The Growing Body Part

by Kellyann Zuzulo

Notice the change in eye color. The photo on right
shows dilated pupils or "bedroom eyes."
Romance authors think they already know this. But to be accurate with your descriptions, you must know exactly how this happens and by how much. When a person/character is excited or aroused, a part of their body will grow or swell. The resulting increase in size actually causes a more receptive response in the person who instigated the growth...the object of their desire, you might say. Stop your tittering. I'm not talking about the penis.

The human pupil will dilate when a person is aroused or excited. The resulting "darkening" of the eye has been shown by scientists to be more attractive to people. "Bedroom eyes" are eyes in which the pupil has grown to cover a larger portion of the iris. Mood lighting or candlelight can help to accelerate the biologic response of a growing pupil. And just as an aside, dilate is the process of widening or expanding. I've read many descriptions where dilate implies either a shrinking or an enlarging of the pupil. Shrinking of the pupils is the pupil constricting, not dilating. And in romance writing, constricting is more ways than one.

Why does this happen? Well, in an article in The Scientist entitled The Meaning of Pupil Dilation, the author explains:

"For more than a century, scientists have known that our pupils respond to more than changes in light. They also betray mental and emotional commotion within. In fact, pupil dilation correlates with arousal so consistently that researchers use pupil size, or pupillometry, to investigate a wide range of psychological phenomena. And they do this without knowing exactly why our eyes behave this way. “Nobody really knows for sure what these changes do,” said Stuart Steinhauer, who directs the Biometrics Research Lab at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
While the visual cortex in the back of the brain assembles the images we see, a different, older part of our nervous system manages the continuous tuning of our pupil size, alongside other functions—like heart rate and perspiration—that operate mostly outside our conscious control. This autonomic nervous system dictates the movement of the iris, like the lens of a camera, to regulate the amount of light that enters the pupil."

A dilated pupil "darkens" the eye.
Knowing what the eyes do in certain situations can help an author to place non-verbal cues about what a character is feeling. It would be accurate for me to write about my handsome amber-eyed protagonist Jason in 101 Nights something like "his eyes turned golden and deepened further until she was captured in his gaze." Hmmm. I think I'll keep that.

The point is that eyes will not necessarily change color, but they will lighten or darken according to the situation. Alcohol will cause the pupils to constrict...something that happens to another body part when it gets wet. Pain will cause the pupils to dilate. I came across this description in the PSYBlog:

"Chapman et al. (1999) fired small electric shocks into people's fingertips and measured how much their pupils dilated. At maximum intensity the pupils dilated by about 0.2mm.
But that was only to a relatively tame current. Imagine what you could do to my pupils if you plugged me into the mains."

This is great news for me because my details about the abilities of the jinn often include small and large electric shocks being fired at someone.The science of the eyes is a fascinating topic. In fiction, such information is invaluable. When you're writing in the perspective of one character but you need to let your reader know what the other character is thinking, describe their eyes. Someone may very well be thinking romantic thoughts if that pupil keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger.

Alcide Herveaux of True Blood
could effect your pupils.
Scientists found that when humans (and I'll vouch for genies here, too) are shown images of a physically pleasing person, their pupils will dilate in response. This may be why there are so many racy covers of romance novels. It is true that a sexy form on the front is more likely to incite a positive response. However, reading the words of a scene can have the same effect. In my extensive research for this blog, which included a google search on "sexy men with dilated pupils," I came across the fine physique of Alcide Herveaux, a werewolf in True Blood. In all of the images--and I looked through quite a bit--it was unclear exactly how large his pupils were. But look closely at this picture of him. Now, look at your own pupils. I'll bet one of your body parts grew...

Best Wishes,
For more details about those gorgeous amber eyes,
pick up 101 Nights from Boroughs Publishing Group


  1. Loved this, Kellyann. Always knew about the darkening eye of the male in romance but it's nice to know the science behind it. Reposted on my FB!

  2. Thanks, Regan! My pupils have dilated in appreciation! ;)

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