I have been absent for a while. I'm trying to get back on track with all of my writing, starting today, so if I don't post again every weekday this week, feel free to write me an angry letter.
What I want to write about today is characters, and most importantly, character appearance -as in, physical appearance.
Spare Me This Crap
I read a review of a book today, and the description of the characters made me gag. It was essentially that the good guys were all sexy, smart and sarcastic and the bad guys were all hideous, smart but with fatal flaws, and also kind of lame and petty. I haven't read the book, so I can't say if that's accurate...but I can tell you I will not be reading that book. Ever.
This is a book for adults, mind you. It's not a kid's book where good and evil are clearly defined and there is no nuance or gray area, so that kids can understand the morals. It's a book for grownups, who are supposed to be able to puzzle out the difference between good, evil and the questionable in between, or at least try.
Apparently the author of this book doesn't have enough faith in readers to give you any actual substance in characters. The good guys (and girls) are so good they even look good! And the bad guys are so wicked it warps their outsides and they're just fugly. Wow. Yawn.
Give Me More of Characters Like These
Now I'd like to look back at Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. Sissy Hankshaw is a fox -she's a model, and she's tall, blond and slender. But she has massive (supermassive) thumbs. They're so jarring that they never even appear in the ads she's featured in. These thumbs are her defining physical characteristic, and they shape her destiny: she's a hitchhiker. It's what she is (mostly).
Sissy is still a complex character with wants and desires and depth, however. She is not reduced to one aspect of her physical appearance, and that's what makes her interesting. If Sissy was just a body attached to a pair of thumbs, ECGTB wouldn't have held my attention past the first three pages.
And another example: The Better Part of Darkness. Without giving away any spoilers, one of the main (and handsome) male characters' souls is replaced by that of a demon who purchased the rights to the body (seriously, it's a cool book. Check it out.). And yet, when this demon looks at the situation his host body was in, he doesn't run away from it. He's got this great new bod, a whole new lifetime to use it in, and he throws himself back into harm's way to help a woman and her daughter, despite the fact that he's a shady demon.
That's complex. That's confusing -do you hate him for taking over a main character's body? Or do you love him for helping? That is a real character. That adds value to the story. That's someone whose outward appearance may be attractive in the conventional way, but whose personality is their biggest quality.
Books are escapism. Sometimes readers just need to escape into that fantasy of the perfect bod/perfect mate/perfect life for a while, and there's nothing wrong with providing that -sometimes. On the one hand, escapism is healthy. We need it, and it's nice. On the other hand, it also tends to promote specific cultural stereotypes about beauty and its effect on personality (for example: the smoking hot bitch, the cute but shy girl who gets the guy, the bad boy who just needs some love and is totally gorgeous, the square-jawed hero with a dark past, etc. I am bored just thinking about these characters).
I want to read about real people, not some character who always has the snappy one-liner, the long legs and the straight blond hair. Real people are clumsy or have freckles they hate or always nick their knees when shaving. Real people are drawn in shades of gray.