1. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    Eye Colour

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Kas, Oct 3, 2009.

    Disclaimer: I’m just having a bit of fun here. Don’t take it too seriously.

    So. . . after reading through a good many novel starts, (from a half-dozen sites over the past year or so) I’ve noticed a certain trend. All too often, the writer begins with superficial detail, a laundry list of physical attributes that I simply must know about. Chiefly among them, especially from women, is the eye colour.

    What is it about eye colour? Even without the usual list, eye colour is apt to make an appearance on the very first page, if not within the first few paragraphs. I don’t know if she’s anorexic or big as a house, an amazon goddess with legs to heaven or an especially diminutive dwarf, a goth-punk hybrid or a trippy hippy, but I know she has lovely forest-green eyes. Forest green, mind you; not merely “green”. Never that.

    The eyes, people. The eyes are important!

    But why?

    I think what bothers me most about this is that it truly is superficial, more so than any other physical detail. Nobody has any control over their eye colour, and it has no notable influence on personality whatsoever. Hair style could tell me something. The colour of nail polish, unusual weight, even height could hint at character psychology.

    But the eyes? Nope!

    Eyes are all about author psychology. When I encounter this little detail, I inevitably find myself wondering what the author associates the colour with, what personality our character is "supposed" to have, based on this artificial factor.

    It strikes me as a writing blunder, to make me think of the author and not the character.

    What are your thoughts? Leave it out unless called for? Is it critical for me to know? Why? If you think it’s important, why is it important?

    My poor male brain. . .
     
  2. Irish87
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    Irish87 Contributing Member

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    I've always described my characters when I need to with the basics: their general height (never a number), their hair color/length, and yes, the color of their eyes. Though, I don't go over the laundry list in a flat sentence. I try to throw them into the scene when the character is doing something. Even then, honestly, I don't focus on them.

    Eyes, however, are not meaningless. They are easily one of the most obvious things you notice on another persons face, so when you are talking to them you have a tendency to notice them. Granted, eye color is generally meaningless. Still, eyes are important.
     
  3. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    If your character is making an observation, meeting someone for the for time, etc. then it makes sense. I tend to describe what my character is likely to notice or think about. My characters, so far, haven't been narcissistic enough to think about their own eyes, though. And I don't feel it's worth going omniscient to mention something like that.

    When you "zoom out" to describe things like this, you're making a judgement call, deciding what the reader needs to know above all else. I say "need" because the first page is critical.

    I'm wondering why people think the colour is so important. What elevates it to first-page information?
     
  4. Kirvee
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    Kirvee Contributing Member

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    Simple: The more detail you have about a character, the better you can visualize them. I HATE when I can't visualize characters completely. If I know the character's hair color, I expect to know their skin and eye color too, otherwise my visualization gets screwed up and I start focusing on mending it instead of the story I'm reading.

    And sometimes eyes can be used as a plot device (or not really, but they can be used as devices).

    For instance, someone with green eyes could have an underlying character trait of jealousy, hence the color. Or a person with blue eyes might be normally calm and collected. Additionally, characters with red or unusual eye colors might be perceived as dangerous. I know it's sometimes a device used in manga to have characters with heterochromia and their alliance to good or evil is generally questionable (Vincent Nightray from Pandora Hearts is a good example).

    And like Irish said, eyes are generally the first thing people notice on another's face.
     
  5. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have only come across 2 characters whose eye color actually mattered. Harry Potter and Drizzt Du' Urden. Other then these two characters, I don't even remember the color of any characters(except mine I suppose...) Simply because they really don't matter.

    If the eye color has some importance then by all means tell it. But if it doesn't to the story at all, then I don't see what the importance is. Though funny story, well its not much of a story and its not all that funny, I will describe the characters eyes. but not in a laundry list. :p
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if you're looking for disagreement, kas, you won't find any in this post!... i agree with all you wrote... it bugs me, too!!!

    the good news is that the best writers of really good reading stuff don't do it...
     
  7. iolair
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    iolair Active Member

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    Hmm, I don't remember any obtrusive mention of eye colour - or any mention at all - in the books I've read recently, apart from Titus Groan's violet eyes in the Gormenghast trilogy. It depends though ... I mean, if a male character is talking to a pretty girl (for example), he'll consciously notice the eye colour, so it would be in character to mention it if he's our POV. In most circumstances though, I agree it's irrelevant - if your POV character won't notice it, don't tell the reader.
     
  8. Pallas
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    Pallas Contributing Member Contributor

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    Definitely so, I usually only describe eye color during some intimate/poignant dialogue between two characters, and even then I describe them as merely dark or light.

    I assume first page description of eye color in some omniscient tone is merely to begin the fleshing of the character. Inquiring minds want to know, or in this case the reading audience.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It all depends on the story. I usually don't worry about that kind of detail, but it was a significant point in my short story Blue.
     
