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Not Every Character Should Be Beautiful

Us writers love to introduce beautiful characters. It’s poetic and tugs at our heartstrings when a dashing cowboy struts into the scene, and get all melty when the heroine winks while biting her lip. Both are beautiful.

But the secretary is beautiful too, and the side character pumping iron at the gym. The villain is devilishly handsome, and the random guy who shows up for five minutes to betray the secret in act 3 is described as “breathless.”

Now all of a sudden, Chad and Angela in the first paragraph have lost their appeal, because if everyone is beautiful, what’s to make Chad and Angela special above every other character?

I’m reading a book right now (which prompted this post) where everyone is described as breathless, beautiful, incomparable, etc., so now I’m desensitized, and the impact I once had for the handsome main character has been whittled down for me, and he’s no longer handsome because everyone else compares in their beauty to him.


If you want maximum impact, reserve the absolute pinnacle of beauty to one character. Others can be pretty, cute, commonly, plain, or – even better – just leave those opinions to the reader. In my novel, The War Queen, I never once say Kaelin is handsome. I describe his bonze goatee, crooked nose, and blue eyes, and that is it. You understand more of how he really looks when he handles his massive war-horse, straps on his armor, faces off with the enemy. I had one reader tell me, “Well no wonder so and so was attracted to him. He’s handsome.” But I never said Kaelin was handsome. Never even hinted at it. Never had a character think or say, “Kaelin is handsome.” The reader decided Kaelin was handsome, and it wasn’t because I told the reader to think that way.

I always enjoy books more when details are not forced upon me. Besides, saying, “X is handsome” is telling, and telling is bad. If looks are not pivotal to the plot, then don’t bother saying “Y is beautiful, X is handsome.” There is nothing wrong with ugly people falling in love. Let your reader decide those opinions for themselves.

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