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Part Two - Physical Attributes
by Tina Morgan
Creating characters requires a little thought and time to get just the right 'person' for your story. First, you should consider why the character looks the way they do. Second, you need to consider when and how you're going to tell your reader what your character looks like.
Beauty or Beast?
A common mistake many writers make is not putting enough thought into their characters' physical traits. Because we are visual creatures, we tend to create characters we would find physically attractive. Our good characters tend to be beautiful and our bad characters end up ugly or scarred.
The strapping, tall man with intense eyes and biceps to melt for isn't limited to romance novels, nor is the buxom, long-legged blonde confined to the pages of action-adventure or thrillers. 'Fabio' clones fill the romance shelves and svelte sirens grace the shelves from science fiction to women's fiction. How many heroines wear anything larger than a size six?
To a degree, this is understandable. Many of us read or write to escape the pressures of everyday life. We want to imagine ourselves as more beautiful and alluring and our love interests as the epitome of sexuality. Those are generalizations but they illustrate the point. We don't want to dream about being ugly. We want to step outside our mundane world, even if our story is set right in our own present day home town.
Take a look around you. How many truly physically beautiful people do you see every day? How often do you encounter that super model or martial arts expert? I'm guessing not very often unless you live in Hollywood or New York City (feel free to insert the film capital of your country if you live outside the US.)
Some stories are going to demand more exotic characters than others. If your protagonist needs to be able to perform feats of strength and endurance then he/she can't be an out of shape couch potato. But do you need someone with a "perfect" body? Do they need to be so handsome that men/women melt when they smile and want to have sex with them where they stand? Is making your character physically attractive going to distract your reader from an underdeveloped personality? Maybe in face-to-face meetings where pheromones can play a role but not on the written page.
Take the time to delve into your protagonist and antagonist's past. Have they lived a sheltered life? Where they ever injured? Bitten by an animal? Do they walk with a limp from a skiing or biking accident? Do they wear glasses? Are they too thin? Too heavy? Out of shape? Super toned but with short legs and a long waist so he/she is out of proportion? Take time to look at the wide variety of people around you. What do you see? How can you use what you see?
One of the most interesting (and memorable) characters I've ever read is Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkorsigan. Miles was exposed to life-threatening toxins while still in his mother's womb and only the advanced science of Bujold's galaxy was able to save him. As a result of the poisons racing through his developing body, Miles is left with very brittle bones and only reaches the height of a pre-teen. Living on a world that fears mutations due to a history of radiation problems, Miles must prove himself to everyone. Including himself. He does a good job of it.
Bujold creates characters that
jump off the page but few of them are the model of
physical perfection. For this reason, her characters are
more endearing - because of their differences, not in
spite of them.
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