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  1. Penny Dreadful
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    Penny Dreadful Senior Member

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    Stay out of my story, fatso...

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Penny Dreadful, Mar 14, 2009.

    So recently I started reading a truly awesome comic called the Runaways. It's a great series with a wonderful cast of characters. One in particular, named Gertrude caught me by surprise - a realistically overweight (yet cute/intentionally likable) character in a comic! You don't see many of these in a market intended, mostly, for males.

    So, I found it laughable when some of the cover art depicted her as slender and without the round, pouty face seen within (most) of the pages. It's as if the cover artist just couldn't bring themselves to draw someone heavy.

    It got me thinking about all the fiction I read. Had I ever read a novel, other than one of my own, where the main character was depicted as anything other than slim, trim, willowy, slight, svelte, ect, ect... if their physique is mentioned at all - in which case, you normally assume they're of average build or the hot little number on the front cover.

    Certainly, I had read books where a male is heavy or otherwise just out of shape... but, you don't get too many women with the exception of books marketed toward self-conscious teens and/or housewives - my apologies for the stereotype. :D

    It was just an observation I wanted to throw out there and hear some opinions on. I'm not particularly heavy myself, and I've never been above a few fat jokes in good fun here and there. I was diagnosed and hospitalized as anorexic at one point in my life, so that might have something to do with my annoyance here. Sure, I realize we don't want to promote unhealthy lifestyles but, heck, some people are just never going to be trim... And yes, I do realize it's a bit of an issue in most media. At best, heavy character seems to be endearing, supporting friend character.
     
  2. g1ng3rsnap9ed
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    g1ng3rsnap9ed Contributing Member

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    Maybe Kevin James starring in Mall-Cop will change all that...:p

    But in all seriousness:
    I have noticed this, but I have to admit that I too follow this market-law.
     
  3. Mcarpenter
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    Mcarpenter Contributing Member

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    Really...you find plump characters endearing? *mumbles to self* Maybe I'll go get an agent and take up acting after all...

    LOL. I've noticed the same annoying tendancy in myself when doing graphic designing for a workout video. The photographs were of perfectly fit people, but still I found myself fighting the urge to give them little nips and tucks with the Liquify filter. :rolleyes: I don't know why. In books/movies, I would personally love to see more plump characters...and more characters who don't sport a perfect adorable nose.
     
  4. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    Odd. I was under the impression that being overweight was unhealthy, in general. Silly me.
    Also, I figured that most people prefer to look at adorable noses, as apposed to ugly or disfigured noses. I mean, hey! I'd rather look at an adorable nose than an average or ALMOST-adorable nose.

    The problem is, I think, that being fat is just. . . not appealing.
    And in a world being steadily encroached by lust and burning desire, having a woman being fat would be somewhat of an oxymoron.
    You take the sex symbols of the show and remove the endearing part? That's just silly. Since no one cares how men look, they can be fat or otherwise.
    But women and men alike care if women are pretty or fat. (Yes, I have defined 'fat' as being inherently undesirable, though even I have seen some women who can be pretty and plump)

    Agh, it just bothers me. It's not like being fat is a disorder. If you're so upset about fatness, then lose weight! (I'm referring to a general audience, now, not anyone in this thread)
    The one thing that I will not stand up for is being fat. It is unhealthy, unappealing, and sucks.
     
  5. Ohbalto
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    Ohbalto New Member

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    I think it depends on what sorts of things you're reading. Some types of books are not going to have overweight people in them.

    Other books, well, are.

    And, something that happens a lot, I think, is that people may tend to either (a) put themselves into the action, if there's a lack of physical description of a character, or (b) associate a character with something similar from another book or movie, or whatever.

    The issue, more than wanting to appeal to a certain, stereotypical ideal, is that you can use a character's appearance to help the reader identify with him or her.

    For example, the book I should be working on right this moment instead of posting this, you have:

    Main Character -- 6'2", broad shouldered, big guy, former athlete (but, trust me, this is in the service of the story in a big way).

    His Wife -- pretty, curvy, sexy, a dream come true (also, in the service of the story).

    His Best Friend -- I went the other way. He's thin as a rail, gaunt, almost unhealthily so (and, yes, again, in the service of the story).

    Her Sister -- almost a head shorter than her sister, mousy, flat-chested, at one point in the story takes to dying her hair outrageous colors (and, yes, all in the service of the story).

    Every bit of physical description I just gave up there is in service to their role and development through the story. Which is to say, their outward appearance says something about the Main Character and their behavior, their roles, etc. in the story.

    His Best Friend could just as easily be overweight, but that would be pushing the character into a different direction. We, as readers and writers, may associate certainly physical traits, consciously or otherwise, with personality traits. It's short-hand for telling the reader something about a character.

