1. FeigningSarcasm

    FeigningSarcasm Active Member

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    Thoughts on heterochromia for purely cosmetic purposes?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by FeigningSarcasm, Aug 23, 2017.

    I've been considering giving one of my characters heterochromia (different iris colors) for a while now. It wouldn't serve any real purpose to the story and that's why I hesitate. I do think it could add an interesting quirk to the character's physical appearance, but it could potentially come across as attempting to make him as "special" as possible. My intent isn't to make him "special" but I'm not sure there's a way to get around that assumption.

    I was just hoping to get some opinions on giving a character any physical abnormality for a purely cosmetic reason.
     
  2. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin I don't feel tardy.... Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It didn't hurt David Bowie's career... I say go for it!

    upload_2017-8-23_16-59-25.jpeg
     
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  3. surrealscenes

    surrealscenes Senior Member

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    I would play with it, but ultimately would save it for when it could be a factor in a story.
    Maybe it helps a man be a lothario, makes him an outcast in his primitive thinking surroundings, maybe it came about due to an accident that changed something about him, maybe it is what makes the person a wealthy eye model since they can make money off both eyes separately, etc.
     
  4. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

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    I think how much this feels like adding just to make him special will depends on the narrative space you give to the condition. If you mention it briefly once, twice, a few times, it could be an interesting quirk. If other characters are totally entranced and always commenting on how beautiful the character's eyes are, then it could feel a lot like "special for the sake of special."

    In closing, go for it, but don't go overboard if it serves no narrative function.
     
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  5. surrealscenes

    surrealscenes Senior Member

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    As a side note, Bowie's eyes were different colors due to trauma.
     
  6. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    My 2p...

    It's a rare enough condition that I would be waiting for some kind of payoff, as a reader, for why this is mentioned. If the story is real-world fiction, not Fantasy or any flavor thereof, I have to admit that the "special" factor you mention would start to ping in the back of my head. Green eyes do the same for me. Stunning green eyes are everywhere in literature, but actually quite rare in real life. The green eyes I have most often seen are of a more muted tone than the emerald sparklers of so many novels. Regardless, I can't say I haven't been guilty of same in my own work. In my current WIP, Tevin, my stunning blond hottie dude, does not have blue eyes. His eyes are brown. I picked his eye color purposefully because I didn't want him to come across too typically Blondie McBlueEyes. I wanted to ground him a little bit. The other MC, Brenn, I don't even know what color his eyes are. I haven't thought about it.
     
  7. izzybot

    izzybot (unspecified) Contributor

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    That's my thought as well.

    I figure, regular people with heterochromia exist and aren't going off on adventures and whatnot, so why reinforce the narrative of characters only having it if they're special? It's more novel to me to have a non-chosen-one with heterochromia (or albinism, or anything else uncommon that writers tend to choose for sheerly aesthetic reasons).

    I'll also offer a midground, maybe? I have a character with heterochromia (I designed him when I was like twelve but largely kept the design for nostalgia when I picked him back up) who who ended up with one eye the same color as his mom's and the other the same color as his dad's. He hero-worships his dad but the guy dies when he's young; later in life he loses that eye, and on some level he sees it as losing his last connection to his dad. But, in the intervening years (and books) his eye color never matters and I don't intend to mention it much at all. So it matters, but only briefly and in the way that you might note any character looking like a parent they've lost.
     
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  8. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin I don't feel tardy.... Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Ooh, good one. Save it for something later.
     
  9. Walking Dog

    Walking Dog Active Member

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    This is exactly my thought, and a reason why you probably shouldn't do it. It would bug me toward the end of the story wondering when the big reveal is going to happen. And getting to the last page and not finding some reason for this mentioned condition is likely to result in my consumption of vast quantities of chocolate to get some satisfaction, because I'm neurotic this way. Can you find some reason for mentioning it, even if in some small way? Perhaps the eyes play an important role in being chosen for some special task. It doesn't have to make sense - just something to satisfy the tease of mentioning it.
     
  10. archer88i

    archer88i Banned Contributor

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    Ok, don't take this seriously, but this is the first thing that popped into my head when I saw this thread...

