“She was still attractive in a very ordinary way.”
That is an honest-to-goodness real sentence I plucked from a book I was reading. Not a book I kept reading for very long. And the author was a woman.
My eyes slammed to a halt reading it–at first with horror, then with roaring laughter at how stupid that sentence was. I mean, read that thing! What even is that?! This particular series was plagued with similar examples, but is a disease that flares up in many novels.
This is one of my writer peeves: introducing the character first and foremost by describing how attractive or unattractive they are.
I can’t even list how many times, as a reader being introduced to a new character, the first sentence started or ended with ‘she was beautiful’ or ‘he was ruggedly handsome.’ As if how attractive they were was absolutely necessary for me to continue happily reading or else I would be distracted with all-consuming curiosity about the hotness level of this character I was supposed to be picturing.
Whether the character is attractive or not does not need to be the first thing (or ever be) told to the reader.
This is plain bad writing, and makes me insane in the brain. If you haven’t noticed this before, start paying attention when an author introduces a new character to you and see how often this pattern emerges. When I noticed it, it was absolutely grating because of how unnecessary it was. Honestly, I started getting angry. Authors do not need to tell me if every character I read about is attractive or not before getting on with the dialogue or action. I’m good. They can describe key physical attributes and leave it at that, because I’ve got my own thing going on called my imagination that works pretty good on its own, thank you very much. I shape my value of characters based on how they act, not how they look.
If they are attractive, am I supposed to like them better? What a disturbing thought…
Give readers their imagination back, and stop devaluing the characters like this.
In my draft of my second novel, I have a character with a heavily scarred face and body. In that instance, I do mention early on how she physically views herself as it’s a clue to her personality: she doesn’t try to hide the scars. She’s not ashamed of something that could be viewed as ugly and disfiguring; her choice to leave her scars visible is an important bit of knowledge to share versus if she had tried to disguise them.
I also have a character who is handsome and actively hides it: he doesn’t want any attention drawn his way unless he chooses. It’s an important piece of his personality which is the only reason I specifically note that he has good-looking features. Otherwise, I deliberately chose to describe key physical attributes of other characters and nothing else unless it’s necessary for the story. No ‘attractive’ or ‘plain’ tag-ons.
As another real example, the fact that, “His face was hard yet sensual” does not give me as the reader valuable insight into his character. What does that even mean? And why note that? In case you’re curious, that’s a quote from the same writer as above…
Here is an example I wrote of where a character’s looks are important:
“The man sauntered into view. He was incredibly handsome, with sparkling green eyes, and a chiselled jaw. He was also the murderer of the Old Valley village. I could see why they’d trusted him…”
If the character is so beautiful it affects people around them, their attention, their trust, or if they have a feature that’s noteworthy, then mention it! If not, I have no desire for the author to tell me every time I meet a character if they’re hot or not.
- NEVER EVER use looks as a main-stay introduction to all characters in the book. It’s a splintery crutch to tack on that ‘she was pretty.’ Don’t do it.
- If it’s not a plot point for the reader that the character is good-looking (as defined by the character viewing this person), then why mention it? Ask yourself why every time you type those words…
- Describe one or two important or unique features instead of trying to convince the reader he/she is good-looking. (E.g. His stomach was strapped on like a wide barrel. E.g. Her green eyes were as vivid as the new buds of a willow in spring.)
Do you have a writer or reader peeve? Tell me in the comments!