Tuesday, 12 February 2008

The Green Eye Rule

Most rules are made to be broken...

...though not, of course, rules about apostrophes, or spelling, where if you do not get it right, you are getting it WRONG, and there are no excuses.

No, I'm referring to the rules you will learn at a writing class, which you can see an excellent summary of at my friend Norm's blog. Don't misunderstand me, these are all useful points to bear in mind when writing, but like The Pirates' Code, they are really more what you'd call 'guidelines'.

There is one rule, however, that I've been fretting over lately. It was made up by another friend, Alan Hutcheson, and is called The Green Eye Rule. It goes:

'Thou shalt not give thy characters green eyes to make them seem special, intriguing, sexy, mysterious or otherwise memorable. If all the fictional characters with green eyes were stacked together they would reach halfway to Mars. Placed feet to shoulders the monolith would extend well past Uranus. Either arrangement would interfere with weather satellites and likely raise an objection from fringe human rights groups'.

Now before I knew Alan, I wrote Trav Zander, and the heroine, Isolda, is a bewitching blonde with green eyes. I did some low-level worrying about this, then when I went in for ABNA, I became aware that green-eyed heroines were not just two a penny in unpublished fantasy, they appeared to be mandatory.

So, teeth gritted, I went through the novel and changed Isolda's eyes to a smokey grey. I was not happy about this; I see her with green eyes. And she has a matching emerald necklace - emeralds, said to be unlucky - which played a minor part in the story. Star sapphires just don't work so well.

In the end, I changed her eyes back to green.

But not before I'd sent the typescript out to an agent, with, I realized too late, passages where the match between her grey eyes and her emerald necklace were remarked on.



  1. Wait a minute! This is my fault?

    Well, yes, I suppose it is.

    Sorry about that.

    Did I really write that vivid and smile inducing paragraph?

    How clever of me.

    Clearly a writer who should be doling out advice by the bucketful.

    You have a bewitching blonde in your book and I have an enchanting brunette (at least that is how Darin remembers her from high school), and chestnut haired dazzler. Guess I'll need to give the both of them eyes while I'm at it.

    Green sounds good. No, it think I already gave the chestnut haired beauty matching eyes. Matching her hair, that is, I hope it is a given that they match each other.

    Ah! that's the ticket! The brunette will have one blue and one brown eye. How memorable is that!

    Anyway, thanks for mentioning me in your blog. Even if it is just to assign blame!


  2. You see, Alan, I was listening all the time, hanging on your lightest word.

    Good idea about the odd eyes - now that's special, intriguing and mysterious. I shall save it for my next book's heroine.

    Her eyes could match a necklace made of emeralds and sapphires...mmm, I like it...

  3. I had a girlfriend with a green and a brown eye. Darned if I can remember left or right for which color.

    As for the "rules" of writing, these are much like the rules of English. There is no government committee that looks at them ands says, "yup, that's how it's going to be!" Also, if you write like Steinbeck, you can break them all.

    Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to boldly split infinitives.

  4. Rats indeed! I wouldn't worry too much about it though.

    And you are SO right about 'rules' being gudelines. They're useful to know and it helps to understand the reasons behind them but they are absolutely not set in stone.

    If your character has green eyes, she has green eyes. End of.


  5. Splitting infinitives is bad in Latin, so I've read, but there is no good reason to necessarily carry over that rule to English. So Norm, let's all boldly go...

    Thanks for your encouraging remarks, Nik. There are a lot of green eyes in Iceland...I could relocate my novel, I suppose...

  6. I have green eyes, so I do enjoy it when characters have them too. I also have red hair and always have at least one red-head in my books. Go for it!


  7. Anne, do you read fantasy?

    All the green-eyed characters you could wish hair less prevalent, I think.

  8. True - and shame about the hair!


  9. Oh no! How can this be? So did you have to change her eye color to something other than green in the end?? I pictured mine (the male MC) with them and it'll be shameful to change them to something else...but I will if necessary, LOL.

  10. Madison, they stayed green in the end, and it turned out the agent was, alas, only trifling with me.

    Don't change your hero's eye colour - there are only so many colours available, and it never did Harry Potter any harm.