As Bright & Moth-Wing Blue As the Blue in the Heart of a Flame

Rachel just featured an intriguing post on eyes.  She said she is guilty of describing them too much in narration and, when I think about it, I probably am guilty of that too.  But, as she pointed out, eyes are the window to the soul - they really are - and can one go wrong fixating, even to detriment of other physical description, on the character's eyes?  How much one can learn about a character just by looking in the eyes, watching for that one unguarded moment when the person's eyes betray the thoughts beneath! 

So I like describing eyes.  Indubitably I describe them a little too much, but that's what editing is for, I suppose.  There is a crazy range of colour for eyes, which are well worth studying even if you don't like studying.  (I would also suggest a dip into biology so that you have a basic understanding of how eye colour shakes out and so that your choice of character eye colour makes sense.)  Julius and Julianna - you've met them - are both albino, and so have the characteristic violet eyes of albinos - which are caused by the lack of pigmentation and the filtration of blood through the eye, which sounds far less romantic than "violet," I admit.  The de la Mare line of Plenilune is famous for its pale, ice-blue eyes, which makes looking at them all the more unnerving...  The royal family of Thrasymene waver between brown and yellow-brown, but the heavy speckling of people with yellow-brown eyes throughout the lineage has given them some fame as well: their yellow eyes turn out owlish and uncanny, and really very beautiful.

Skander and I have the same eye colour.  Though his mother was from the de la Mare family he got his father's stark brown eyes.  Just brown.  You have to look really hard at our eyes to conjure any romanticism about them.  They have some falcon-barring of gold and black, but mostly they are just that rich, dominant, chocolate brown which is warm and familiar and totally unremarkable.  But then his, at least, fit him: he is a warm, familiar, chocolate brown kind of man and only occasionally, when severely provoked, will you see the falcon-barring flutter in agitation.  So I like to think there is something to be said even for the dull, dominant brown that is almost never looked at twice in the faces of the whole world over.

In this high-tech, sleek, graphic world of film, we're used to seeing the richness and starkness of colour.  You can over-describe anything, I know, but eyes are worth description!  Eyes are actually very complex just in colour, let alone in their anatomy (which would get boring if you tried to include that, so you probably shouldn't go that route...).  I like watching people's eyes: the way the light plays on their surfaces, the way different-coloured lashes or eyeshadow mute the irises or make the colour stand out more.  Stare at your eyes in the mirror.  If you do make-up, take a good look at what your eyes do when juxtaposed to different colours.  Stare at other people's eyes.  Stare creepily.  And then run and hide and use a pen-name. 

Inclining round to the soldier, [Rhodri] asked, “Was anyone killed?”
The soldier hesitated.  He looked as if he might have refused an answer, but Rhodri unexpectedly lifted a brow and fixed him like a basilisk, so the soldier said in a quiet voice, “I don’t know, sir.  I don’t think so.”
For a moment longer the two regarded each other, the one caught in the other’s gaze.  Then Rhodri released him, turning his head away.  “Very good, soldier.  We will be out of your way in a moment.  Thank you for the drinks.”
“Sir.”  The soldier half-drew to the salute, checked himself, and swung away to the jinkeh-jink of accoutrements.

7 ripostes:

  1. Oh I'm a sucker for eye description, too :) That and hair color/texture. They both say so much about a character. I mean, really, Snape wouldn't be half as creepy without his greasy, lank locks. And Tolkein's description of Galadriel's star-filled eyes = perfection.
    So I'm all for going overboard for that kind of detail, at the very least in the first draft :)

  2. Eyes can be a persons best and worst feature. And they amaze me to know end. How blessed are we, that instead of a simple mechanism to see with, God gave us the most beautiful accessory possible? Not to mention their amazing capabitily.

    And I love describing eyes...I could go on forever on the depth, color, emotion, etc. in a certain character's green eyes. ;)


  3. Oh, gosh, eyes! I am so guilty of overdescribing them. Although I've realized that I keep saying the same thing over and over, so I got creative... "She felt a shiver of fear run down her spine as Owen turned toward her. His eyes in that moment, normally the color of a cloudy sky, resembled nothing so much as mercury - burning, shifting, and utterly unpredictable." that's my favorite eye description thus far...
    I think that eye description is something that doesn't bother me when I read it in books. Even if it's 'info-dumped,' I still like to have a perfect picture of the eyes...*sigh*

  4. LOL - Stare creepily. And then run and hide and use a pen-name. :D I love it...
    I'm taking genetics this semester, and looking forward to learning how that determines eye color - the fact that eye color changes always weirds me out. One of my brothers had eyes so golden they almost glowed... they've faded a bit as he's grown up and are rather more brown now. Another brother's eyes match whatever shirt he happens to wear - they can go from green as green can be to dark blue to grey with almost golden flecks. It's very strange.

  5. Poet of Elven Insanity - I really like that description! I absolutely love mercury-glass, and that is a great way to describe really pale blue eyes...the sort of really pale blue eyes I was referencing in the post. :P Shoo, that description gives me shivers!

    Katherine Sophia - Eye colour does change! Which makes describing them so much fun, because you're not going back to the exact same colour every time you feel the need to talk about them in your text.

    I love eyes. ^.^

  6. I wish I had more time, Jenny, or else I would make a bigger comment, but this was a really good post (as always!). I love describing eyes in my writing, perhaps a bit too much sometimes, but as you said there is always "editing" afterwards...:). My latest "Eye description" is this one which I am sentimentally fond of: "'I do not hold it back. Yet, I ask you, Quintus, not to take it. It doesn’t belong to you.' A shadow flickered in his eyes, pale grey and wolf-like yet without ferocity."

    My eyes are a kind of hazel brown. But one of my sisters, Mary, has the most beautiful eyes ever... they are an olive green, but can sometimes go into a shade of sea-grey, golden brown and emerald. It's really cool!

  7. Doesn't it seem as though it is always someone else who has the beautiful shades of eye colour...?

    Joy - I like that: "pale grey and wolf-life yet without the ferocity." It translates well out of its romanticized prose into a realistic image - you could see that kind of look on a real person's face - and also (my favourite) it has a beautiful cadence.

    As to the cadence, I neglected to mention that the title of the post comes from Plenilune and is among the first descriptions of a character, that his eyes are "as bright and moth-wing blue as the blue in the heart of a flame." A long description, and yet, for all I made it up, I love it.