Write Tip: Character Eye Color

We all want our characters to be special, unique, stand out from the crowd. And often writers attempt to achieve this, in part, by giving them “piercing” or “soulful” or “wide” eyes of a lovely shade of blue, ice, green, violet, hazel, etc. Basically any color except that plain old brown.

Elizabeth Taylor was famous for her “violet” eyes. Is your character as fabulous as Liz Taylor?

But if you were given a peek into the slushpile, you would be a bit embarrassed to realize by giving your character such special eyes, you’ve actually made them quite ordinary. If we were to postulate eye color statistics based off of characters in submissions, the world would be made up of mostly green and blue-eyed persons with a good chunk of beauteous hazel/violet-eyed gals in one corner and steely, silver/amber-eyed hunks in another. (There would also be a looot of white people, but that’s a post for another day.)

I may sound like a broken record at this point, but write with awareness. Don’t default to the easy way. Your character’s uniqueness should not be shown through their eye color but rather through the situation they are in (the plot) and how they handle it. Their looks are a part of who they are, but not what makes them stand out. Their appearance should be realistic, for many reasons, number one so many different readers can relate to them.

This is not a rule, just a suggestion to consider. Unless their eye color is super important to the story (for example Alanna’s violet eyes in the Song of the Lioness series. Her magic is purple to match, and the blue-eyed prince’s magic is blue) consider defaulting to brown, especially when there are many characters in the story. Because brown eyes can still be attractive, unique, special, windows to the soul, etc. (full discloser, my eyes are brown). And because statistics.

Percentage of eye color in the world according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology:

  • brown 55%
  • blue 8%
  • hazel 8%
  • green 2%
  • silver (rare)
  • amber (quite rare)
  • violet (extremely rare)

TWO PERCENT OF THE WORLD’S POPULATION HAS GREEN EYES. Something to think about. *While we are at it, two percent are red heads too. So that gorgeous green-eyed woman with the rich red hair? Reconsider. (I’m looking at you, romance writers!)

Love to hear opinions on this, agree, disagree?

23 Comments

  • Rob bienke

    June 13, 2017 at 2:01 am Reply

    I disagree with the eye colors. The fact we are talking about fiction sets worlds apart from what we are accustomed to seeing. The point of fantasy and sci-if is to create New possibilities. New experiences. What’s wrong with having a world where everyone is sexy for a change? Or everyone has green eyes and red hair on planet Jasper. Who cares. It makes an interesting read and opens up new ideas. Especially in sci-fi fantasy, there are no rules. If you’re story is good and original, I say go for any character you wish to have. Or characters. This is why I refer to fantasy as Epic. It can be the wildest of ideas. Maybe there is a blue eyed moron born on planet Jasper that destroys their perfect idea of their race. There are no limits. I and many others have seen best seller novels with the dumbest titles, concepts, thousands of adverbs and extremely cliche scenarios, run on sentences and extreme paragraph jumps to random topics. Yet the moment aspiring authors present an idea it’s shot down. Has the world gone mad? I think so.

    • Mary C. Moore

      June 13, 2017 at 1:45 pm Reply

      Freedom of opinion is fine, this post about eye color is simply a reminder to not default to character descriptions, but choose their development with awareness.

  • Maureen Marshall

    May 22, 2017 at 5:36 pm Reply

    I beta read a lot of writers’ works and I find so many characters with emerald green eyes it’s spooky. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them in real life. Probably look possessed!

    • Mary C. Moore

      May 23, 2017 at 2:18 pm Reply

      Or a whole lotta contacts are being worn. 🙂

  • Erin M. M. Solomon

    May 21, 2017 at 8:21 pm Reply

    I was born with red hair and blue eyes. Now I have copper brown with blue-green eyes. My character has a blood red auburn hair with green eyes. I’d like to think I put a bit of myself in her. That being said, the trait in my book is rare and the rest of my characters have an amalgamation of colors whether it’s hair, skin or eye color. I was sick of reading about mainly white people (even though I’m white), so I tried to present a good amount of diversity. Especially since I’m a historian and realize that in a fantasy bronze age style book, most people would be tanned from being out of doors, if they had the melanin.

