Writing Advice: Eye Rolling

One writing cliché that has been appearing repeatedly in the manuscripts I’ve been editing lately is eye rolling. I did some research into eye rolling and learned some interesting things. First, 100 years ago eye rolling meant you wanted to have sex. Women and men Milton’s Paradise Lost and Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece all rolled their eyes to show sexual desires. It wasn’t until the last few decades that eye rolling became associated with passive-aggressive behavior. Forrest Wickman wrote an informative article for Slate magazine that tells more about the history of eye rolling and its impact on communication.

Even though it is common for people to use their eyes to say things words cannot, there are better ways to show your character’s displeasure or impatience. Seriously, try rolling your eyes once or twice. Hurts, doesn’t it? Now imagine forcing your characters doing the same action every time they want to show annoyance, boredom, or contempt. They’re going to need a lot of painkillers for those migraines before the end of the chapter! Furthermore, a literal reading suggests that your character’s eyeballs are popping out of their sockets and rolling across the floor! Consider showing your character crossing their arms, tapping their feet, or have them say something sarcastic instead.


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