I am writing a short fiction, and I have a scene where my main character, pressured for time and being presented with a maddening dilemma, looks to the ceiling in frustration. Literally, he just looks upwards in exasperation for a moment.

Is there a phrase I can use to represent this motion and/or emotion?

Context: The main character has made his decision to embark on a quest which will probably cost him his life. He only has an hour to complete it, so he needs to get moving. Despite this, the woman he loves is insisting on going with him. She does have certain 'skills' that he needs, but he still doesn't want her to go, for obvious reasons. He doesn't have time for this, and looks to the ceiling in frustration.

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    He rolls his eyes. – StoneyB Jan 4 '16 at 18:15
  • A glare maybe? – TsSkTo Jan 4 '16 at 18:17
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    I'd elaborate on the motion to be clear..."unable to hide his exasperation, he rolled his eyes towards the ceiling, hoping to find the patience to get through this ordeal...". And actually, what @FumbleFingers just commented to Josh61's answer. The upward eye roll is looking for inspiration or strength. – Kristina Lopez Jan 4 '16 at 19:01
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    What's wrong with saying "he looked to the ceiling in frustration"? It coveys an image & meaning that is instantly recognizable. ("Rolling your eyes" is generally taken to mean irritation at the words/actions of another person, vs frustration at a situation.) – Hot Licks Jan 4 '16 at 20:24
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    Something I know I have read before, in various books and various contexts, is characters searching in moments of frustration or confusion. What comes to mind is something like "Gritting his teeth, he lifted his head to the ceiling, as if searching for an answer among the cobwebs and chipping paint," or, a bit more literally, "He searched her face for any indication her intentions." Like Kristina Lopez says, the character is looking for something- hope, a way out, a bolt from heaven to strike them down or save the day. Sometimes it's just to convey their frustration towards the heavens. – raisinghellyer Jan 4 '16 at 20:27

To roll one's eyes may convey the meaning:

  • to ​move ​your ​eyes ​upwards as a way of ​showing that you are ​annoyed or ​bored after someone has done or said something.

(Cambridge Dictionary)

Roll one's eyes can be used also to express frustration:

  • (idiomatic) To deliberately turn one's eyes upwards, usually to indicate disapproval, indifference or frustration.


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  • That might work, but it doesn't really fit the context. My character is pressured for time and someone is delaying him with a very important dilemma. He's frustrated, but annoyed or bored doesn't quite fit. Sorry, I probably should have been clearer in my question. I'll edit it. – Thomas Myron Jan 4 '16 at 18:23
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    @Tommy: Your look to the ceiling usage isn't particularly common, but my guess is when it is used it's more likely to be in contexts where the metaphorical implication is looking for inspiration. But the well-established roll one's eyes always implies a frustrated metaphoric God! Give me strength! (to put up with whatever some idiot is saying to you, for example). – FumbleFingers Jan 4 '16 at 18:33

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