I’ve read a lot of books. (Shocker.) And most of those books are romance because I love reading about those feelings—the discovery of attraction, then waiting on pins and needles to find out if the other person feels the same way. There is something so basically human about finding love. However, I think many authors get stuck on attraction and have a hard time moving on to meaningful relationships. When I’m reading a book, there is only
so much physical description that I can take. If the hero’s rock hard abs are the main focus, it’s tough for me to take it seriously. I tend to roll my eyes when the heroine’s berry red lips and tiny waist are expounded on. Physical description is fine. It’s good to know that the hero and heroine are attracted to one another. However, should that really be the characteristic that is focused on the most? Do we need to keep going back to the fact that she is the spitting image of Aphrodite and his physique is like the statue of David?
My objection isn’t just that it’s redundant, or that it flattens the characters into nothing but their physical attributes.
My main problem is the message it sends. It suggests that real love only happens between excessively beautiful people. It suggests that the first thing we should be looking for in a companion is ‘hotness.’ It perpetuates the body image crisis. If we become so fixated on outward appeal, it blinds us to a person’s other attributes. If we teach young girls that the ideal man is good looking above all else, we’ll train them to ignore flaws, to discount warning signs of abuse. We’ll also train them to disregard guys with big hearts and impeccable manners unless they are wildly attracted to them.
Does that mean that good guys aren’t handsome? No. But should someone’s looks always be at the center of your thoughts and conversations? I can think of several books where Sally brings Roger home to meet her parents, and at the end of the evening, Mom mentions what a nice man he is, adding, “And he’s so good looking.”
First of all. Awkward. Second. And your point is? Why is that something to comment on? Maybe my family is odd, but I don’t remember my parents ever commenting on the attractiveness of a guy I was dating.
If we congratulate our characters on snagging that good looking man, then we’ll teach our girls to congratulate themselves on snagging that good looking guy. We’ll also reinforce the poisonous idea that their looks are what is going to get them a man. (BTW, I’m referring to what girls will take away from it, simply because the majority of romance readers are female. But everything I’m discussing goes both ways.)
Describing your characters’ physical attributes is important, but personally, I think less is more. If your hero or heroine finds their love interest to be good looking, go ahead and say so. But don’t keep bringing up how attractive they are. Mention his sweet smile and kind eyes, but don’t tell me how she gasped in shock each time he looked at her because she just.couldn’t.believe that someone so attractive could love her.
Of course not every romance book does this. What I’m talking about is—thankfully—the exception, not the rule. So let’s talk about Jane Eyre. (Yes, it will always come back to Jane with me.) Mr. Rochester is just a normal looking fellow. We know this because when Rochester asks if Jane finds him handsome, she answers truthfully with a ‘no.’ Yes, they are attracted to each other, but not because of each others’ looks. It’s so much more than that. It’s about compassion, and wit, and honestly trying to understand one another.
Characters’ relationships should be built on lasting foundations just like real-life relationships. Readers should be able to understand why characters are making a connection, why they are willing to let down their guard and take a chance on each other.
We all want deep, rounded characters, just like we want deep, rounded people.