  • Karen Yakey

    September 22, 2016 at 12:47 pm Reply

    Loved this post, because it’s so timely for me and made me pause. Never before have I resorted to any eye color infatuation within my stories . . . until my latest project. But I can at least offer up some justification for it: Most of all, it goes back to the “genealogy” idea mentioned previously, because this book is the first in a series, launching into familial generations to follow. Add to that: One main character is stuck behind a mask and, when his appearance is later revealed, it’s those bright green eyes that serve as a heightened form of identification. His love interest: complementary dark green, a “spiritual” tether of sorts. And a secondary character, who will play more prominently as the books progress: Stormy blue-gray, a symbolic reflection of something serious brewing back in that brain. But then a mix of everything else for the others, especially as the supporting cast is composed of multi-cultural characters. Of course, utilizing distinctive colors is all well and good and peachy, but you have to hope you’ve pulled it off in such a way as to avoid the reader eye-roll when those main characters first turn their “piercing” gazes upon each other! 😉

    • Mary C. Moore

      May 23, 2017 at 2:19 pm Reply

      It’s great you’re thinking about it!

  • Diane Mulligan

    June 19, 2016 at 5:22 pm Reply

    This is so funny. As a reader, the endless stream of red-headed, green-eyed women drives me nuts. In my MS I gave my character red hair–dyed red, not-found-in-nature, crayola-red-crayon red–as a little joke for myself after seeing so many gingers in popular fiction.

    • Mary C. Moore

      June 21, 2016 at 8:48 pm Reply

      ha, that’s funny 🙂

  • Jenn Makseyn

    June 13, 2016 at 4:30 pm Reply

    Whatever, a lot of women color their hair, I have been a redhead by choice for way longer than I ever had my natural hair color. I also have emerald green eyes, my brother has grass green eyeseyes, my daughter has blue green eyes just lIke my dad.
    To hell with these rules you know what your character looks like in your minds eye, don’t let this sort of nonsense to second guess yourself.

    • Mary C. Moore

      June 13, 2016 at 10:39 pm Reply

      As I said, it’s not a rule, just something to be aware of when you’re writing your characters. If you know what your characters look like from the getgo and aren’t just throwing in traits without thinking about it, then good for you.

  • Katherine

    June 10, 2016 at 2:11 am Reply

    I read about more girls with auburn hair as a kid than girls my own race. And I didn’t even know any girls with auburn hair.

    • Mary C. Moore

      June 11, 2016 at 4:32 am Reply

      Exactly!

  • Hüvös Ferenc

    June 9, 2016 at 4:17 pm Reply

    I have one of my MCs with brown eyes and (light) brown hair. Okay, the other one is blue eyed, blonde haired, but he’s the guy. I never even considered having the girl go with anything, but that more ordinary look. I guess I just wanted it to be realistic, as much as possible, and since she’s not a POV, I needed to make her believable every way I got.

    • Mary C. Moore

      June 9, 2016 at 10:59 pm Reply

      Good that you thought about it carefully.

  • Cyani Black

    June 8, 2016 at 1:19 pm Reply

    I love casts that are beautifully diverse in all aspects from eye color to culture to religion. Imo it gives the world a more realistic, deeper feel. Plus gives the reader so much more to explore than the same-old, same old.

    • Mary C. Moore

      June 9, 2016 at 3:16 am Reply

      Agreed!

  • Sarah Worley

    June 6, 2016 at 7:25 pm Reply

    Agreed! Completely! As a brown eyed girl with dark hair, I grew up reading all these books and thinking that I couldn’t get the man, or couldn’t be special. I mean, once I was older I realized that was stupid, but it did get to me as a kid for a while. My mom had green eyes, and I always wished I’d inherited those instead of my dad’s brown.

    • Mary C. Moore

      June 7, 2016 at 9:28 pm Reply

      Thanks for sharing!

  • Jessica Ireland

    June 5, 2016 at 9:48 pm Reply

    I come from a whole family of blue and green eyes (my uncle has one blue eye and one green eye), but I love brown eyes. They always make me feel warm and safe. I usually try to represent as many different key features as possible, so as not to lean in one singular direction.

    • Mary C. Moore

      June 5, 2016 at 10:41 pm Reply

      A character with two different colored eyes would definitely be that way for a reason. I’m guessing the reason behind Tyrion’s in GoT will be unveiled at some point. 🙂

      Good point about families though. If the eye color is specific to a family genealogy then it would make sense written into the story.

  • Tammy Gibaud

    June 5, 2016 at 9:31 pm Reply

    Brown. My MC has brown eyes. His best friend has hazel, but brown is the prominent color of my cast of characters. Brown hair as well.
    Eye color has nothing to do with my character’s personality. Now, eye expressions is a whole other subject.

    • Mary C. Moore

      June 5, 2016 at 10:39 pm Reply

      Agreed!

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