I find myself overusing phrases like "his eyes flickered to (object/person)" and "he shifted his gaze to (object/person)". I use the words 'eyes' and 'gaze' a lot to describe what the character is staring at (ie. his eyes locked onto (object), or his eyes wouldn't move from (object), etc).

I also overuse words like "stare" and "glance" as well. Any ideas how else to describe 'looking at something'? Or shifting one's gaze to something else?

4 Answers 4


Consider the possibilty that your problem isn't a shortage of verbs, but an overuse of the concept of characters looking at things. Maybe you are too intent on having your PoV character guide the reader's focus with his actual eyes. Describing the action of looking, doesn't always give the reader something useful. Perhaps you also need to find new ways to direct our attention, or just jump with confidence between your subjects.

Some basic examples:

Instead of these...

He sat in silence at the campfire. His gaze sank through the flames to Anna on the opposite side.

He stepped into the bar and took a glance around. The locals did not look impressed with his fashion choices.

She passed him the letter. He looked at it and recognised his father's handwriting.

Try these...

He sat in silence at the campfire. The firelight played on Anna's face.

He stepped into the bar and killed the atmosphere stone dead. Something about his fashion choices seemed to cause the locals some discomfort.

She passed him the letter. The handwriting was as familiar as his own.

Okay it doesn't exactly answer your question, but it does addess your concern, 'I find myself overusing...'

  • > She passed him the letter. He looked at it and recognised his father's handwriting. ...to... > She passed him the letter. The handwriting was as familiar as his own. Perfect. Novice writers will often speak unnecessarily. "The handwriting was familiar" lets the reader know that he looked at it, and is a more decisive action. I often find that when I'm stumbling over a particular passage or approach, axing it and going a different direction nearly always solves the problem and improves on my original intent.
    – kmunky
    Feb 19, 2016 at 21:22
  • This is some of the best advice I've received on here. Thanks a bunch! I will definitely need to implement your tips into my writing as I find I often describe things in excess or include phrases that aren't necessary.
    – Abs
    Feb 20, 2016 at 3:12
  • It's always risky answering "how do I....?" with "don't" so I'm glad it helps. It's advice to myself as much as anything. I do the same thing often.
    – mwo
    Feb 20, 2016 at 7:46

You can observe something. Something can capture or draw your attention. You can notice something, or become aware of something. Instead of describing looking at something, you could show the reaction to the event...


You can consider some of the following:

  • Noticed
  • Observed
  • Caught my eye
  • Eyed
  • Piqued my interest

Hope that helps.


There is nothing wrong in using plain "looking" as the action, just follow it up with why and and with what emotions. Unless you explicitly want to focus on the way a character is looking, its best not to bring up looking at all.

Ex: 1. He ran into Emma last week, in the elevator, she looked beautiful. 2. He ran into Emma last week, he looked at her, she was beautiful. (in the 2nd case, is it not obvious, that he looked at her. Do we really need to emphasis on that he looked. How else would he know she was beautiful?)

Yet if you still desire to have other options read on.

Your characters don't always have to "look". The process of their eyes falling on someone/something, can be many things other than "looking".

Consider these examples

-he can ogle at someone/ an object
-have a blank look towards the object(seeing not noticing)
-eyeball an object
-he can fall in a trance at seeing a girl
-his eyes can get hypnotized (not literally)
-something/ someone can enter his field of view while looking at something else.
-He can "chance" on something accidentally.

All the best writing :)

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