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Romance Issues: Sparkling jewels & glistening portals!

So many romance books appear to be obsessed with eyes.  Every major character in romance books has some kind of extraordinary eye color, whether it’s vivacious aquamarine, smoky whiskey, cool ice gray, startling emerald, or unreadable obsidian.

I’m so sensitized to this facet of romance lingo that I start to laugh every time I read about someone’s sparkling pools of azure.  The only time I’ll accept strange eye color is in fantasy or science fiction, but I’m on my guard at finding a hint of any description that should properly belong to something like a unicorn, fairy, or elf.

Human limits, please, unless describing were-tigers.

Human eyes are eyes — expressive, yes, but realistically people’s “glistening orbs” run the spectrum between dark gray-blue, watery blue-gray, dull green, light brown, dark brown, and nearly black.

Yes, I know it’s part of the romance genre for the hero and heroine to have magnificent eyes, but when no human currently on the Earth has topaz orbs that seem to glow from within with a mischievous light, it pulls me out of the story to wonder exactly when everyone in the book got dosed with acid.

What color are Kate Moss’s eyes?

Characters do not have to have outlandishly beautiful eyes to be beautiful themselves.  Even the most beautiful people in the world have eyes of plain brown, blue, and green.  I think that giving a hero or heroine extraordinary eyes tends to be a lazy shortcut for deeper characterization, though there are exceptions, of course.

Think of the people you love.  How would you describe their perfectly normal — and yet unique — eyes?  My best friend’s eyes are…

  • rather large for her fine-boned face, since she is a petite 5′ tall
  • widely-spaced, giving her a little bit of an alien look sometimes
  • almond-shaped with rather heavy lids and fine black lashes, due to her Italian heritage
  • a dark, clear brown in color
  • framed by eyebrows that are arched in an expression of intelligent surprise

When she laughs, her eyes do transform into crescents, but she still looks at you directly to share her humor.  She is very expressive (Italian!) and rolls her eyes a lot.  She does a lot of outdoor stuff, so her eyes have fine lines around the edges from squinting.

Her son’s eyes are quite different.  Even at less than a year old, his light blue eyes with almost no lids sit rather flat on his soft face — I call him the googly-eyed baby because he looks like a soft blond teddy bear.  His eyes are always round, like a stuffed toy’s, and he doesn’t squint much, even when he cries.  His expression always seems to be one of casual, accepting observation; he doesn’t have the sharp edginess of his mama.

Do this for a couple of people you know well.  It is possible to make characters special, stunning, unique, and brilliant without describing their eyes like a jeweler does specimens.

2 thoughts on “Romance Issues: Sparkling jewels & glistening portals!

  1. What an excellent article! As soon as you got detailed and specific about describing exactly what you saw about your Italian friend’s eyes, I understood your point that romance writers often grab for a conveniently exotic eye-color, which comes across as stale and vague when they could really look at something and come up with a unique, understated description.

  2. Thanks, Val. I think a lot of people forget that life is the root of fiction, not other genre fiction. (Josh Lanyon calls this the “literary circle jerk,” which is just too funny.) It’s not a matter of technique, but design (what this blog is all about.) Writers think, “Oh no, I have to come up with a fresh way to describe eyes,” but that’s so difficult if the mindset isn’t there.

    But when writers reconnect with their life experience and examine their own real life feelings in detail, the fresh description happens effortlessly. It wasn’t hard to describe my friend since I’ve lived with her “character” all my life. Her husband would be considerably more difficult for me, since I’ve only known him for two years, and not nearly as well.

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