The premier of The Vampire Diaries on the CW this month led me to pull all my old L.J. Smith young adult novels off the back shelf where they had been collecting dust and give them a re-read for the first time since the ’90s. Strangely enough, I don’t actually own a copy of The Vampire Diaries book trilogy, but I have copies of what (in my opinion) were Smith’s better trilogies — Dark Visions, The Secret Circle, and The Forbidden Game.
It’s been fun to journey down memory lane by rereading these old books. I loved them when I was the right age for them. In fact, Dark Visions was one of several inspirations for one of my novels-in-progress.
But, reading them now, with much more writing experience (and life, too) behind me, I can recognize their flaws much more readily than I could back then.
I may come back and address other flaws in these books, as I can think of several, but today I wanted to talk about eye color.
For some reason, writers love to take liberties with eye color. Why have boring old brown or blue eyes when youre characters can have aquamarine, violet, or amber colored eyes?
Now, I will admit to having done this on occasion. One character in my urban fantasy ‘verse, a werewolf, has the distinguishing characteristic of ice blue eyes. Though, I did do some research — there are a few wolves who have blue eyes.
But these L.J. Smith novels take eye color way over the top. One heroine has pine green eyes. One hero has blue-gray eyes that, every time they are described, are comparied to the sea. A villain has eyes that are bluer than blue — described as the blue that you see when you close your eyes, an unearthly blue (though, he is a Shadow Man from an evil dimension, so maybe he has a right to crazy colored eyes). A villainess has eyes alternately described as amber and golden, which are paired with honey-colored skin and a mane of black hair. A supporting character is always described as having emotionless or cool gray eyes.
I think the lesson to be learned here is that character descriptions are a powerful tool for drawing your reader into your world and for helping them to remember a character. All characters really do need one feature that is uniquely there’s so that the reader can distinguish that character from all the rest.
However, that distinguishing feature does not always have to be the eyes. And if you use too many crazy eye colors in one story, it starts to feel absurd and/or cliche. Maybe just give one character unique eyes, and let other characters have something of their own — a unique hair color, thick eyebrows, unusual stature (tall or petite), large hands, etc.
Now I have the urge to revisit my young adult novel in progress and see how many crazy eye colors I put in there. I remember emerald green and violet off the top of my head. Uh-oh!