Recently, a critique partner expressed her concern that one of my characters might be too pretty to be relatable to the average reader. I know this character so well it had never occurred to me that this would be a problem. Her insecurities and faults are so obvious in my head, that when I’d read my critique partner’s note the realization was a face-palm moment.
Without going into too many details, this character is extremely fit and has a good reason for being in shape. That reason works with her background and the story’s plot, and my CP recognized, without me having to say so, that changing this detail wouldn’t help the manuscript.
Instead, my CP offered direction in a super helpful way and the result is a much more rounded character.
So how did we fix the problem?
So many successful young adult books feature characters that don’t feel pretty, but actually are. Twilight is a prime example of a girl who’s convinced she’s plain and yet catches the attention of the most beautiful guy in school (as well as a bunch of other guys.)
Being self-conscious is huge part of growing up. Even one of the most self-assured, beautiful people I know, hides her ears beneath her hair every chance she gets, because she thinks they stick out a little too much. They don’t—she’s gorgeous!
The point I’m trying to make? You don’t have to give your characters a gap between their front teeth or eyes set too far apart just to make them relatable to readers.
Things you can do to make a pretty character relatable:
- Take the thing that makes them beautiful, and make them self-conscious about it.
This proved helpful in my case. By making my character self-conscious about her muscular physique, I was forced to pay more attention to choices she makes. Things like wearing long-sleeve shirts even in summer, and avoiding shorts because no matter what they always look too short next to her muscular thighs says a lot about how she wants to be perceived.
She’s not the kind of girl who’s dying for attention, and it enforces her internal struggle to blend in, even if someone (wink) finds her hard to ignore.
- What outside influences reinforce these emotions?
My friend who is self-conscious about her ears, doesn’t spend every waking moment thinking of new ways to cover her ears, or dreading people seeing them. She’s confident, and more importantly—she’s got other things on her mind besides her looks.
But whenever she’s sees a picture with her ears poking out of her hair, her shoulders slump.
Similarly, if my character is rock climbing, and someone exclaims, “Geezes, your arms are beast!” while staring at her deltoids, and grasping the attention of everyone in the vicinity, my character will never wear that tank top again.
These outside influences spark, and even reinforce their insecurities, making them more relatable to readers.
- How are they empowered by this trait?
This one is easier said than done when it comes to a character. My character is strong. Her strength—physically and mentally—keeps her alive. Eventually she comes to understand that.
Characters that are self-conscious about traits like ears that stick out a little bit may get over that insecurity because another character finds that trait adorable.
I generally don’t feel that they ever have to get over those small things. Learning to love yourself is a great lesson, but those small insecurities are what make us human, and in reality some of us never get over the things that make us different.
Still, it doesn’t hurt to consider step 3, on the chance that you could be creating a rounder character in the process.
Keep in mind:
Your goal as a writer isn’t to make an ugly character just because you have to (not that your character can’t be ugly, that’s cool too). It’s about connecting with your reader on an emotional level.
I’d never come out and said my character is gorgeous, but because she’s in shape it could lead someone to believe she is gorgeous and alienated that reader as a result. Take a look at your character and really analyze their faults and insecurities. If they don’t have any, you have a problem.
By taking into consideration how your particular character experiences the things that have happened in the past that makes them the person they are today, and the way they feel as opposed to someone else in the exact same situations, you make them an individual—beauty or beast.