    [​IMG]
     
  11. hirundine

    hirundine Contributor Contributor

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    I agree with the people who say that full heterochromia should probably be saved for a time when it would be an important factor.

    However, did you know that there are other forms of heterochromia? There's also sectoral heterochromia where a part of one iris is a different colour, and central heterochromia, where there is a ring of a different colour surrounding the pupil. Both of these are fairly common (I actually have central heterochromia myself) and could be used to give a character an interesting quirk without it being too much or odd or whatever.

    Hope this helps.
     
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  12. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    That's how it usually comes across to me when characters have some kind of unnatural eye colour. It's a staple of Mary Sue-like characters that they have 'special' eyes - usually violet, and/or changing colour to suit their mood.

    Heterochromia is a little different because it's a real thing, but eh... I'd still stay away from special eyes.

    I have read a book where the MC had heterochromia and didn't come off as a Mary Sue, but it was also relevant to the plot: he was a successful actor, and his eyes added to his appeal (like Bowie).
     
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2017
  13. surrealscenes

    surrealscenes Senior Member

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    Me too, those people are creepy.
     
  14. KaTrian

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Contributor

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    I probably wouldn't think about it too much as a reader, I'd just expect the people around them to notice such unusual eyes. I know I would.

    I just remembered I wrote a character that had one blue and one brown eye. I didn't do anything with it. It's still there and I probably won't change it. Then again, I don't write my characters' appearances in a particularly measured way, like spend ages finding a name that reflects their personality (because I tend to think they get the name their parents wanted and liked, so in theory a stunning beauty with those emerald green eyes Wrey mentioned could be called something mundane like, I don't know, Mabel Smith instead of Angelique Fox). I'm not saying it's wrong to have every detail that IRL has come down to chance carefully planned out in a work of fiction 'cause after all you're writing fiction and it's a deliberate composition where the author is the puppet master (characters don't write themselves and all that). I just sometimes get these visions of characters and then write them with those details and don't really stop to analyze them too much.
     
  15. matwoolf

    matwoolf Banned Contributor

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    At the risk of being mister boaty mcboreface, D. Bowie, praise he, did not have
    heterochromia. He got a stick in the eye when he was a kid.

    Also, it's David Bowie, not David Bowie.
     
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  16. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

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    Seconded. Full comes off as 1) something an author might add to make their character more "special", and 2) it's something other characters would be more likely to notice and comment on, feeding back into #1. That may not be the author's intent, but reader impressions are hard to counter. I have central heterochromia as well, and I don't recall many, if any, people commenting on it. You have to be pretty close to notice at all. An author can have one of the other forms come up a few times as an offhand piece of description, and I don't think it would set off as many "possible Sue" alarms as full.
     
  17. FeigningSarcasm

    FeigningSarcasm Active Member

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    Thanks for all the responses, guys! They've mostly reinforced my hesitancy to do anything with it. While I do find it to be an interesting physical trait, it's not worth having a whole plot line dedicated to it. Minor or otherwise. I don't want it to detract from the integrity of the character.
     
  18. WindandChaos

    WindandChaos New Member

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    Hi, it looks like you’ve mostly resolved your dilemma but I’d like to give my 2 cents as someone with complete heterochromia :) Personally, I appreciate when authors write otherwise normal characters with heterochromia.

    I think it’s possible to acknowledge a character’s heterochromia to the reader’s satisfaction without making the character overly special or distracting too much from the main plotline. Consider what kind of experiences the character may have had because of their eyes and how this may have shaped their personality.

    For example:

    Did they get bullied as a child? Maybe they’re insecure about themselves because of it. Maybe they’re learning (or have learned) to accept themselves and can help your MC do the same.

    Were they told they were special growing up? Maybe they have a superiority complex because of it. Maybe they feel pressured to achieve the best to live up to their “specialness”. Maybe they realized being “special” is a lie and now they view the world cynically.

    This could be a significant part of your character’s personality or something that only gets revealed in passing or during specific circumstances as a nod to the trait if you like.

    Of course, this does take some work so it’s totally understandable if this is something you don’t want to get into. Personally, I would encourage you to consider exploring the idea some day if it’s something that interests you :)
     
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  19. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    I almost completely disagree, at least in the context of the question as it was asked.

