Tuesday, March 24, 2009
The eyes have it
What do your characters’ eyes look like?
This is one reason I like speculative fiction. With any other genre, your characters’ eyes will be the normal colors – blue, green, hazel, brown, grey, black. Maybe violet, if you’re writing romance or women’s fiction, and I’ve seen mismatched eyes once in a thriller. But with SF, the sky’s the limit.
There needs to be some reason for a character’s eyes being unusual, though, other than the coolness factor. For instance, Phedre in Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart has a speck of red in one eye because that’s a sign of her being chosen by a god – struck by Kushiel’s dart. I have a character who’s able to change her appearance and who alters her eyes to be permanently orange (the color of flames) after she’s forced to watch her son’s execution by fire.
Eye color can also be an indication of race, such as the blue-on-blue eyes of the Fremen. Just one caveat here, though – avoid giving an evil race red eyes. That’s been done so many times already (drow, vampires, etc.) that I really want to see characters with red eyes who aren’t automatically the villains. Red eyes can be pretty too – just make them look like star rubies.
I love the augmentations made to Molly in William Gibson’s Neuromancer.
…she has in fact had her eye sockets sealed with vision-enhancing mirrored lenses that were surgically attached to her face.
A character in a fantasy could have something similar – perhaps through a symbiote attached to one eye or simply because their unique biology gives their eyes unusual abilities (e.g. seeing in the dark).
This is where you replace the eyes with something else entirely, which can be very disturbing. Or what about having no eyes at all?
If eyes are the windows to the soul, what do you make of creatures which have no eyes? Wayne Barlowe’s Expedition is a detailed and illustrated description of a journey to another planet where none of the species evolved the ability to see. As a result, they appear – and are – incredibly alien.
A similar thing can be done with fantasy races. I have humanoid races whose eyes are replaced by glass, bubbling liquid mud or clusters of small tentacles, though unfortunately these races tend to be hostile. And I’d love to mention a person (or an animal) with a rose blossoming in each eye socket as well. That would be nicely creepy.
In Mark Smith’s and Jamie Thomson’s role-playing gamebook series The Way of the Tiger, the main character has a magical gem inserted into an empty eye socket. And while this isn’t exactly a substitution, Elle Driver from Kill Bill just wouldn’t the same without that eyepatch.