  10. S-wo
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    S-wo Active Member

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    It could mean something sometimes, but if you're book has mostly non-white characters in it, then I guess in a case like that it won't have really much of a meaning sense all other races except for white can only have light brown or dark brown eyes.
     
  11. Berserkr
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    Berserkr Member

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    To be honest, unless it's relevant to the story, I really don't care what colour a character's eyes or hair are. Most of the time I get a picture in my head of what a character looks like and any pointless detail just messes with that image.
     
  12. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    If it's a romance, I can see mentioning eye color, or if somehow it is important to the story. Other than that, I don't see the point.

    If the person's eyes are unusual, I would mention them. If they had one blue and one green eye for instance. If they had those light crystal blue eyes that are almost white, I would mention them.

    Most of the time, I don't remember people's eye color.

    What is the color of your best friends eyes? How many know that off hand?
    What is the color of your boss's eyes?
    What is the color of your lover's eyes?
     
  13. Phantasmal Reality
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    Phantasmal Reality Contributing Member

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    I guess every author does their own thing, but I personally find it kind of silly to introduce an important character without at least giving a general description of their appearance, including eye and hair color. I mean, a guy or girl with black hair and blue eyes looks quite different than a guy or girl with blonde and blue, or light-brown and green, etc. All other details like body type or height I leave out unless they're "unusual" enough to merit mentioning.
     
  14. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why did it matter in these two cases? Just curious.
     
  15. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well I think in the case of Harry Potter it was Snape's undoing almost. It made mention several times that Harry had his mothers eyes, which were green. Its revealed later in the series that Snape had a thing for Harry's mom. By sacrificing himself, he may have thought he was trying to redeem himself.

    As for Drizzt, his eyes are Violet, which is very unheard of in the Drow society. Before trying to sacrifice him, they wonder if he is blind. When its not the case, they bring a candle to him and he doesn't cry or flinch at the light. Which in itself is rare. They live in a very lightless world, and those who need light can only withstand enough to read scrolls and such.

    Though I suppose in this case, its more of the eyes themselves, and not the color. Though I suppose you could argue that this is a physical sign of his difference from the rest of his race.
     
  16. DownUnder
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    My perception is that: describing the eye colour of a female in a book is often associated with the implied beauty of the character. This is a problem because it leaves vague details of the rest of the character, some of which are needed to form a clear image in our mind.
     
  17. Xeno
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    Xeno Mad and Bitey Contributor

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    Sorry to hijack the thread a bit, but Violet eyes.

    Are they ever found in males? I knwo they're uncommon in females but I can't find a single piece of evidence that they are also found in males. :confused:
     
  18. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think I have ever seen them in ladies either. We do get an uncommonly dark blue color here in Puerto Rico which I've not seen elsewhere.

    To the OP's comment concerning the use of color names to be found only when one purchases the 96 pack of Crayola Crayons, yes, I agree that the descriptions of these unusual eyes colors is a bit over the top.

    No one ever has just blue eyes. They have eyes of deepest aqua like calm Caribbean waters as the sun is nestling behind verdant green mountains. :rolleyes:
     
  19. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have no idea. But if it helps any, Drizzt isn't human but Drow/Dark Elf. :p
     
  20. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i'm sure it's only a matter of gender-based semantics... while a gal's eyes can be called 'violet' a guy's would most likely just be called 'blue' or 'blue-gray' or something else that's considered to be more 'manly'!
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    My eyes are normally blue, but when they're bloodshot, they sorta look purple. ;)
     
  22. xcomplex
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    xcomplex Member

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    Eyes of course are the windows to your soul.
     
  23. B-Gas
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    In the Dark Tower series, Roland's eyes are described as icy, pale blue; this comes up a few times in the story because his eyes are terrifying and cold, calculating and vicious. He finds it easy to intimidate people and people trust him. Other than that one time, I can't remember a single time that I've read about a character's eye colour and ever remembered it. Even Harry Potter- I saw his eyes as black through most of the story.

    Build, eye colour, hair styel and colour, costume details- if it doesn't help with the story or influence their interactions with other people, it can be cut without affecting anything, and it helps people have their own interpretations of the character's appearance.
     
  24. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    I normally slip eye color into a part of the story in which I'm already talking about the character's eyes. For instance, instead of saying "She rolled her eyes," I might say "She rolled her emerald eyes." Just to make it a little more interesting.

    The story I'm working on now actually has more descriptions of people's eyes than I've ever done. That's because their eye colors are actually significant, in a very small way. If that's even possible. :p
     
  25. Raiden
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    Raiden New Member

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    I think the color of the eyes is relevant, but unless their an important aspect I don't see the need to write about it in the first couple paragraphs. It seems almost like a formality sometimes in novels.

    Name:
    Height:
    Eye color:

    like I'm making a list or something. I wonder if anyone would notice if you never mentioned the eye color. It would allow for people to fill in whatever eye color they wanted.
     

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