Sunday, February 25, 2007

Seeing and Believing


Hand with Reflecting Globe, lithograph.

A self-portrait, M.C. Escher.


Escher always challenges our inner eye as well as our outer one, with the pictorial translation of personal ideas and the absurdities of sight.


Writers face that same challenge, particularly in terms of physical description for our characters. It's important that we convey a visual image to the reader and at the same time make that image unique.

Unfortunately, nature hasn't given us the opportunity for much variety in terms of colour for hair and eyes. The same problem afflicts the marketing department for L'Oreal, I imagine. The search for new names for old shades. For new points of reference and dramatic associations beyond blonde, brunette, and red.

We want to create a singular, individualized image in our reader's minds without resorting to tired descriptions like "sapphire blue eyes" and "flaming red hair."

And we need those descriptions to have either relevance to the reader's experience or excite their imagination. How many people appreciate the visual implications of "mahogany" today? Or "wheat?" One might have better luck with a colour comparison called "ikea." And with eyes the shade of a car exhaust.

Always on the look-out for original portrayals, recently I encountered Reichs's description of eyes as "butane blue," which I though was rather good. And LKH goes one better - in her latest series, the eyes of the sidhe are tri-coloured, and she manages not to make you think of marbles.

Daisy Dempster Dobbs ( see side bar) has mentioned she has luck with her spice rack. Eyes the colour of cayenne pepper might work very well. In hot situations, especially. That's the sort of thing I wish more writers would do to italicize their characters.


Grump: We had a four-hour power out this morning. I lost half my post and, as you can see, most of my train of thought.

Giggle: If it's tourist season - why can't we hunt them?

12 comments:

writtenwyrdd said...

snicker...why can't we hunt them? LOL, that's so true. They mean well, but still...

I love that 'butane blue' description. I think that one reason it has impact is that, besides the startling newness of it, there is that sense of depth and motion you get in thinking of a blue flame. Description that brings something else to the reader, descriptive or emotional baggage, is wonderful when properly used.

Sorry about the power outage. At least you don't have the virus I came down with yesterday. Bleh.

word veri: bkknggd, 'buck nekkid', or what we want to do to the tourists...

Bernita said...

Yes, the image was startling and conveyed the heroine's reaction as well.
I hope it's not the vicious bug that morphs into pneumonia very easily, Written. My husband's has - so please watch for that.

writtenwyrdd said...

Not to mention the rather sensual pronunciation. Rather like sucking on chocolate chunks, lol.

Nah, I'm just a bit off. Not sick enough to call in tomorrow. At least I'd better not be!

raine said...

You've hit on something I think a lot of authors have problems with, Bernita (at least, I hope they do, 'coz I sure do!)--finding fresh descriptive words, ones that aren't cliche on the one hand, but don't sound ludicrous on the other.
Another fine line to walk...methinks we should all be named accredited tightrope walkers...

In rough drafts, I usually find myself using plain old base words...'his green eyes', 'her long hair'. I have to leave the 'flavor' stuff for later, or the writing comes to a complete halt while I try to think of something. :-/

The butane image is great--as is the Escher. Always loved his work!

kmfrontain said...

LOL. I did the sapphire thing, but I really meant it. My super beings have jewel-toned eyes. When I wrote the story, I kinda wanted to take all clich├ęs and mock them while also pulling off a decent read. I'm a bit twisted that way. ;-)

archer said...

Well, that's the advantage of writing. A lot of times--not always, but often--you don't have to describe so much. Give your heroine red hair, have her boss's eyes follow her out of the room, and the reader is halfway to doing all your descriptive work for you. And the reader will like the image better, the image being his.

If you're directing a movie you're much more confined. You have to use Julianne Moore.

Bernita said...

Hope not, Written. Ric has mentioned he's fighting off a bug too.

Yup, Raine, we have the conventions but we want our people to be special. Putting in a place holder is the sensible way to do it.
The Escher I like best is the one with the birds.

Karen,I was thinking when I wrote this, that the jewel tones could work in certain settings ( excuse that), if jewels were a theme or if the set of characters (like your super beings) all had the same type, ie. were described in the same terms!

Archer, I think description works best, by and large, if produced from other characters.

archer said...

I think description works best, by and large, if produced from other characters.

I really do agree with that. Appearances affect people. Describing these effects is much more interesting than describing the person, and it's much more effective as imagery. "I can tell from the efficient way the key hits the lock that it's Big Nurse." First-rate. There she is before she's even in the room.

kmfrontain said...

I was influenced by Digimon at the time, when it came to the eyes (kids liked that show) but the flaming hair stereotype became crimson or violet, actual violet, and other colours that had metallic tones, anything over the top unnatural. Heh heh. For the red specifically, I was influenced by Siamese fighting fish. They're darned pretty.

anna said...

Hey Bernita,about the power OOF!

as for colour of hair and eyes I have had luck in the paint department. Yummy names for colours.
Off now to hunt tourists although this time of year they are a trifle scarce.

Bernita said...

And now, this morning, my server was down for hours, Anna! Bugger.

writtenwyrdd said...

Not only does description work best when the reader gets it through the eyes of a character, it also does double duty and illustrates the character of the character. (Sorry, that's just bad construction but I don't have the brainpower at the moment to do better.)