March 14, 2013
Your Characters Don’t Have To Be Pretty
I was reading a mystery book the other night and a few pages into it, one of the main characters was introduced. The author did a fantastic job of describing how beautiful she was. I was in awe of this author’s talents. I could picture everything about her character. Then a few chapters later, I met another character, and he was as beautiful (in a masculine way) as the female lead. Then I met a few more characters. And they were gorgeous. By the time ten or twelve chapters rolled by, I’d met no less than 9 characters and guess what—yes, you guessed it—they were all perfect.
Too many books are filled with gorgeous women and guys who are hunks. They all have perfect teeth, eyes you can fall into, and bodies to die for. I know that it’s easy to dream about these types, imagine yourself doing…whatever, with them. But the world is not populated with clones of Jessica Alba and Brad Pitt. Jessica and Brad are unique. There is one of each. And yet, many books are filled with page after page of perfection. It reminds me of a chorus line in a Vegas show, where all the women have perfect legs and every move is synchronized.
What Do Your Characters Look Like?
Do They Look Like This?
I don’t know why Jessica’s picture came out so much bigger. I swear I don’t.
Or Do They Look Like This?
Ruggedly-handsome or stunningly-gorgeous characters are fun once in a while. But we have to realize the world isn’t populated with only those type of people. There are people like me: short, bald, a little too much pasta hanging around my gut.
I know that almost any man on earth would love to get real close to Jessica Alba, and I’m just as certain that most of the ladies would love to do the same with Brad Pitt.
But What About Petey?
Are you ready to plant a big juicy kiss on those lips? Not likely.
I don’t know Jessica, or Brad. They might be the nicest people on earth. I’m sure they are. I know most of their adoring fans hope they are. But I do know Petey. He’s a pig on our sanctuary, and he is one of the nicest people on earth. (On our sanctuary, pigs are people too.) He has earned the nickname from everyone who knows him of “Sweet Pete.” And every day he reinforces the reasons he earned that name.
What Does This Have To Do With Writing?
Petey reminds me of a lot of characters in books, or the ones that should be in books. He’s the ugly duckling and the misfit toy. In other words, he’s not perfect.
A less-than-perfect character gives you a chance to let the reader focus on the character’s personality. In fact, it makes you, as a writer, dig deeper to create that personality. Instead of searching your thesaurus for yet another way to describe perfection, you might find yourself thinking of clever dialogue, or actions, that pique a reader’s interest.
A wonderful example of this is the way author Brent Weeks does it. He has a character named Kip in his Lightbringer fantasy series. Kip is not a perfect character. He’s not your ordinary superhero fantasy star. He’s a little overweight. He tends to get nervous. And he’s not a genius. But before you know it, Kip wins you over and you discover he’s a real character. Someone you can feel sorry for. Love. And fear for. If you like fantasy and haven’t read Brent Weeks, try him out.
Connie Gianelli, the main character in my Blood Flows South series, is not gorgeous. She’s got a nice ass. She’s sexy. But she has a bump in her nose, her lips are “too thin” and her boobs are small, at least in her mind. She is never described as pretty anywhere. I try to let her personality define her.
Connie’s partner, Tip, has a long nasty scar on his face and isn’t described much either. In fact, I seldom describe my characters. I believe that each character needs to be unique, just like real people, and I think if you do that your readers will love you for it.
The next time your hands are resting on the typewriter, ready to churn out yet another character, instead of “beautiful female #B124,” consider an “ugly duckling” or a “misfit toy” or even a “Sweet Pete.” Your readers will be glad you did.
Ciao, and thanks for stopping by,