When I wrote about “Beautiful Creatures” last Wednesday, my follower, Wordschat, said “This looks so much like a Twilight wanna be but then again anything with ‘beautiful people’ will be.” (Wordschat’s blog reviews many aspects of his life: books, TV, movies, and novel–along with politics. Anything that effects his Canadian life, and I find his insightful writing to be a wonderful example of how we can take advantage of our technological world to communicate our opinions effectively.)
But–I wanted to discuss this “beautiful people” in novels, because, like many of you, I’m sure you’re sick of it. It’s repetitive, shallow, and, in the end, it’s impossible to relate to. Novels, it seems, go into this world where everyone (as long as they are a main character) is a walking super model (or a model in the making.)
What is with this and how can we, as writers AND readers, change this???
Readers: Demand a change. You have the power. Not the writer. Based on what you buy and react to, the industry WILL change. The industry HAS to adapt to what YOU want. But you have to demand it first.
Writers: Stop. It’s that simple. Instead of telling the reader how beautiful they are physically, explain the little things that make them beautiful to others. Use their personality.
Think of it this way: if you’ve ever had a lover yourself, what makes them beautiful to you? I hope your first thoughts don’t go straight to their physical aspects. It goes to their personality—who they are and how they continue to grow into the person you love. They aren’t set in stone—they are human—and they have flaws.
Personally, I find flaws are the most attractive part about a person. Not only do they describe a history, but they create a vulnerability that, when the narrator focuses on them, shows the endearing emotions of a character. This goes for all characters—not just lovers or protagonists.
I’ve created a list of attributes you can consider when thinking of how to create a “beautiful person” through personality rather than by physical forms:
Gestures: Actions speak louder than words. There is a reason this is such a popular phrase. Use it. Does a character go out of his/her way help, to show that they care? Consider creating a character who’s bad at explaining their emotions, so they, in turn, show it. Maybe they cannot make eye contact—so, in the rare moments they do, it means something.
Speech: Perhaps they are great with their words, but you cannot explain yourself in every situation, especially when a lot of people are around. Allow their conversations to change between different characters. Show how they change from one person to the next. This will show who they sympathize with and/or who they dislike. It will also create a relatable, emotional person, who may not even be aware how much they give away with their speech.
Physical: So they’re chiseled and their jaw line is impeccably defined. Great. I don’t care. Maybe I’m not attracted to that type of man, so why should I care? Keep your reader in mind. Use your narrator, and focus on the little things, THEY find beautiful. Consider using scars, birthmarks, injuries, or how they can never control their hair or expressions. Allow these physical aspects to create a beauty that is unique to the person, the narrator, and that will effect how the reader will respond.
I have one last disclosure: There, of course, are exceptions, but I want you to think about why they become exceptions. An example would be a novel about someone’s extreme beauty causes them disconnect. Their beauty puts them in situations where they cannot connect, because they feel as if people only like them because of their physical appearance. In this case, however, when you really get down to it, it’s their insecurities about connection that allow them to be beautiful. It shows a thought process. It shows an emotional response to the world. Use beauty in a way that readers will sympathize with how they are effected–not how they look.
47 thoughts on “Writing Tips: Beautiful Characters”
Thanks for the post. I’ve noticed this a lot in young adult fiction, and it can make it seem quite cheesy. Nobody wants to read about a ‘perfect’ character.
Excellent post, Shannon! It’s good to see somebody defying the “beautiful people” fashion. Characters should be flawed, and NOT just emotionally/psychologically. Bravo! 🙂
I think a lot of people believe they can have a gorgeous person as long as they are emotionally/psychologically flawed like you said, and I suppose this is true, but I hate to see every single character in a writing be this way.
Glad you enjoyed the post,
Sadly, books are becoming as guilty as TV and films 😦
Let’s hope to see some changes 😉
As always, I find your posts really informational and useful. A great point made here. Thanks for sharing, and good luck with the snow!
I’m glad I can help! That’s what I’m here for. If you ever have topics you’d like me to think about posting, please post in comments, and I’ll be sure to think it over.
And the snow is getting easier today. The roads aren’t so bad.
Thank you for the tips. It’ll really help develop the characters I am working on. Will seek your advice when it’s complete. Have a nice day.
Great advice. I write fantasy, so scars and war injuries are one of my go-to flaws. Though, I love flawed characters, so even if they’re physically gorgeous, I always have to give them some kind of mental or behavioral issue. Perfect is boring.
I really like this idea. If you have two lovers in your story, why not pick out a physical detail on one that the other notices? That’s way more personal.
