Some years ago I read a great essay about beginning writers trying too hard to make their characters unique. It was called or referred to the Mary Sue archetype as the ‘violet-eyed heroine.’ As I worked to improve my characters from dialog to depth I also wanted physical appearance that was reasonable. This means I want characters across a long story to have a good representative distribution of human features. Eye color is one, as eyes say a lot for people in body language. They are the windows of the soul after all. That led to research on the human eye. Here’s what I found about eye color and it’s distribution in world population.
First what gives eyes their color? It’s a mixture of three pigments that occur in human eyes blue, yellow, and brown. The ratio of the pigments along with the unique structure of an eye determine the color seen. No other animal’s eye color is determined in that manner giving so much weight to the unique shape of an individual’s eyes. Over a lifetime environment and life traumas can effect eye color. David Bowie’s brown eye was the result of a childhood injury. These types of changes primarily occur in the light colored eyes such as pale blues, hazels, or amber. The dark ring seen around light colored eyes is call the Llmbal Ring.
Now for the list of possible human eye colors and notes about them.
Amber aka Gold These eyes vary in color from orange yellow to russet copper. This is due to a high content of lipochrome pigment (low amounts of the blue and brown pigment) common in birds, cats, dogs, and wolves. It is rare in human but predominately occurs in the Brazil and Asian population. In cultures it is often associated with cunning and wit.
Blue This can vary from dark blue to very light sky blue. This pigmentation and structure includes violet eyes made famous by Liz Taylor which is due to a very unusual eye structure. The blue tones are generated when there is light blue pigment to no pigment at all in the iris and the light strikes ocular fluid then looks blue due to the Tyndall effect. That same effect makes the sky appear blue. This color originated in the Black Sea area from one common ancestor. Now 16.6% of people have blue eyes. This color is rare in animals as a whole but does occur in the follow – cats, Kola Bears, spotted cacus Lemur, jungle crow, husky dog breed only. In cultures it is associated with kindness and sexiness. (as a brown eyed person I note most actors have some variant of this ratio of blue to brown in Hollywood is skewed as are men/women, white/other races, blond/other hair color)
Brown This is a predominance of brown pigment. The colors can go from black eyes to honey which is just a shade darker than amber 50% of the world population fall into this color. The color is associated with comforting and intelligent.
Grey Pigmentation is very similar to blue eyes but undergoes a Mie scattering effect due to how the lens of the eye is formed. The lens deformity is most common in women and can even be seen in rare conditions as silver eyes. The origin of this gene is a single person from Northeastern Europe. The color is associated with cold heart and magical powers.
Green The coloration is similar to amber with Tyndall effect of blue and some blue pigment maybe added with the unique lens shape that causes Rayleigh scattering of light enhancing or giving a green effect. This occurs as a variant of the OCA2 gene which occurs in 1-2% or the world population but 89% of women and 87% of men in Iceland. This too traces back to one mutation carrying ancestor. The color is associated with deviousness and sexiness.
Hazel These can vary from blue/green based to brown/amber based. It is various mixtures of pigmentations and Tyndall effect with the lens giving Rayleigh scattering. These eyes can appear to change color given angle and frequency of available light. These eyes are associated with independence, restlessness, and tenderness
Albanoism The lack of melain gives the eyes a greater propensity to the red effect in photography. They will appear a very pale grey to blue that is lighter than colors of eyes whose ocular fluid contains melain.
There you go the range of human eyes colors. One interested thing noted in my research – eyes with lighter colorations tend to be more prone to disease of the eye. It is thought they don’t screen out the UV waves as much thus damaging tissue more, but that’s just a theory from what I can tell. So next time you are casting characters consider eye color distribution and what does the predominate color you choose say about your characters to the audience. We all can’t be violet eyed heroines…