    Which is, of course, horribly unfair, but it also works really well, so we keep doing it.
     
  6. rory
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    rory Contributing Member

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    Perhaps it has something to do with why there are stories at all. Most people, I think, consider themselves to be pretty 'average', nothing special ever happens to them. So, you have to be 'above average' for something so dramatic to take place in life that would warrant the writing of a story. There has to be something special about a character, whether it be looks, physique, talents, or whatever, in order for there be a story to write about.
    That's how my brain interprets the surplus of 'perfect' characters out there.

    There are stories out there where characters are described as 'not pretty' or 'fat' or what have you. One that comes to mind is Spindles End, by Robin McKinley. There is a point made that the MC is nothing special as far as looks go, and I know people who didn't like the book at all because the MC was described as plain. Reading is an escape from real life for a lot of people, so why would they, when they pick up a book, want to read about people who are having the same problems they face in the life they are trying to escape from for a few precious hours?
     
  7. Sato Ayako
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    Sato Ayako Contributing Member

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    I'm with Rory here, for the most part. When readers read a story, they put themselves into the character's place. When people do that, they generally want to be the badboy/girl. They want to be skinny, awesome--everything they may or not be able to be in real life.

    Also, there's still a widespread, unconscious stereotype against a lot of types of people. For example, fat people are often seen as lazy, evil, stupid, or, sometimes, good but ineffective. They're sweaty, ugly, and disgusting. Plain people are seen as too average to be anything great. They might be benevolent or malevolent, but they'll always be their master status: plain.

    There's also a general social expectation, as well as a psychological one. We've been cultured to like things a certain way. We idolize things or people that are a certain way. It's not fair. It's not right. That's life.
     
  8. Jiggy
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    I'd have to agree with the views expressed above me. Fat characters can work as avatars of greed, if you will, and thus are often portrayed as antagonists.

    I have at least one main character who's fat. Of course, he's based off myself. I have a good amount of female characters, and they're all rather thin. I guess it'd do me good to revise a character design to add variety amongst my girls.

    Although I do like to write strong female characters, I have one main girl who isn't as active as some of the other characters. Cassidy is more of a computer geek/otaku type character, and it'd be more believable if she wasn't as slim as my character Rosetta, the hobo who's lucky to get two meals a week.
     
  9. Dr. Doctor
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    Dr. Doctor Contributing Member

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    I find real life pretty fascinating when it's different from my own, so I don't mind obese/fat characters or "plain" ones at all. Stephen King seems to do a lot of this; check out IT and The Stand especially.
     
  10. Penny Dreadful
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    Penny Dreadful Senior Member

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    I don't believe anyone said it was healthy or had to be appealing. Personally, I think being on the heavy side is healthier for you than being a stick bug, but that's me. It's believable and realistic. You go outside, chances are you're going to see at least one overweight person. They aren't just there as a crowd of extras for the fit people. I think it stands to reason that they have their own lives too.


    Really? I only ever find myself hating the generic, lovely female lead. It's annoying and just too perfect. I think most people would rather sympathize with the compelling lead with flaws inside and out then measure themselves up to perfect so-and-so with issues.

    Now that I think about it, my villains are often the "attractive" ones. I'm not sure if the same goes for males, but do females really want to read about fit and perfect females even if they consider themselves fit and, even moderately, good-looking? I just want to kick them, but they're fictional... and that makes the process difficult.
     
  11. Sato Ayako
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    Sato Ayako Contributing Member

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    I agree that perfect female leads are boring, too, but they're vastly preferable to the other stereotype: the useless, screaming Macguffin only there to serve the male lead. All in all, I just try not to think about it. My stories are just not conducive to physically-flawed characters because I always have characters moving constantly. So I focus most strongly on mental and social flaws.

    I think, as a whole, we writers often put too much stock in our characters' physical appearances. Readers are going to imagine our characters however they please, so it's not really worth our time to worry about it.

    Sometimes I'd like to kick characters I read about as well. They're usually the hyper-perfect, flat-as-cardboard types. I've burned a couple of books I've been so frustrated. That's about the only way you can kick a character. . .
     
  12. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    It is odd, huh? I mean most of Americans are overweight, so you would think they would identify with an overweight character, but I don't think they want to be reminded of it. For that reason overweight characters will probably never sell well.

    In the novel The Never Ending Story, the MC the boy is overweight, but in the movie he is a skinny kid.

