Gorgeous characters

Snow leopard admiring himselfIt struck me the other day just how many characters in books are gorgeous and I got to wondering why that is. Beauty is very rarely a key ingredient in the plot, after all, and the characters could often go about finding the killer, falling in love or saving the world without it.

Is it all just to enhance the wish-fulfillment part? As we step into the shoes of the protagonist and imagine it’s us kicking ass and winning the love-interest, we might as well be good-looking to boot?

Or perhaps it’s all a part of the “beauty bias“, making the attractiveness a shorthand for likable? (Iffy as the whole pretty=good, ugly=evil stereotype is.)

In a way, I’d expect books to be the ideal medium for including more plain or ugly folks. After all, if they’re the protagonist, we get to see their thoughts and fears, and should be able to judge them on something more than looks. And in a way, there may be an opposite effect going on–where the protagonists aren’t described as the hottest thing ever, but as we readers comes to like them, they become more and more gorgeous in our minds. (Beth Revis has an interesting article about that here.)

Some of my favorite characters aren’t good-looking at all–like Tyrion from a Game of Thrones (the book, not the TV-series!). Or how about Glokta from the First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie? (Once good-looking, but not since his torture.) Both are very intelligent characters, which is always a plus in my book (har har ;-)). Still, it seems more of an exception than not.

Looking at my own writing, I can conclude that several of my main characters are gorgeous, so whatever the “trap” is, I seem to be falling into it to some extent. ๐Ÿ™‚ Of course, Ehna from Possession is dying and chopping off pieces of herself right and left to try and take over Idh’s body, so she would be an exception. Idh is more weird-looking than gorgeous (in the eyes of the other characters), but he’s certainly very fit, being a soldier and all, so he’d qualify as good-looking I think.

What about you? Writers, are your main characters good-looking? Readers, any favorite ugly characters out there?

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6 Responses to Gorgeous characters

  1. Jonathan Hart (@ee_jwhart1) says:

    To expand on my tweets, a character’s appearances are being generated in the readers minds based upon cues from the author. It’s unnesecary to go into to much detail, and Id argue that one should only describe a persons appearance when it reinforces the story somehow.

    Thus if you just say “She is beautiful, with red hair.” The reader creates a woman with red hair and fills in the blanks with features that they think are beautiful.

    If you avoid describing them at all and focus solely on their actions and beliefs then the reader will generate a more normal looking person with flaws and imperfections. Like if you described someone’s personality to someone when describing a blind date you’ve set them up with. They would think, “oh, she’s normal looking, but you like her, so maybe there’s something…”

    Sometimes the description ties into what you want the reader to feel about the character. If you describe a woman like “She might have put on too much makeup.” That can be used to reinforce things you tell the reader later like, she’s not used to makeup or she’s over concerned with appearances.

    Furthermore, describing a characters’ overall attractiveness level can be used to foreshadow how other people will treat them. If you describe a Quasimodo like character, readers will expect that character to get some abusive treatment. On the other hand, a handsome prince will be expected to be beloved by most (except the jealous). This is so hard-wired into peoples thinking that if you write a Quasimodo, and other characters only treat him well, then the reader will suspect that something else is going on, maybe all the people around him are special, somehow, or maybe…it’s something more sinister.

    When you get into non-human characters, appearance has additional meeting. By being closer to human in appearance, or at least, being described as beautiful to humans, you are telling the reader that the character probably thinks like a human, and if they don’t, then they must look like that in order to trick humans. If they are further from human appearance (ugly, monstrous) then the reader will presume that they don’t think like humans (why would a Gorgon hate Monday’s?), and if they do, then it’s sort of funny (Ha Ha, The Gorgon hates Monday’s! Awesome.)

    • Sara Thorn says:

      Yes indeed, an author has a lot of power when it comes to how readers perceive characters’ attractiveness. And often uses it to create handsome characters, it seems. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I tend to create average female protagonists who are viewed by others as beautiful, but a lot of my men are gorgeous. Maybe that says more about me than I intend. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I’ve read books where the characters are described in unattractive/non-gorgeous ways (a hawk nose here, a too-strong jaw on a woman there), but if the character is attractive as a person, I find my mental image shifts to make them more attractive. Isn’t that the way it works in real life? You find the people you love to be more attractive than strangers find them?

    • Sara Thorn says:

      Yes, that’s very true, and I do think an argument can be made that in romantic stories, the protagonists don’t see each other objectively. At least not once they fall in love.

      However, it seems to me that in many stories like these (not all of course), the other characters also often perceive the hero and heroine as good-looking, which seems to suggest that they have a more “objective” beauty, if there is such a thing.

  3. What Rebecca said.

    I blogged about this a while back:
    http://kammerotica.com/personal-reflection-on-beauty-reading-and-writing/

    In romance novels it is love/attraction that makes the person beautiful:
    ‘…in the eyes of the love interest we become a โ€œfull beauty.โ€ Despite our own opinions of ourselves, this is what love does to anotherโ€™s perception of us…’

    I use the example of one of my characters who does not consider himself attractive, but the heroine thinks him so. Romance writers have to convey the appeal somehow, and being “gorgeous” in someone’s eyes doesn’t make a character classically “gorgeous” in a vacuum.

    • Sara Thorn says:

      Great post, Regina!

      As I wrote above to Rebecca, I think it makes sense that the people falling in love don’t see each other objectively. Not once they fall in love anyway. The reactions of the other characters are very telling though–if every male around drools over the heroine, say, I’ll conclude she’s pretty darn gorgeous. ๐Ÿ™‚

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