Our characters do a lot of looking in our stories. It's their job to describe what the world looks like, what people look like, what's going on and who's doing what. But are we overlooking the amount of times we use the word look?
I bet if you did a find for how many times look is used in a manuscript the number would be high, especially in an early draft. Same with saw, gaze, and even eyes. Eyes typically get quite the workout.
It makes sense since seeing is our primary sense for gathering information, but when you think about it, everything a character conveys to the reader is something they experienced. If they describe what it looks like, we know they looked at it.
Look (and all its friends) is a great word to double check during revisions, especially if you're trying to trim down your word count. Quite often the text around it introduces a description instead of showing what was seen.
She crept into the room and looked around. Where was that stupid book? She saw a small desk sitting in the corner, with Lulu's Bedazzled journal right out in the open. Gotcha.Cut the redundant seeing and you get:
She crept into the room. Where was that stupid book? Bedazzled leather teased her from a small desk in the corner, right out in the open. Gotcha.Is it important to say she looked around the room first and saw things? In most cases, no. It's clear the POV is looking at something. Plus, it saved five words and became much more interesting because the focus shifted to what was seen, not that she saw something.
I saw him reach into the bag and steal a box of Oreos.If your narrator says it, they saw it.
He reached into the bag and stole a box of Oreos. (and two words saved)Not every instance of look needs to go, however. If it's a judgment call, it can usually stay.
The street looked clear.This is the narrator's assumption, not a description of a clear street. A good way to test this is to swap out "looked" with something like "seemed" or "appeared" and see if the sentence still works.
The street appeared clear.Then you have the gray area looks. The ones that are part judgment call and part observation.
Sally frowned. Bob looked like he might throw up. "Are you gonna puke on me?"This is Sally's judgment on how Bob looks, but it's also a description of his current physical appearance. There are details associated with throwing up you could use to show the scene better. He might be pale, greenish, sweaty, or covering his mouth with one hand.
Sally frowned. Bob sat hunched over, sweat dripping down his pale face. "Are you gonna puke on me?"Sometimes you'll want the longer version, while other times the shorter "looked like this" is a better choice. There are no rules for this, it's just trusting your instincts and thinking about what you want the detail to accomplish. If it's a casual observation it might be better to let the quick description rush by. But if the detail carries more story or plot weight, you might want a little more attention paid to it.
(More on description and making details come alive here)
It would also depend on your POV and how observant they are. In my current WIP, I have one POV who notices details and questions everything she sees. The other POV makes snap judgments and doesn't pay a lot of attention to what he sees. She would use the longer version, he would use the shorter one.
If you're looking for a way to A) trim down your word count or B) make your descriptions richer, try editing for look, saw, gaze, stare, and even eye. You might discover quite a few areas to tighten up and polish.
(More on other filter words here)
How do you feel about look? Have you ever thought about how you use it? Do you rely on it to introduce your descriptions?