    I haven't written an overweight character yet. I don't think I wish to. Perhaps as a supporting character. Imagine trying to get a romance published wheere the hero and heroin are overweight. Hmm, I wonder.
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The first character who appears in one of the two novels I'm working on is morbidly obese. He is one of the principle characters. His weight and attendant health issues does play a part in the story, but his weight doesn't define him by any means.
     
  14. Gone Wishing
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    *coughs* Not all together true.

    Personally, I commend the use of pop-culture mediums to subvert stereotypes.

    That's all I have to say about that.
    ;)
     
  15. rory
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    rory Contributing Member

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    I completely agree.
    Let the story and the characters actions define how the character really looks.

    I consider myself moderately fit and not-quite-ugly, and I do like to read about female characters who are better than me. :redface:
    But that's just the way I am. I am a huge fan of continual self improvement, and I find that reading about characters who are fit and strong (physically and/or mentally) motivates me to get my rear in gear and be fitter and stronger.

    Character physique is, I think, largely a personal preference on the part of both the author and the reader. But I'll bet it's a preference most aren't even aware they have.
     
  16. Penny Dreadful
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    Penny Dreadful Senior Member

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    Maybe this is just a conflict of styles then. I like to write like I'm painting a picture, so when other books don't do the same, it bugs me. I need to know what a character looks like. I don't want to fill in the details for myself, and I hate it when only hints are dropped over time. Peppering the details over a chapter or two early on is acceptable, but if you're going to describe setting, actions, and mannerisms - explain how they look! It seems like a simple thing to me. I assume the writer had a clear picture of this character when they wrote them. Why don't they want us to see the same thing while we read? And, for me at least, the description includes their body type.

    Plus, there are some little things that make a difference. For instance, at the point I'm at in my main novel, one the major female characters is disguising herself in a dress left behind by one of her "master's" lovers. What begins as a scene with one man trying to lace her into the dress ends with three men in the same room discussing (in a blunt and technical manner) how best to make it fit while going about their own business. It's really just something happening while more important things are going on, but the writing did require me to touch on the subject of her figure - so, the subject of physique did come up there.
     
  17. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    I was making a point, when I said that being fat is unhealthy. The point being that we should not just add more fat people in stories to 'give them a chance'. People aren't just FAT. You have to over-eat, under-exercise, or both.
    Fatness is not an ethnic trait. It is a sign of laziness or gluttony, regardless of how slight.
    Conclusion: There is nothing inherently (or otherwise) wrong with putting only fit, average, or slightly out-of-shape folk in stories. Period.

    Also, you make a rather broad generalization about what people like.
    I mean, it borders on inane; you don't think fit people would like to see other fit people?
    Well, actually, you have a bit of a point there, only I see it a bit differently:
    I don't think someone who has drama in his own life wants to read about other people's imperfections. Since EVERYONE is imperfect and has times of turmoil in their lives, it stands to reason that if you do not like reading about what you are, then you also would not want to read about the lives of people who are fat and struggling with <their peers, fitting in, losing weight, playing on the football team, et cetera>.

    Anyway, none of that matters.
    Ultimately, many people like reading about characters who are funny, or strong, or good leaders, or have lots of potential that is gradually used throughout the story, and so on.
    Reading about some loser who has nothing going for himself does not appeal to everyone. There are, I think, plenty of stories like that for people who are interested, however.

    Frankly, I know three good books about people like that:

    The Misenchanted Sword
    With a Single Spell
    The Unwilling Warlord.

    Check 'em out. For books about people who have very little going for them, they are entertaining.

    As for me: I'm sick and tired of seeing, in real life, thousands upon thousands of females who are obnoxious, rude, unintelligent, have the vocabulary of a child's toy and the personality of a brick; complete with rolling eyes and exasperating use of teenage colloquialisms.

    It's a breath of fresh air to see kind, mature, pretty females in books. (But then, we could be talking about completely different types of books. There are plenty of books out there with female protagonists that I don't go NEAR because it's just too realistic! Agh!)
     
  18. Mcarpenter
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    I like to read about people with awesome 'character' and a good personality. I don't care if someone is thin and beautiful if their personality is self centered and shallow. Especially if I get the impression that they must be bulimic or anorexic to keep their nice shape. That's unhealthy too. Much more so than simply being 'plump'. Going to such extreme measures to remain thin can be deadly.
     
  19. Penny Dreadful
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    Penny Dreadful Senior Member

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    Trimmed that down some for quoting purposes...

