How Your Characters View Themselves
By Jeff Salter
First off, let me clear the air: a lot of authors write characters who are too beautiful or too handsome — entirely too perfect. There: I said it. Now I’ll be banned from every blog … and no publisher/agent/editor will touch me with a ten-foot pole. [Good grief.]
Having leveled that charge, I must admit my own female protagonists (i.e., ‘heroines’) are lovely. Not perfect … but pretty and shapely. [Sue me.] My male protagonists, however, are considerably less than lovely. In six completed manuscripts, I have not written a single man with a flawless face from GQ or six-pack abs from the muscle magazines. My guys have been around the block a few times … and it shows.
How do you describe your characters for the reader?
The Resident Foxes have done a superb job this week discussing how NOT to describe characters in fiction. In my remarks on those other blogs, I’ve already revealed a few things about my approach. Here’s another:
Once – in my very first manuscript – I actually did use the heroine’s reflection … but it was in a storefront window rather than a mirror. And she was walking by on the sidewalk as she saw herself (and – for the reader’s benefit – described herself briefly). But in my other manuscripts the reader usually learns what my major characters look like through dialog or observations of other characters. Occasionally, a physical characteristic is revealed by a brief insertion from the objective narrator. [Yeah, I know — sue me for that also.]
Anyway, since this territory has already been better covered by the Foxes this week, the Hound will veer to something tangential.
In the course of your novel, do your heroes/heroines ever view themselves differently?
I’m not just talking about your character enduring a ‘bad hair day’ or having to wear an unflattering outfit (for whatever reason). I mean: do they have a phase when they just feel unattractive? Or, conversely, do they usually consider themselves pretty darned ordinary but suddenly feel radiant or desirable? Why? What’s different?
I pose these questions because I recall times in my own life when I felt gawky or geeky … or otherwise ‘unattractive’. Sure, some of this was during adolescence, but there have also been times as an adult when I’ve felt similarly. [So … is this T.M.I.? Am I the only one?] Conversely, there have been times – albeit rare – when I’ve seen myself in a different, much more positive light and thought, “Hey, you ain’t so bad.” OR “Dude, you’re holding your own compared to THAT bunch.”
I’ll wager many – perhaps most – of us go through phases when we view ourselves differently. It’s probably not an abrupt physical change as much as it is a waver in our perception or self-image … or even in our self-esteem. Or not — I’m no psychologist.
If your character goes through such awareness, how do you show it in your fiction?
But IF it’s a fairly normal part of human nature for us to have occasional flickers in our self-image, do our characters ever experience something similar? Is it logical / realistic for our characters to be so perfect and so consistent in their own self-image?
Perhaps it is. If so, disregard this blog — “this [text] will self-destruct in ten seconds.”
Otherwise, consider the questions below.
Have you ever felt gawky or geeky … or otherwise unattractive? When?
Have you ever felt suddenly radiant or desirable? When? Why?
Do you assess your own appearance based on other people you know, went to school with, or see on the street? Or do you weigh your looks against movie stars and other celebrities?
How much of your own appearance do you write into your heroine?
I’m Jeff, the Hound on Thursdays. Each month I have a Guest Fox and there’s a real treat scheduled for May 26 (in two weeks). Also once every month, I include a glimpse of my poetry (whether you like it or not).