How many times have you read the line ‘her jaw dropped to the floor’, or ‘my stomach sank’ or ‘her eyes were as blue as the ocean’? A fair few? More?
Yea, me too. It’s gotten to the point where I do an involuntary eye-roll when I read one of those lines. According to a quick Google search only 1 in 6 people (in America) have blue eyes. Even that statistic sounds a bit high to me. I very rarely notice people with blue eyes. Not the Alexis Bledel kind anyway.
Is the character a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Scandinavian? Ok, forgiven. Dark-haired, olive-skinned, blue-eyed beauty? Why? Is it because she lives in a dystopian world where a certain type of blue eyes mean she has a genetic abnormality brought on by genetic experiments? Ok, I can dig that.
Is it … just ‘cause? If you chose option C, cue eye-roll. She’s much more likely to have brown eyes. Or hazel. And what’s wrong with those colours? And for the record, green eyes are even less likely. Only 1-2% of people (according to that same Google search) have ‘eyes the colour of jade’.
If you’re aware of the improbability of your character having blue eyes, green (grey, violet, red) eyes, and you decide they still need to have that eye colour (I hope it’s for a good reason and not just ‘cause) then please, please come up with a way to describe them other than ‘sea green/blue’ or ‘eyes like sparkling sapphires/jade’. The first word to pop into your head is probably there because you’ve the descriptions a million times before. Put it away, and try for another.
Those eyes, so blue I felt as though I were staring into a fathomless pool, so deep and wide that I could swim forever.
So now we’ve got the eyes sorted, I would just like to point out that it is not actually possible for a jaw to drop much further than, well, anywhere past your face. Once upon a time, I’m sure the image of someone’s jaw dropping to the floor was new and fresh (but so were all clichés) and told the reader perfectly how stunned the character was. (Or it was a perfectly gruesome description of a decaying zombie.) Now, not so much.
Is your character’s jaw dropping to the floor because they’re stunned by something they’ve seen or heard? How else would they be affected? Would a jolt run through them from the surprise? Would their breathing speed up? Goosebumps? Eyes widening? Shaking? Muscles tensing?
There are so many different physical and emotional responses to any situation your character might face, and there is never any need to use a clichéd line. The thesaurus is your friend (much like Google). If you’re feeling stuck, maybe try to imagining yourself in your characters shoes. How would you feel?
How ‘bout you? Does clichéd writing grind your gears? What are your tips for avoiding overdone wording?