously, drop his jaw…  When bored, he could yawn, slap his cheeks, drum his fingers, fiddle, sigh, stare into the middle distance…

Sarcasm’s more difficult. I suppose it could be expressed by raised eyebrows – although those have also become overused – an uninterpretable smile, and, most naturally, a sarcastic remark.

We have a vast range of body language at our disposal, too. For the most part, we’re not even aware of the eloquent and nonchalant shrugs we make, the expressions of disgust, surprise, astonishment, pleasure, happiness and anger that our faces can communicate. Watch almost anyone’s hands at work through a conversation and you’ll realize just how reliant we are on physical movement to augment our verbal communications.

It all boils down to observation in the end, I suppose. If we don’t observe our fellow human beings carefully, we’ll not notice the extent to which they betray their feelings and their unspoken thoughts.

And we’ll find ourselves writing, “Wacey rolled his eyes and his mouth tightened…” and “Arlen rolled his eyes then settled them back on Joe…” and “Reed rolled his eyes again…” and “Joe rolled his eyes with frustration…” as CJ Box does in In Plain Sight.

Which I highly recommend. It’s a real page turner.

Happy writing,



Upcoming courses

How to Write a Screenplay – starts 1 September

Venice Writing Retreat, Venice, Italy – 6 to 13 September

Creative Writing Course, Online – starts 9 October

Creative Writing Course, Cape Town and Johannesburg – starts 16 October

Click here for a complete list of our courses

Recommended Posts
Showing 3 comments
  • Kathy Steinemann

    Thanks for the mention, Richard! Have a great week brimming with ideas and productivity.

    • Richard Beynon

      And thanks for your website. It’s got some great content.

  • Sandi Durnford-Slater

    So, what you prescribe is a regular dose of people watching? One of my favourite things … but how to do it without said people starting to look suspiciously at me?

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Not readable? Change text. captcha txt