what does he look like?

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Why is it that so many protagonists have attractive hips, a strong jawline, full lips and breasts (What does that even mean? "Full breasts"? Full of what? Are they going to breast-feed someone soon? How is this helping me to understand this character's motivations?), strong arms, eyes shaped like almonds and the colour of deep mysterious pools of dark water? Why are so many protagonists either extremely attractive or passably pretty at the least? And why despite all the pretty, are they such well-rounded, humble, non-arrogant, moral people?

Will we not connect with or care for a heroine (or hero) if she has a figure like a over-ripe pear, upper arms with the jiggly bits underneath that you have to hold onto when you wave goodbye, tiny myopic eyes and unrelenting adult acne? What about if they are only of average intellegence?

I wrote in an earlier post about how I avoid writing about my protagonist's clothes. I've found that I'm just as reluctant to write physical descriptions for them too! I don't want to make them attractive and perfect, and I don't want them to be hideous so what does that leave?

"She was of average build, brown hair, with one of those faces that you recognise, not because you know her, but because so many other people have the same generic features as her uninspiring face." What's the point? I may as well say: "She's looked like a woman, ya know wha' I mean?"

Maybe it goes back to Greek mythology with Helen of Troy, beautiful goddesses and handsome gods. Their beauty, grace, powers made them awesome and facinating. Beautiful people are muses aren't they? They inspire adoration? They are the stuff of songs and sonnets.

Or maybe we just don't want our precious protagonists to be blighted with pain of having to squeeze into waist to knee control knickers or the distraction of having to comb their dense monobrows out of their eyes.

What do you think? How would you describe your protagonist? Does anyone have a supremely ugly hero/heroine?


  1. I'm guilty, but then again I'm looking for a big time Hollywood person to pick up my book and make it a movie. But the supporting staff are dorky, so there is a balance of sorts.

    Stephen Tremp

  2. I suppose books are a little like Hollywood. They weren't always. I think of the Secret Garden, how the protagonist was constantly described as being plain. Now, when we write, I suspect we have the movie going in our mind, and we see our protagonists as movie stars. It is a bit scary!

    Maybe our goal should be to write for the BBC. They don't seem as concerned about looks (at least in their period pieces) -- and as a result they have wonderful actors who have amazingly interesting faces. I think I'll be shooting for BBC from now on. I'm sure it would make a better book, too. :)

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!


  3. I am SO with you! I get totally annoyed with overly attractive characters--drives me NUTS and I despise information drops on physical appearances. Little hints--things that can fit into some OTHER part of the story--okay, but it bugs me to get too much.

    This would be one of a very long list of reasons I generally avoid Romance. In my current WiP I HAVE some (description AND romance), but it (only description now) is all as observation of my MC who is my crime solver. The only description of HER is when she is contrasted with her best friend (they share the 'uncolor' of hair--between blonde, brown and red, and the MC is tallish and rather too thin where her best friend is shorter, curvier, and enviably huggable).

    Super attractive people generally make me hostile. *cough*

  4. @Stephen and @A.L That's just it isn't it? Lots of us visualise our heros through Hollywood-tinted glasses. (sigh)

    @Hart I like your passion! Super attractive characters are most annoying when they have no flaws at all. I wouldn't mind them being so smoking hot if they had some other terrible/shameful faults.

    I guess it's perfection that bugs me, mainly because it's so boring.

  5. I guess it depends on what you're going for. My YA novel is aimed at young women. The guy had to be attractive to the reader so she'd get the hots for him.

    The female protag wasn't going to be as attractive as all that, but my teenage daughter said I can't make her ugly. "Mom, nobody wants to identify with an ugly girl. In books we should get to be prettier than in real life."

    But I felt like the reader would HATE a very beautiful girl. So, she's cute to the guy protag. She thinks her hips are too wide (don't we all), though she's told she looks fine. I hope I left it vague enough for the reader to decide how attractive she is. I focus on personality and how she moves, talks, and behaves. I think that says more.

    Great great post! :)