Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Eyes Like a Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard Trust
I was resistant to describing eyes in the beginning. Then my betas set me straight. Some readers these days insist on knowing the color of a character's eyes.

Fine. BUT I want to get more out of the description than "blue like the depths of the ocean - that you could get lost in, yada, yada...", if you know what I mean. So I started thinking in terms of animals, which somehow people automatically characterize.


For green, if I say: "sharp as a snow leopard's", you get a picture of stealth and strength. Yes? I hope you do.

Anyway, my internal editor had to think on that detail for a moment.

"Big cats have yellow eyes - don't they?
No. The leopard has green eyes. I'm sure.
Why am I so sure?
Better Google it. -
Yes. Unlike most big cats, Snow Leopards do have green eyes."

This descriptor may sound off to you in a contemporary fiction, but I write fantasy, and it works for me. Snow leopard eyes also bring in another detail of my setting. My main character lives in the mountains, where people respect the animal, and may occassionally see one. The snow leopard is also known as a "ghost cat" because of it's coloring and it's reclusive nature - another detail that I apply directly to my character. He isn't with the "in" crowd, but he is independent and capable.
Here are some interesting myths from the Snow Leopard Conservancy:
In the northerly societies of Nepal many indigenous beliefs and shamanistic practices, reflecting local pre-Buddhist traditions, were incorporated and subsequently reworked into the Buddhist pantheon and ritual system. One such ritual in Manang connected to the snow leopard and its depredation forbids alpine herders to roast meat, for otherwise the mountain god will send its “dog”, (i.e. snow leopard) and one has to suffer livestock losses.
In Dolpo there are stories of great lamas frequently making trips to Tibet in the form of snow leopards, in search of rare medicinal herbs. Other folklore describes the snow leopard as a “fence” for the crops, meaning that in the absence of snow leopards livestock would be free ranging and thus would invade crop fields.

Local inhabitants still believe that snow leopards (and domestic cats) are considered to have taken birth particularly to remove the sins of their past lives, and killing these animals means having their sins transferred to your own life.

In Mustang, killing a snow leopard is considered to be more sinful than its prey species (for instance blue sheep), because all sins it has committed during its lifetime by killing its prey will then be transferred to you.

A ha! This info is appropriate for my main character too, because he IS atoning for something.

Even if I never mention the myths to my readers, all these implied attributes solidify Taner's character in my head.

I went through this process with Haydon in BURNT AMBER too, but he was a Red-Footed Falcon.

Now, if you write contemporary, or historical, or any sort of fiction other than fantasy, I think this fun exercise can also work for you. The trick might be to get as specific (and indigenous) as possible, because the additional facts make a difference. And find something other than a Red-Footed Falcon, or Snow Leopard, because someone's already done that. ;)


Sarah said...

I think you're making some excellent points--your comparisons have to make sense for your story, because the story is from a certain character's point of view, and he/she would have a certain range of experience and knowledge from which to draw. And wow--you really do your research! That's awesome, and I think the comparison to a snow leaopard is powerful because it brings so much more than eye color to mind.

Carolyn V said...

Okay, that is really cool about the snow leopard. And green eyes, wow.

I agree that research is very important, especially when you want to get something right. I, unfortunately, like to jump right into it, and then I have to do back research. It's a bad idea. There is too much to rewrite.

Southpaw said...

I like the idea of how the eyes are describe is a also a peak into that character's character as well.

Lydia Kang said...

Cool, I didn't know that about snow leopard eyes.

I get tired of eyes that are described in a cliche way, like you mentioned.

LTM said...

Carolyn! This is brilliant!!! You are so smart turning to animals because like Sarah said, it does convey so much more meaning. What is the animal you chose known for!

It's true readers expect eye descriptions--it's one of the first things we notice IRL. But I also try to avoid the cliche as much as possible. This is sheer brilliance.

And I really like the info on the leopards. They're just so beautiful anyway. (P.S. I remember the falcon research. And why. :o) <3 said...

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