    But that's an incredibly insensitive statement. People are overweight for plenty of reasons. Granted, many people overeat and don't exercise. I also lose my patience with the sort of people who complain about their health problems yet take no steps to improve their quality of life. But people can have health issues that make it difficult to lose weight or, heck, just be young. I know for a few years in middle/high school I was a little overweight. That doesn't mean I wasn't active. I ate rather healthy for a teen and was in activities like dance. I was already an angsty little thing what with problems at school and home, but teasing about my weight just pushed me over the edge. At 75lbs, I definitely had more health problems than I did when I was at 150lbs. Heck, even the middle ground before the anorexia was miserable. My normal size for my build at that age was slightly overweight and that's all there was to it. Now that I've finished growing, keeping an pretty average body weight is significantly easier, but I don't doubt that it isn't that way for everyone. It certainly doesn't change the glut of young, thin, "pretty role models" out there that are just as or even more unhealthy than those who are overweight.

    Similarly, my best friend is a vegan who exercises and rides a bike everywhere. She's quite pretty with plenty of self confidence, even if she isn't thin.

    And who says overweight people can't be funny, strong, or good leaders? I've met just as many slim people who were "self-hating losers". The fiction where I have run into an overweight character (where they weren't stereotypical [insert generic brand of evil here]) never portrayed them in that sort of negative light either. All those traits you listed have nothing to do with weight.
     
  20. Phelan
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    It's intersting, because I tend to have main characters that flawed in some way. They're usually overweight or short, have issues with health or personal hygeine, have embarassing quirks or are generally messed up somehow. I don't think it makes them any less appealing; indeed, I often think it makes them more human.

    I think too often people tend to write characters (especially main characters) as the person they would like to be. I try to represent something that gives the character an extra level of humanity, whether that be good or bad. After all, no one is perfect!
     
  21. Atari
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    This, and other things like it, are the only parts that irritated me.

    Since when are we comparing being unhealthily thin to being unhealthily fat?

    I NEVER said (and I don't think anyone else said, either) that being extremely, grotesquely thin is better than being repulsively obese.

    Also, no one is saying that fat people can't be strong and fun. The point, once again, is that many people (myself included) would prefer to read about a physically fit character than an obese one.
    That, to me. . . seems reasonable.

    When you sit down to write, do you ever think, "I'm interested in writing about an overweight girl. It'll be a nice change of pace from *scoff* FIT ones."
     
  22. Penny Dreadful
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    Penny Dreadful Senior Member

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    Never said you did - simply asserting that someone can be fit and still appear on the heavy side... and, of course that what the media (books included given the discriptions and/or illustations in some) can portray someone as fit in an entirely unrealistic way.

    Nope, just: "I'm interested in adding a little realistic diversity to my writing. It'll be a nice change of pace from *scoff* a cookie-cutter cast of Rockettes."
     
  23. Jiggy
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    I understand that completely. I design many characters to use in my writing, and I always try and give them something that prevents them from being perfect.

    You can be healthy and thin, you can be fat and still be healthy. But what about writing a character who's weight is a serious problem for them? What's the difference between writing a character who's fat and that's it, or a character who's weight is a health risk to them and that's a major detail when writing for them?

    On the flip side of that issue, I have a character who's too thin. It's not like she has an eating disorder or anything, it's just a matter of her situation that she barely ever gets to eat. Of course, she's used to living like this. Her friends will be very concerned for her, but she won't see much of a problem. It may evolve into a conflict involving an eating disorder somewhere down the line, but I'm not particularly enthusiastic about writing that kind of story.
     
  24. Ashleigh
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    I am absolutely sick and tired of these threads turning into a hate-fest against big people.
    yes, being excessively overweight can be unhealthy. Being undwerweight is too.
    But what matters in a book is that the characters appearence reflects their personality - and if that personality happens to be a a fantastic one, then WHY should they not be seen as beautiful?

    These threads immediately turn into a battle about weight because some total A-hole had to throw their opinion in about health issues.

    What the heck is this? I'm pretty sure you just made an extremely petty dig at somebody who wanted to write about an overweight girl, suggessting that anyone who finds bigger girls more appealing must be big themselves?

    What age did you grow up in? This is pathetic. This is a writing forum, not a hate-on-fat-people forum. Fine, if you want to discuss characters appearence that's fine.
    That is NOT an opening for you to start talking about how fat people ruin the novel experience. people who arent open minded enough to accept the vast range of characters that are portrayed through novels as a reflection of society itself, will NEVER get published. Anybody who thinks that way clearly lacks the experience to be a successful writer.

    I'm reporting this thread because some of the language here towards people who are overweight and underweight are making me angry and i see it to be very offensive to some of the people on this site. If you want to be offensive, go out in the street where you live, pick on somebody for their weight and see where it gets you.

    I'm not even going to point out the irony here that whilst everyones yet AGAIN debating about weight issues rather than keeping on topic, you are in fact doing it whilst sat at a computer for hours.

    Pathetic, it really is.
     
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