Sunday, October 26, 2008

So, how many of your characters have blue eyes?

I've noticed a trend in many of the partials I've been reading: a whole bunch of your characters have blue eyes. I mean a whole bunch. Which is more than a lot. And I see lots of variations on the blue: cerulean, silver blue, robin's egg blue, dark blue, light blue, pale blue, azure, indigo, aqua, navy, cyan, cobalt and ultramarine.

Many of you seem to using blue eyes as a signifier that your protagonist is different somehow. Special. Unusual.

And see, here's the problem with that: Among Caucasians, blue is the second most common eye color on the planet. (Brown in the most prevalent among Caucasian and non-Caucasian.)

In other words, there's really nothing special or unusual about having blue eyes. (No matter how sparkly they are.) And in fantasy writing especially, which tends to suffer from Caucasian character overload anyway, (that's a whole 'nother blog post, by the way!) blue-eyed protagonists have become something of a cliche. (All of you writing a book with a blue-eyed vampire, raise your hands. Okay, blue-eyed thieves? And no, you back there, all of you writing a book with a blue-eyed wizard. Oh, yeah, don't think I don't see you.)

I'm not saying that you should never have a blue-eyed character. But you might want to try having your characters reflect all of the magnificent colors of the human (or dwarf or elf or vampire or werewolf) spectrum.

PS: You want to give your character really unusual eyes? Try green. It's actually the rarest eye color among human beings.

28 comments:

S. E. Ward said...

At Conestoga, one panel included a long, collective lamentation that every character now has green eyes. As I actually do have green eyes, I try to stick to the more common colours, namely brown and blue. I can only think of one case in recent memory in which I waxed even remotely poetic about a character's blue eyes, and that was because I was comparing them to prussic acid. (I think they're described as "poisonous blue." If you haven't seen it yet, you will.)

Mostly, though, I just give my characters brown eyes. It helps to disguise race if I don't want anything explicitly stated, and they're generally ignored in genre fiction anyway.

Joya said...

Interesting post! I had no idea green eyes were the rarest.

I tend to do the same as what S.E. Ward said. I usually give my characters brown eyes because it disguises race.

Catherine Haines said...

The majority of my characters don't have their eye colours stated, although it is a reasonable guess to think that most have brown: the majority of the undescribed-eyes belong to characters from one family; two of the four kids are described as having brown eyes, so it's a logical guess that at least one parent had brown eyes (in my head though, it's pretty certain that the parents are homozygous brown, so all the kids are brown too). One character has grey eyes, and another is a green-eyed red-head.

I'm not one for fancy descriptions of eye colour, especially when they're just one shade. My eyes are weird: grey-blue towards the white, with a ring of brown-green in the center. The dominant colour in each ring changes from time to time.

So much easier to say a character has eyes of one colour, let me tell you.

Arachne Jericho said...

I don't mention the color of my characters' eyes. Unless, you know, they're a black emptiness leading to a soul-sucking nowhere in the 14th Chinese Hell or something.

(word verification: unguest!)

Gio said...

In one of my stories (the one that's tormenting me right now--revision in progress), the heroine has green eyes, the antagonist black-rimmed light grey eyes (with long-long lashes, of course). Another character has leaf-green eyes, and another amber-golden eyes.

Now that I think of it, the only one who's got blue eyes is a mag...

But in my WIP, I redeem myself, given that everyone has dark brown eyes, but the heroine (green, again).

Where I live (in Europe), only 10% of the so-called Caucasian population has blue eyes. Including me. Green is fairly common.

Statistically absolved?

Larry B said...

Guilty!
Back to another round of revisions. What about strange eye colors? Lavender for example?

Cheryl said...

Damn it! You've just given away my secret and made my characters less special.

Blue eyes kind of freak me out; my characters only have blue eyes if they're meant to be cliched in some way or if they're evil.

green_knight said...

Standards in fantasy are obviously falling. Any fule nos that heroes and heroines are supposed to have _violet_ eyes. Or golden, maybe - but bog-standard blue?

What *is* the World coming to?

Sex Mahoney for President said...

I live in a country where people routinely stare at my wife and I because of our blue eyes. Round these parts, they're a novelty.

Sex Mahoney for President

Stella Sandberg said...

