Writers often obsess about little details, and I'm no exception. For the last month I've been trying to figure out how to describe the eyes of one of my characters. Her eyes are blue; a very specific shade of blue. I can see her face clearly in my mind, but try as I might I cannot come up with a description of her eye color that satisfies me and conveys to the reader what I envision.
Yes, she has blue eyes, but they're not just blue. If you're a writer, you understand what I mean.
No one ever discusses important writing stuff like this. Only once did I get a handout cheatsheet during a romance writing workshop from a big name author who takes color names from cosmetic products for her eye descriptions. I've never used it because I hate makeup and some of the color names are stupid (like plum brown -- last time I checked, a brown plum was a prune. She had prune-colored eyes? I don't think so.)
Aside from real people, food, weather and nature have been my primary sources of eye color description inspiration. I also like to read through yarn magazines for unique color names. Yarn manufacturers never sell just blue yarn, you know. They sell Hyacinth, Night Sky, Dark Teal, Marine, Royal, Cadet, Morning Glory, Sea Spray, Heather, Delft, Montana, Cobalt, Lake, Beach Party and Periwinkle blue yarns. Thanks to Lion Brand's latest catalog, the next female character I write may end up with champagne-colored eyes.
But none of those shades of blue, beautiful as they are, match my character's eyes.
I'm starting to wish I'd given her black or gray eyes. Those are my two favorite eye colors to describe because you can find a lot of synonyms for black and gray that don't sound too hokey or overblown. You can overuse an eye color in fiction, so once I write a protagonist with black or gray eyes I try to use different colors for at least the next five books. Which is probably why I gave this silly ditz blue eyes. Not that they're just blue, you understand.
New writers may think eye descriptions are tough to do in the beginning of your career, but I think the more books you write, the more difficult the task becomes (if you're not interested in repeating yourself over and over, that is.) After writing all these novels, I'll admit it's become a real chore to think up something I haven't done.
My guy has gorgeous hazel eyes, which he passed on to our son. Our daughter got stuck with my genes, and our eyes are gray, green or blue, depending on the lighting and what color we wear. The department of transportation says they're green, my optometrist says they're gray, and my mother says they're blue. My daughter and I call them sea-colored to cover all the bases.
But no, my character's eyes are much lighter in color than ours, and they don't turn green or gray, so forget that.
I should have given her brown eyes. I love brown eyes. I grew up in a neighborhood chock full of beautiful Latinas, and I think that's why I've always envied girls with brown eyes. A lot of my favorite female characters have big brown eyes. Except this one. Or I could give her glasses and cover them up. But actually very few of my characters wear glasses to correct vision. This is because I've lived in the damn things since I was three.
I'll keep working at it. No matter how original you try to be with describing eye color, eventually someone else is going to cook up the same idea. I'd never read a book with a character with opal-colored eyes, so I was feeling rather smug and pleased with myself when I used that to describe Marco's eyes in the Juliana trilogy -- until a few months later, when another author came out with the same description for her protag's eyes.
Hmmmm. I wonder if I can get away with giving her blue opal eyes . . .
Val Kovalin over at Obsidian Book Shelf has a great page here about writing eye colors.
Want to know how eye color is passed along? Check out How Are Human Eye Colors Inherited?
Want to know what color baby's eyes will probably be? Try Antro.com's Eye Color Calculator.