WRITING WEDNESDAY: Beautiful
This is a pretty short WW, and it’s something I’ve touched on in other posts, but I wanted to talk about it anyway.
That ‘it’ is beauty, and its place in fiction.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand and accept that there are beautiful people in this life. More so now that plastic surgery and photo-retouching are readily available, but yes. There are people who are beautiful and good, beautiful and smart, beautiful and downright evil. Beauty has many faces, many meanings, many personalities.
But when I read fiction, I come across a hard to ignore truth: the population of beautiful people in the world of words is far, FAR greater than that of beautiful people on Earth. And when someone ISN’T beautiful, it seems like it’s either A) a big fucking self-esteem issue, or B) solely so someone can prove that ‘beauty is on the inside, hrpldrplehurr’. Or, conversely and ironically, because this person is evil.
My question is: how interesting, in a written work, is ‘beautiful’?
My answer: not at all. Not much. I’ve never been captivated by a description of somebody, never fallen in love with a character because he’s written as 6’5 and hung like a racehorse. Y’know why?
Beauty ISN’T on the inside. Sorry. That’s something called ‘character’. Beauty is a purely visual quality, and it tends to be startlingly homogenous when you describe it. There’s only so much I’m willing to put up with the wind rustling your character’s platinum curls, the shade dancing over his/her even features, the light shining in his or her (insert jewel-descriptor here) eyes. This is boring as FUCK, especially if, as is frequently the case, your character’s level of attractiveness has nothing else to do with the story.
If your character is beautiful for a reason, go for it. Like I said, I recognize that there are, even here on earth, some fabulously attractive people. But I do ask you: so she’s beautiful, okay. Beautiful, AND…?
Folks fall in love with a character for the way they react to a situation, the things they say, the sacrifices they are or aren’t willing to make. If you want me to like him, quit telling me about his rock-hard abs and start telling me about how kind he is to the palace charwoman. Stop telling me about her beautiful dress and start telling me about how red she turns when someone insults her, how easily she flies off the handle. Obviously, the opposite is also true–if you want me to hate him, tell me about how he fell asleep in the Council hall during a crucial meeting, etc.
Beauty–looks in general, unless there is something particularly eye-catching about your character–is worth a word every few chapters, at most. And honestly? Not everyone is beautiful. Not everyone SHOULD BE beautiful. And when someone IS beautiful, people react to them differently. People are kinder to them, or jealous of them, often more likely to make things easier for them. A beautiful woman walking into a bar is more likely to get mobbed than an ugly one. I always find it silly when a beautiful female MC walks into a crowded bar and just sits alone in a corner. Has this writer ever BEEN to a bar?
Also. Some people–even good people–are ugly. They just are. It’s a toss of the genetic dice, people, not a statement of intent.
I’m tired of the association we automatically make between worth and beauty. I’m not a beautiful girl, and I don’t know how many times I’ve uttered this statement for some clarifying purpose and gotten like six coos and responses of ‘oooh, honey, of course you’re beautiful!’
No, I’m not.
No, it doesn’t bother me. Most of us aren’t. If I’d said ‘I’m not good at math’, d’you think I’d get the coo bath and pep-talks? No. But I can’t help being bad at math, either.
I do, however, fully believe that I’m worthy of attention and respect. I believe this has absolutely nothing to do with my face. This is even MORE the case for your characters, who don’t even HAVE real faces, unless somebody draws them.
If you want someone to like your MC, you need more than auburn hair and a dazzling smile. You need a person.
Personality is built, not on genetic die-tosses like looks and intelligence, but on decisions and reactions.
A person can BE stupid, but study hard. Or: a person can BE ugly, but primp carefully. These things tell me more about your character than beauty or intelligence ever will.