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We have the typical common hair that's black, brown, yellow, etc. And we can call them brunets, blondes, redheads, and so on.

Even with eyes. We call them blue-eyed, brown-eyed, gray, etc.

What do you call the "uncommon" features?

For example, natural lilac hair? Or even heterochromia?

I guess they could be called lilac-haired or "hair the color of lilac" But, that's honestly 2 descriptions I could think of.

What about heterochromia? A pov of a person's first time meeting someone who has different colored eyes.

She stared into weird mismatched eyes she has never seen before. The person she bumped into have different colored eyes, the right eye blue while the other is brown

People with blue eyes can be called "blue-eyed girl/boy/man/woman". It would be the same with "brown-haired girl", what would it be when describing someone with an odd feature?

2 Answers 2

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@manuel-norman already covered the question of how to introduce such a character.

If you want to keep referring to the character after this introduction, and they're not given a name or role (e.g. "the clerk", "the mayor"), then yes, it makes sense for your protagonist to mentally refer to them by their most striking feature. Once the protagonist has adjusted to the unusual feature, writing "the purple-haired girl" really is no different from any other colour. The same is true for a lot of other characteristics like "the one-armed officer".

Admittedly, for other features it becomes a bit more clunky, such as with "the man with different eye colours", especially when you refer to the character a lot. But that's really no different from having a character with a long name or title. If you use the same phrasing for every occuring, readers will be able to skip over it and know who you mean. I'd try to avoid the temptation of mixing it up by using slightly different wording (e.g. "the man with one blue and one brown eye", "the man with blue and brown eyes") unless you want to draw attention to the feature and/or show that it draws your protagonist's attention.

If the descriptor still comes up too often, you could try rearranging your paragraph, so that some of the descriptions can be replaced by a simple pronoun. Or as the protagonist gets to know the character, they discover a new attribute (name, role etc.) that can replace the description.

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I think it is useful to distinguish two different cases:

  1. the feature is uncommon in our world, but common in the world of the story (think of fantasy novels).

In this case, I would explain it in a matter-of-fact way, so that it is immediately recognized as something natural in the world of the story. For instance, if a character has a head shaped like a cone, and this is normal, I'd write:

As I entered the shop, I was welcomed by a wonderful woman, her thick hair fluttering like tiny tentacles protruding from the tip of her cone-shaped head.

  1. The feature is uncommon in the world of the story.

Under these circumstances, I would imagine the scene in my head, figuring out what my first thoughts would be if I really met that person. Since the feature is so uncommon, I'd write:

When I entered the shop, I was approached by a whimsical figure. At first, I didn't know what to think. I was overwhelmed by the bizarre aspect of the woman, so unnatural, so peculiar, and yet, at the same time, mesmerizing. My brain was flooded by a bewildering sense of wonder: the shape of her head, a cone of preposterous size, gawked at me with tenderness, as the woman welcomed me in her den.

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    So, does her head speak or act in a pompous, arrogant way, or is her head just pretentious?
    – JRE
    May 11, 2022 at 9:47
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    How is a head pretentious?
    – JRE
    May 11, 2022 at 9:57
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    Try preposterous.
    – JRE
    May 11, 2022 at 10:09
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    Modesitt does this with hair colours. In some of his worlds magic wielders have a special colour of hair we don't have, and he has characters realize that the newcomer must be a magic wielder because of their hair, which he never entirely describes other than to say it is a grey that is not the grey of age, but rather the grey of being a magic wielder. May 11, 2022 at 13:02
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    @KateGregory: As a reader, when I see something like that, I'm just going to make up a visual interpretation and put it in my mind's eye. For example, maybe a magic wielder's hair sparkles in the light or something obvious like that.
    – Kevin
    May 11, 2022 at 17:07

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