1. J.C.O. Goss
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    J.C.O. Goss New Member

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    Female protagonist

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by J.C.O. Goss, May 11, 2014.

    I'm writing a short story/borderline novelette to submit to a sci-fi magazine. My question is this: Is stating that the female protagonist is average in attractiveness to most people a sign of trying too hard not to be too cliche? Should I avoid mentioning general opinion at all?

    The male protagonist thinks she's beautiful, but I don't want her being seen simply as a stereotypical gorgeous heroine.
     
  2. matt_kicking
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    matt_kicking Member

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    Are you writing 1st or 3rd person? If you're describing her 3rd person I'd say don't be afraid to be honest in your description and paint her as being plain/average, absolutely not harm in that. It's just about how you convey that to the reader, as with anything. If a character is convincingly described as beautiful/plain the reader will go with it, but if they're described as beautiful/plain poorly then it could end up looking contrived/stereotypical/clichéd etc.

    So in a round about way I'm trying to say no, by making a character plain you're not trying too hard to not be clichéd, but you have to make sure the reader doesn't think you're trying too hard (hope this makes sense to someone other than myself...)
     
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  3. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd avoid outright describing her as being average. Another way might be entering the mind of another character and describing her that way, or setting up a social scenario that shows that the men around her are more attracted to her beautiful friend or something. Also, if you're trying to avoid stereotypes then you might want the male protagonist be attracted to her intelligence, perseverance, independence, and so on. He might think she's beautiful because of all her other qualities. I don't know.
     
  4. Bjørnar Munkerud
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    Bjørnar Munkerud Contributing Member

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    You could imply that, though the male protag thinks she's attractive, most others don't. We have to remember that attractiveness is subjective, so it's legitimate to mention who's attracted to who when that actually matters and then leave the rest to the reader's imagination. Obviously the reader won't get to see for themselves how attractive they find each character outside a few general remarks about height and hair and eye colour, but that's just how it has to be in written media.

    If it's an important part of a character that he or she is physically attractive (or just generally romantically sought after by other characters) as seen by a large number of people in your story (potentially even everyone, in less realistic, but still legitimate, situations), it's naturally completely fine to say he or she is; the point's that you don't say they are attractive, but that people tend to find them attractive. Don't create characters because you find them attractive, either, and don't state that you (as the author or narrator, or just blatantly claim that they objectively are) do think they are, but, by all means, if it helps you create great characters to take inspiration from what you yourself find desirable, go ahead. That way you know it's realistic that the male protag will fall in love with her, because you already know somebody can like her, namely you, even though you probably will, if you play your cards right, know most people won't: and that makes for an intriguing, realistic relationship and storyline.

    Also: Why can't she be gorgeous? Tropes are not bad, after all (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TropesAreTools). She doesn't have to be a bad, over-the-top, ridiculous Mary Sue; she could be the most beautiful /sexy/best/perfect person ever, if that's what your story needs. If your story will benefit from a less black-and-white look at things, however, it's certainly a good idea to give her some realitic, human depth with flaws that are both common and uncommon, physical and personality-based, cureable and incureable, known and secret. If this person is you, liked by you, a mashmash of various people you know (of) or whatever, it doesn't really matter, as long as she is interesting and is capable of having interesting relationships, romantic and/or otherwise, with other people, perfect or imperfect and fits your story.

    So, to conclude, general opinion can be OK, but is generally not necessary. Claiming a certain level of attractiveness, however, is a big no-no, unless the narrator is a turdbucket and it's all a show all along. Seek to write perfect characters and relationships, but that doesn't mean they have to be perfect people. And who are you to judge, anyway, right? Depth and realism are just as important and valid writing tools and techniques as having super-human characters and paradises to look up and escape to. You need conflict and imperfection in your story for it to work and for there to be a story, but how much and what part of the story (MCs, villains, bad luck, nature, science, stupidity, group behaviour or mysterious purple beams of light appearing out of nowhere) that should apply to is up to you to decide. Characters, like people, need hope, something to fight for, though, so don't make everything gritty and terrible or there will agin be imbalance (it's no fun, after all when everything is piece of cake, and certainly not when there's no hope whatsoever of a happy ending).
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2014
  5. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    Your other characters can think she is attractive, while she thinks she is average. If your story is in her point of view, you don't have to mention it. The male characters can mention it.
     
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  6. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I second @lewislewis, it must be possible to be attracted to a person on other grounds too than just the looks. Sometimes average looks can also "grow on you" and you start to see beauty in her features others do not see. If this is tied to the POV of your male character, it's clearer this is not the public opinion, just the way he feels.

    Isn't that like 99% of girls? :D "I'm so ugly, waah!" but somehow they always get laid whenever they want to...
     
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  7. Pandemonia
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    Pandemonia Member

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    Unless the character's attractiveness is central to the story, why mention at all whether she is or is not gorgeous? As long as the main character finds her so?
     
