“Looked” and “gazed” are writer cop-outs and amount to telling. In this article, I’m not going to tell you to drop them completely from your short story or manuscript — since I’m a proponent of all things in moderation — but to encourage writers to consider alternatives, especially since those alternate options often bring a richer tone and exposition to your writing.
I used to be a big culprit of using look and gazed in my writing pre-college, and even today from time to time, I find myself sneaking back into the over-use of the words. The error of my ways — as it were — was pointed out to me by one of my college professors who was of the mind that the use of “look,” in particular, was the sign of an amateur writer. For the most part, she is right.
Who would want: “He looked out into the expansive collection of doodads” when they could have something more — something better. “Cranks, gears and little unworldly gadgets surrounded him by the piles. They towered over him — beckoned to him. Some caught light from the ceiling luminaries, which dimly lit room.”
Rather than turn to the the tired “look” why not explore the environment around your character, so the reader is discovering it along with them. By delving into the character’s surroundings, the writer can only pull in the readers further into the story. When approaching a scene where you are tempted to use “look” or “gaze,” stop. Consider how else you can approach the scene. What is surrounding the character(s)? Don’t underestimate characters interacting with their surroundings as a method to set a scene and avoid the tired “look.”
With all this said, “look” is not an evil word, but should be avoided when there are other options available. So keep that in mind as you write. If you already have a finished story, use the search feature to hunt down “looks” and “gazes” to see if there are scenes that can be done better without the telling.