Exactly! A small freckle. A concealed gesture. Something someone else might not notice unless they were intimate.
Reblogged this on C H Griffin and commented:
Great info about characters
Thank you for reblogging with your followers :]
Really appreciate this advice. I have someone in mind whom I love who would be lovely to discribe in words, seeing both sides of one person and the outcome of another. I need to file this post so refer back when needed. Thanks much.
If you watch the movie beautiful creatures, they got just regular people to play it and i liked it… if you read the novel beastly… the main girl is described as average but cute… he actually said in there that he didn’t want someone perfectly beautiful… but seriously i never really imagined the people in beautiful creatures as being ultra beautiful… they just seemed like a bunch of high school kids… the only one that was supposedly really hot was the girl cousin but she was a siren so i figured that went with the territory…
I completely agree on everything you said here. The cousin is a perfect exception to the astoundingly beautiful rule, but what makes her exciting is her insecurities towards being forced into the darkness.
To be honest I don’t really have a problem with people being portrayed as beautiful in books… i mean most of the books i read make them sound more good looking than beautiful… but so what… lots of times it’s a story about people falling in love and when you’re in love those people can appear like the most beautiful thing on earth… and that’s how i see it… people just seeing the world more beautiful because beauty really is just an opinion…
Well written. Well said.
Thank you for this! I don’t mind an attractive character, but when all an author talks about is how beautiful one character thinks another is (hi, Twilight!) or how beautiful she herself is (as with a series I enjoy but find this really irritating in), it’s just boring or annoying.
As a writer, I don’t think I’ve done too badly with this so far. The people who are beautiful are beautiful, but it’s not a big deal most of the time, and they’re not described in great detail, so there’s room for interpretation by the reader. My main characters are attracted to each other by the end of the book, but though they’re both sort of “beautiful” people, that’s not why they fall in love- and they spend most of the story travelling and in danger, so everyone gets dirty, smelly, and exhausted. It’s not pretty. They get bedhead, they have pillow creases on their faces in the morning, and he gets so tired that it actually makes him look older. I like that.
I think it’s just more fun that way. 🙂
I love what you described! That is exactly what I find to be more effective and ultimately beautiful in a story. Way to go 😀
Thank you! It is so refreshing to see a writer not caught up in the hype of making every character look like a “supermodel”. (Those girls may be inherently pretty but make up and photoshop do most of the work) Unfortunately this trend in writing just reflects how shallow our culture has become. It’s no longer “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. Women, and some men, are going through drastic measures to live up to society’s standards. Now that has crept into our books and only serves to re-enforce that idea. Let your characters be loved for who they are, pretty or not, by yourself and the reader. Personality will sell more books than beauty, and will make a longer lasting impression on a reader.
Your comment reminded me of a HUGE pet peeve of mine. I wish they’d use high schoolers to play high schoolers in movies. I’m tired of seeing a 27-year-old man playing a 16-year-old boy. I think it gives a false sense of expectations to youth, because a 27-year-old has a jaw line, and now that 16-year-old wonders why he doesn’t have it.
I REALLY hope they change that, but I doubt they will. As you said, our culture has enforced some of these shallow expectations, and we have to change it.
Very helpful tip! I think this suggestion also gets writers to practice the “show, don’t tell” technique that’s a mandatory part of all creative writing classes. Instead of describing the character’s beauty through a physical description, show us through his or her experiences and actions. Excellent once again.
Very true! “Show, Don’t Tell” is mandatory, and this post could definitely falls under that umbrella.
I agree very strongly with this! In one of my recent book reviews I also pointed out that recently all the guys I read about have that “sexy crooked smile”. It’s just come to the point that I’ve really started to dislike smiles that way. There must be a million different smiles and yet everyone goes for that one. Why not a smile that reveals a slight gap between the two front teeth or something? It’s less perfect, but I’d like it so much more!
Great post 🙂
Great point on the smile! That, also, makes me go tilt if it’s obvious that they are following the trend. (Great comment :D)
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Thank you, John!
Funny you mention this now. I’m in the middle of writing a book where everyone is a little left of beautiful. I made a conscious effort to make my heroes older, grizzly and more normal. Much more fun to write.
I like this advice. I personally rarely ever even describe my characters’ looks, except when they have a feature that distinguishes them from everyone else (For example, it’s a BIG THING at one point in my novel that my main character is a POC. [I don’t’ think that that is enough to distinguish you from everyone else in the real world, but it’s a fantasy novel and the people in that particular setting have never seen a POC]). I do have images of what my characters look like, but the only one I ever seem to get stuck on is my main character because I just love the picture I have. As a reader who thinks in words, it’s annoying to me to read a book with a lot of description of a character’s appearance, since I never even really form a picture of them in my mind.