    Yes, such a thing absolutely could and indeed would impact a persons life. It makes you overtly weird and other people will notice that. And it will absolutely mark your life in significant ways. The problem is though that now you're totally changing a character basically just because you want to give them a physical quirk. And that is not a good way to make characters. It's coming at it arse backwards. If you want to write a story about how such things effect people's lives then sure, no problems at all. But to say "Hmm, heterochromia is kinda cool... Whelp I guess I better totally change this characters backstory now so he can have that..." is just, well, it's silly.

    I agree entirely that when you include these elements then you need to show that they actually impact the character and their life. That's really important. You need to do it justice. But I also think that you shouldn't be chucking it into a story that you weren't really conceiving as having those elements in it. It's how you end up no longer writing your story. The answer is to just not include the elements that you aren't going to focus the story on. A book is really not that long. Focus matters. And having a vestigial plot element dangling off that you aren't really planning to pay off or do anything with and that you need to take the space and time to include nevertheless; that's just not going to make a good read.
     
  20. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with @Wreybies and @Walking Dog that such a strange feature would need to be a factor in the story. I would be expecting it to matter in some way, and if it didn't, I'd feel annoyed.
     
  21. Trish

    Trish Damned if I do and damned if I don't Contributor

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    Reading this, I kind of feel weird now - I know three people (not related) who have this. I think it's awesome. I don't think you should build a character around it though. It needs to matter and it can't be an afterthought, because, well... it will feel like one.

    I disagree that you shouldn't do it because it's Mary Sue-ish - yeah no. It's not. Real people have it, it's a thing, so do it if you want, just don't mention it and then act like it's not there.
     
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  22. archer88i

    archer88i Banned Contributor

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    The prevalence of heterochromia is six in every thousand births, or six tenths of a percent of the population of the world. In the interest of providing serious guidance for anyone looking into this thread in the future, put questions about Mary Sue eyes in the same category with Chekhov's gun:

    Would you add a gun to a character's nightstand just for the hell of it, or would you only do it if someone is gonna get shot later?

    By the same token, if you're going to give a character demon eyes, I better find out they're a damn demon.

    Oh! For comparison, there are three hundred million guns in the US. That's a prevalence of 928 per thousand births. Statistically, An American baby is more than 1500 times more likely to be born with a pistol than to be born with eyes of two different colors.
     
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  23. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    Indeed. Chekhov's gun is something that we need to always be thinking about. Things need to be paid off. They need to matter in the story you are telling. And that's why I think adding something like this, even something that you develop into the characters backstory, is ill advised. Because if it doesn't serve the story you are telling then why is it there?
     
  24. Trish

    Trish Damned if I do and damned if I don't Contributor

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    While I respect the principle of Chekhov's gun, I also think it doesn't always apply (like almost any writing rule you could name). So yes, @archer88i I absolutely would add a gun to a character's nightstand because I live in America and sometimes that's just how we (or some of us anyway) roll (even when we're not going to shoot anyone).
     
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  25. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    No, it's not a universal rule, but I think it does apply in this case, or at least it would if you show heterochromia properly.

    I think you can totally just give someone different coloured eyes and just have that there as a cool thing without running afoul of the gunman. But then that would be kinda meh writing because you haven't developed something that you kinda should. It begs questions from the reader to have something so obvious. And you might not care, if you're writing something anime influenced say where it's ok to just make things look cool, and that's ok. Because you don't make a big deal of it you don't need to pay it off. It's ok to just have a character dress cool or something that's kinda small scale and that you won't be forever messing with on the page.

    However if you take the effort to develop something small into something that seems to actually matter to the character then I think you do need to pay that off. It stops being just a fleeting and flavorful detail and starts to be something that the reader thinks they are supposed to be remember. And that I think is where something edges out into the territory that Chekhov was talking about. Once something becomes seemingly significant and seemingly matters to the character then the reader is going to be annoyed that it's not paid off.

    We don't need to be minimal to a ridiculous degree, dismissing nay detail but those that are overtly plot related. But some things do stand out to the reader. And giving something like this the space on the page it needs to develop it properly would definitely make it stand out and make it need to be paid off.
     
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