Hmm, and I thought "special" characters with green eyes was the big no-no, because it's so clichéd! That said, I just can't resist it, several of my characters have some version of green eyes (usually not bright green, but brownish green or greyish green) although I don't think I've ever met a person with green eyes irl!
I live in Sweden, and here some version of blue (greyish blue, bright blue, "technically" blue (not genetically brown) that looks more brownish) is definitely the most common colour among the "natives". I rarely give my main characters blue eyes because it feels so dull and common, though common and "mousy" characters tend to have blue eyes and blond hair in my fiction. In one story, I deliberately went for that over-the-top, clichéd feeling and gave the characters "special" blue eyes - one with very fair hair and very dark blue eyes and one with dark hair and very bright blue eyes. Blue eyes might be common, but those combinations aren't!
Since brown is the genetically dominant eye colour, perhaps those stories in which "special" characters have blue eyes are set in the future or in alternative universes with more race mixing, where blue eyes have naturally become rarer? Just a thought...
Come to think of it, my characters rarely have brown eyes, probably because my stories are set in Sweden where it's not that common. Here, the majority of the "Caucasian" population definitely have blue eyes, not brown. I've noticed most "Caucasians" from the UK seem to have light brown eyes though, so I gave a minor character from England hazel eyes.
It's interesting to read your post and the comments and see how differently people perceive blue eyes! By the way, mine are a sort of muddy blue - genetically blue, probably perceived as blue by most because they're light enough, but lacking any clearly defined colour.

Scott said...

I'm quite careful about eye color, making sure that the broad spectrum of eye color (brown, blue, green, hazel, grey) is covered. Point in fact: not everybody has brown eyes, or blue eyes, or green eyes. There is a mix of eye colors among my friends, and there is a mix of eye colors among the characters I create. I don't make rampant mention of the color of a character's eyes throughout the book either. Normally I'll make one or two mentions of eye/hair color in the beginning of the book; though, nothing dramatic or spectacular like "her intense blue eyes reminded me of the sky on a crisp autumn day". Sorry, couldn't resist.

moonrat said...

it's really, really funny you write about this today--i was just thinking about it this morning. i have SO fallen into this trap.

word verification: inglizi. heehee

moonrat said...

wow! i had to leave another comment just for the new word verification: policat!

Amanda said...

I have to admit I love blue eyes, but I've been good and mixed in green, hazel, brown, and amber, even grey. It is really easy to get obsessed with one eye color or one hair color because it's what you fancy.

Dee Carney said...

You know what's funny about this? Maybe six months ago, I read a blog post ranting about reading about characters with green eyes. Most of my characters have brown eyes (b/c like you said, it is the most common!) unless I just need some character contrast. Enh.

Jeff said...

Maybe it's just one of those psychic harmonic convergences that sometimes happen, or maybe you are unconsciously selecting for stories written by writers with a thing for blue eyes.

Of course, a Chinese girl with jade green eyes was a plot device in one of my favoritist movies of all time - Big Trouble in Little China.

slf said...

Too it seems like people take notice of eyes really light/clear in color (generally blue or gray). My father and my daughter both have eyes like this and people often comment.

I guess there is also a danger of over-thinking the eye color decision. I chose gray eyes for one of my main characters, but fearing that would be viewed as less common, and therefore too romantic, switched to blue, ha!

Deaf Brown Trash Punk said...

none. I'm South Asian/Muslim so all my characters are very diverse from being South Asian to Black to Middle Eastern to white. There is just one white guy with blue eyes in my novel-in-progress, but he's in an interracial relationship.

Crimogenic said...

Very nice post. I have a character with blue eyes, so now I have to think about changing that. It's rarely ever mentioned in the book though... I have always focused on the character's personality to distinguish him or her rather than looks.

Moth said...

See, now i would have guessed green for the Overdone Eyecolor. It's part of why I felt bad giving my fantasy heroine green eyes. (Although I did have a reason) Hah! guess I don't have to feel bad anymore. :D

Cory said...

I just realised that I don't think any of my main cast have blue eyes. Of course, the majority isn't white, so that would help to explain it. (And it's a fantasy! Bonus!)

I thought you might enjoy this one. I cracked up: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSJIORWj4tw
Election dance-off!

JES said...

I think even worse than the "blue eyes = spiritual" stereotype is the one which associates blue eyes by default with blonde hair. Grrr.

Adam Lipkin said...

True, but I guess everyone knows what it's like to be the bad man, to be the sad man, behind green eyes.

clindsay said...

Heh. :-)

Courtney Allison Moulton said...

I have green eyes! Yay, I'm special =P

intotheforest said...

In my last novel I had two characters with green eyes (mother and son), and one with blue. I don't think I specifically mentioned any of the others. I don't tend to work in a lot of character description, trying to give only that which ties into who the characters are and leaving the rest for readers to fill in with their imaginations.

Robert said...

My main characters currently? One blue-white (Rutger Hauer-esque), one black, one light green.

The amusing tidbit is that in the first draft of the first story with this trio, I never actually noted what color the protagonists eyes were. Everything was from his perspective; how often do you really think about your own eye color?

Jeff said...

You're reading mine right now, aren't you?

/cringe/