  8. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have the exact same issue with my female protagonist - and was told to focus more on what her physical traits and style traits actually are rather than how they are perceived and let readers make their own decisions about whether that's pretty. There are a lot of ways to be average, so it's not actually descriptive, actually there's probably a broader range of "average" people than "beautiful" people as beauty perceptions are somewhat standardized and average is anyone who deviates. In my case, the character is 5'2", thin but not too thin, is Greek-American with Mediterranean features, and has black hair that she wears in a bob that comes down to her chin. She'd probably be considered pretty average by modern beauty standards - but she's also a distinctive individual.

    If you want to make a statement about how much attention she does or does not receive from the opposite sex - you can either talk about it, or show it though the actions of others toward her.
     
  9. TheBaconThief
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    TheBaconThief Member

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    Depending on the story you are writing should you state the level of attractiveness of the female protagonist. If the genre is toward romance than by all means write that out but if romance isn't the genre or a focus of a chapter then have people interacting with her to gauge her appearance. Be subtle about it. If most of the people she speaks with doesn't try to flirt with her, that could mean she isn't super model material and she is "average" in appearance.

    Try not to think too hard on that aspect of her character. Explore her own identity first before jumping to a description of her appearance.
     
  10. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes.
    Yes. As with as many aspects of her appearance as you can possibly avoid mentioning.
    If character x falls in love with character y, it does not prove that character y gorgeous.
     
  11. PensiveQuill
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    PensiveQuill Contributing Member

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    I've read lots of female characters that were average to ugly. The author usually found interesting ways to get that across. Either describing the woman as androgynous, sexless, having some kind of masculine feature or merely stating that she would be unnoticed in most circumstances. Unless it's important that she be less than beautiful for plot reasons there is no need to state anything at all. Female readers will assume a female character is homely to average unless you state the opposite or all the males seem to be fawning after her. Perhaps the best way is to let the others characters reaction to her be indifferent. Female readers appreciate a woman who gets things done with something other than her looks.
     
  12. AsherianCommand
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    AsherianCommand Active Member

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    Or you know you don't describe the character and leave it open to interpretation.

    I mean being beautiful is different from being attractive. Being beautiful is subjective. Being attractive is natural.
     
  13. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sorry to contradict but "attractive" - like "beautiful" - is entirely in the eye of the beholder. Put two men in front of a crowd of women and ask them to pick out the most attractive woman and you will get two answers.
    I once was with a male friend and we had just finished a conversation at a networking event with two women - he was talking about what one of the women had said, and I asked which he was talking about. He responded "the cute one." This really messed up the conversation because he was attracted to the one I thought was ugly and vice versa - it took us several minutes to sort out what the other was talking about.
     
  14. AsherianCommand
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    AsherianCommand Active Member

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    Its quite fine,
    But you double posted.
     
  15. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I know - and I can't figure out how to delete - grrr.
     
  16. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that it would be a mistake for the narrator to call her average, because there really is no universal scale of beauty. If you want to reduce the weight of the protagonist's opinion, you could try to find a plausible excuse for some other character to opinionate.
     
  17. ToeKneeBlack
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    ToeKneeBlack Contributing Member Contributor

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    You don't need to describe her directly, but you could mention that she feels like guys tend not to notice her while the male protagonist considers her to be beautiful - so much so that he can't understand why she's single and comes to the conclusion that she's very choosy about men and he's worried that she'll turn him down.

    Not until some sort of awkward situation do they discover the truth. Make it uncomfortable for the characters, but not for the reader, and it might come over as a comedy moment, which can break the tension in a positive way if done right.
     
  18. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    You could just show her going through daily life without men rushing to do things for her. A typically beautiful woman will have men smiling at her more, opening doors (when she doesn't have her hands full), and other little things. If a woman is below average, she's not noticed.
     
  19. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    There are all sorts of people out there, pretty, average, smart, fat, stupid, artistic, rich, poor etc. Why discriminate just because someone has a certain quality? A character isn't automatically cliched or lazy or complex, just because of the way they look. If your character is average-looking, how does that affect her? Is she happy, unhappy, self-confident or a wallflower, etc. Marry her looks with personality, and if you feel it's appropriate to mention she's average looking (if that's what she considers herself to be, for example), it won't make a bit of difference, because it's not really what you say, it's how you say it.
     
  20. Sheriff Woody
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    Sheriff Woody Active Member

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    Avoid it if it's not important to the story.

    Is the hero's attractiveness important to Back to the Future? No. So it is not mentioned.
    Is the hero's attractiveness important to The Elephant Man? Yes. So it is mentioned.

    Is there any part of your story where the character's physical appearance or her opinion of it used to advance the story in any way? If not, just give the reader an image of what she looks like and who she is and that's all you need to do.
     
  21. Man in the Box
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    Man in the Box Active Member

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    Agree with @Sheriff Woody. It's pointless to mention looks if it's not going to be important (for example, if she's not going to be involved in romance or anything else related to looks).
     

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