You have some good advice here. I’m going to have to come back when I’m more awake and read some more. 🙂 thanks for following my blog
Recently, I came to the conclusion that my favorite characters in any media were the flawed ones. I think the pervasiveness of the “beautiful character” is a reflection on what society as a whole values. In “real life” we encounter flawed individuals every day. It is up to us to search out and find their beauty. In my darkest hours of life, I have more than once encountered someone who had the least to give, but yet gave the most. In every case, these individuals were ones that society wouldn’t deem “beautiful”. Buse their hearts shone through their actions, I learned that my ill-conceived idea of beauty was skewed. It was a great life lesson to learn, and perchance the reason why flawed characters are now my favorite.
very good post! it is more important to describe character´s personalites, that´s what will give them power as characters, and then each reader will build its own idea about the character looks.
I meant readers will build their own idea about how the characters look like.
I understood you 😀 And thank you for the compliments.
This was a timely post for me. I’m working on a young adult fiction novel which stars an openly gay protagonist. Within the gay culture, there is a lot of pressure, comparable to that put on young women, for young men in particular to be physically beautiful or to conform to an unrealistic idea of perfection. In my novel, which is very much a fantasy, I specifically created a character who addresses the issue of beauty, and what it means to be beautiful. I decided to go with what would be considered a physically hideous goblin who makes his living as a super-famous fashion designed. He believes that real fashion brings out the unique beauty inherent in each form. He has an assistant who is a drop dead gorgeous young elf man, who he dresses in a hideous sack in order to help free him from the prison of his physical beauty. All in all, I think this is the idea I’m trying to articulate about what makes beauty, and how beauty really is constructed within the eye of the beholder. If you don’t mind, I may do a blog post taking these themes further and link back here for my readers.
Cheers and thanks for your hard work!
I don’t mind at all.
Glad I could address some of your goals in a helpful way, and, of course, good luck with your novel.
I particularly don’t like rich characters, either, unless they’re Batman, who hates his money so it’s okay 🙂
I think it depends partly on the age group you’re writing for… different ages, different ideas…but these are very useful tips and well worth keeping in mind…beautiful people with no personality or flaws are boring and unrealistic, and sometimes we’re inclined to forget that 🙂
Effective not attractive – this is fresh and I like it. I’ve been letting behavior describe the character but this goes deeper. Thank you Shannon.
Loved the post. Great things to think about. I’ve grown to enjoy reading(go figure long after graduating) and I am experimenting with writing to keep sharp, and I’m getting board with my reading selection. Really so true about the attractive flaws. Flaws are what bring characters to life, giving them unique qualities. We don’t need to read about cookie cutter characters and the books I enjoy the most are the ones that push boundaries and make you squirm. I don’t want to read the mundane safe book and I’m tired of books where the lead female always comes off so codependent on the ones around her. I like stubborn ones the most. Lol.
Loved the post.
I always steer clear of describing my characters’ looks too closely. I find it boring as a writer (and a reader) to slog through too many descriptions. Unless it’s warranted by plot (witness Anne Shirley with her red hair) why bother?
Of course, I always get a good snicker out of reading romance novel descriptions from earlier decades. What’s my favorite… the 1970s hero who got married in dashing mauve velour? The 1980s heroine with the super sexy spiral perm and puffed sleeve dress? (Note to self: never describe the characters’ clothes, either, unless necessary for plot!)
Immediately reminds me of that Twilight Zone where the woman has had surgery and the doctors and nurses, whose faces they never show, take off her bandages in the end. And she’s beautiful. And their all pig-faced and warped. But because everybody’s pig-faced, she’s completely distraught.
That was a tangent. Nice post though. Sympathy for the protagonist is paramount.
Hi Shannon, I like this post. And I do agree that there are tons of amazingly hot people in the literary world, whereas not so in real life! I do think that a lot of times the first connection between people may be because they like the way each other looks, however that’s not real love of course, it’s just lust or infatuation. Real love definitely comes from who they are inside! And showing this in writing is important. Yeah, the first thrill might be seeing someone attractive, but what keeps you around? What makes it last? what makes it deeper? Good stuff…
I completely agree with this. I keep notes on the little quirks I see in other people and myself. I have found that the imperfections are what bring the character to life.
Very good blog post. I certainly appreciate this site.
Stick with it!