Last time, I spoke of how not to tell people your character is attractive. This time, I’m going into a reason writers keep making attractive Main Characters–a good reason.
I’m not saying there aren’t bad ones, because there are, and plenty of them, but those are boring and you can probably already guess them, and you don’t read this blog to find out boring things you already knew. I doubt as much, in any event. (If you are, wow, what the heck, man?)
The good reason. Very often, writers like their MCs. A lot, even. And an odd but common phenomenon that occurs when you like someone, even with an entirely platonic affection, is that they start to look better to you.
This can be observed most starkly and commonly with parents of newborns. Newborns are pretty ugly. Just sayin’. They’re probably discolored and wrinkled, and at their best they’re strangely shaped with largely vacant expressions. But not yours. Never your own. Your little misshapen prune of joy is just. So. Perfect.
The parents, bless their blind hearts, so rarely see the ugliness. They, and occasionally other particularly close or silly family and friends, can see what other people may not see until a few months later, a few years later, or possibly even never.
So there’s something you’ve got to remember about authors. They’ve spent a lot of time with their MCs, as the latter gestates in their imagination and on the page. The writers carried these characters for months, most likely, and they love their babies, warts and all.
Sometimes, to the point of not seeing some of those warts. As they grow in something like friendship with their characters, blemishes just seem to…vanish. Sometimes, to the point that they’ll tell you that there ain’t no warts nohow. When this goes far too far, a Mary Sue is born.
I caught a particularly startling glimpse of this when my author wrote 50,000 words of a lit fic called Sheer Dumb Muscle. The point, I tell you, the point of a lot of the book has to do with the Male Main Character dealing with the fact that he is absolutely hideous. Seriously, Tirzah built his face specifically to be, in her opinion, altogether irredeemable. I quote:
His face is skewed up and sideways; lip pulled into an permanent sneer that makes it hard for him to close his mouth; his brow, as yellow-blond as his crew-cut hair, is wide, and spreads unbroken across his forehead, torqued up over one eye. Below the highlighter-streak of monobrow, his eyes are round and wide-set; pale blue with darker rims. Set in another face, they might be striking, even captivating. As they are, they lend to a vacant look. Two empty zeroes in an empty, ugly face.
That’s not all, but it should be enough to give you the idea.
Some twenty-thousand words in, d’you know what starts happening? Tirzah starts really, really liking this guy. He’s sweet, he’s determined, and he works so very hard, and–the face in her mind begins shifting. The eyes aren’t quite so wide-set as all that. The nose isn’t puggish after all. His jawline squares up.
Slowly but surely, he’s getting handsomer. What? What? How did this happen? It can’t be allowed to happen; the entire character struggle and social commentary hangs on his very ugliness. Why the shift? Is it because she isn’t capable of really, really liking a character that isn’t handsome, the shallow hypocrite?
Actually, it’s a bit like the opposite. It is, in fact, the work of the phenomenon I mentioned at the beginning: the more you like a person, the better they will begin to look in your eyes.
That’s sweet, it actually really is. But it’s also a problem. Writers, your readers haven’t spent as much time learning why your MC should be adored. Your readers haven’t spent ages with your character incubating in their head. When you write, you have got to remember that. It comes down to what I said in the last post:
Love your characters’ looks all you want. Love your characters all you want. But when you write, keep it professional. Writing is not a time to fangirl or fanboy over your creations. Tell us the facts. Tell us the story. If you call yourself a writer, you have a job to do, and you can’t let your feelings get in the way of it.
Don’t push us away by eloquently fawning over babies that may look plain or even kinda pruney to us. Let us get to know them naturally, and we might just come to agree with you that, man, don’t they look so yummy/aren’t they the greatest thing in chain mail/they’re just such an incredible badass/whatever.
There is a time to eloquently fawn. When no one else can hear you. Or when only others just as enthusiastic can hear you. And if you want to possess any shard of dignity, over things you didn’t make.
And then, there is a time to write stories.