3/2/16 - Making Characters Attractive
This seemed like a totally ridiculous topic when I first typed the heading. But stick with me for a minute. I'm frequently asked if I have particular visual inspirations for my characters. "Who do you see as so-and-so?" Sometimes I don't have anyone in mind. But sometimes I do, and I'm hesitant to say, because I don't want to alter readers' mental pictures in any way. Because the character's exact appearance isn't as important as their level of attractiveness to the reader.
Now, what do I mean by attractive?
- It can be physical: handsome or pretty characters, pleasing to the eye.
- But that's a shallow way to look at "attractive." So instead, I mean that the character should be pleasing to our intellect, and above all, should be attractive - or interesting - to read about. So the goal is a readable character.
So the question becomes: What sorts of traits captivate readers?
The answer is: It depends. The second you assume all readers are drawn to the same thing is the second you've excluded a portion of the reading population. Therefore it's important not to look at beauty as a purely physical quality; you have to step outside the box and consider all the ways in which all sorts of people appear beautiful to others.
Fascinating is beautiful:
It's easy to be struck by overwhelming physical beauty. But most people aren't knock-you-out gorgeous. Instead, living and working around someone fosters attachment, affection, and eventually fascination. You find yourself noticing little things: the way they chew on the end of their pen, their love for a particular color, their addiction to Starbucks; that little pained smile that means no, things are not okay, but they're going to pretend anyway. Little things that become endearing and special because you care for this person.
Smart is sexy:
Intelligence, a quick wit, a broad vocabulary, all delightful. The kinds of characters you can't help but love because of who they are, and who you then begin to find physically attractive because of this.
Other attractive qualities:
- Commitment to an ideal
- Specific skill sets: someone who is thorough and dedicated enough to become really good at something (you can take that the dirty way if you want, but I mean it more innocently than that, ha!)
It's also important for your character's perspective to be an attractive place to be, if he or she is narrating parts of the story. Characters who are struggling toward some goal, trying to find their place, questioning things, trying to solve problems, wrestling with feelings. Characters who have the ability to affect others, and be affected in turn. You want to establish a unique voice for your character; his or her inner monologue should be entertaining, emotional and enlightening.
Beware the trap of "just your average." John was just your average bad boy. Jane was just your average twenty-something girl. Ahh! Kiss of death as far as interest goes. Even if a character thinks of him or herself as average, you've chosen this character to tell a four-hundred-plus page story to the audience; make this character attractive on the inside, even if the world sees him or her as average.
Take into account that different people have different taste. I caught hell for Walsh being "short," and "not an alpha." But personally, I'm five-one, horribly jaded, not impressed by overt hotness, and would love to meet a guy who's smart, and thoughtful, and not such a blowhard. So Walsh is attractive to me, and hopefully to some of my readers. My taste varies, and is dependent upon personality and presence. So in my writing, I try to think of the audience as diversified: not every reader will find every character handsome, but hopefully she'll find them interesting, fascinating, and therefore attractive.
And of course, the biggie, when it comes to romantic relationships, it's important that the characters see each other as beautiful, regardless of physical looks. Because, isn't that love? Wanting to be with the one you find most beautiful? So as a writer, it's about showing the character through his or her lover's eyes, rather than painting them in an objective light.
Just things to consider. Until next Wednesday, Happy Writing.