How can someone be legitimately unattractive?

Posted by on January 9, 2015

I was browsing the NaNoWriMo forums, in the character cafe, and found a thread about character types that don’t seem to be very common in various genres, and types of characters that people wish would appear more often. One response, by Tarot.Writer included “Main female characters who are legitimately unattractive.”

What does that even mean? I guess it means that she is *actually* or *objectively* unattractive, but that doesn’t get us anywhere. I suppose I should bring up some of my past history here. At one point in time, I met a guy who I thought was ugly. I really did. But then, I got to know him, and I became attracted to him. By the end of the year, I thought he was beautiful.

Is that legitimate? Was he legitimately “ugly” or legitimately “beautiful”? If someone ends up finding a “legitimately unattractive” female main character attractive later in the book, does that mean the “unattractive” part is no longer “legitimate”?

I think there is a very big problem with the idea of “legitimate unattractiveness” and that relates to the art and craft of writing. It’s been said many times, many ways that you should only include details that are important to the theme or the plot. So, if you make a point to note that your main character is “unattractive,” the plot needs to deal with that in some way. If you then go through the rest of your novel and the unattractiveness plays a part in the plot, then it works. But there are very few times when that would actually be important. The most obvious time to focus on the unattractiveness of the main character would be in a romance, where someone ends up actually falling for the main character despite her (since the OP specifically is concerned with *females* who are legitimately unattractive) unattractiveness. But if that happens, surely that other person will actually now find her attractive! And that’s, I’m assuming, not “legitimate,” especially since that other person will likely be more appealing to the reader than his/her friends who might be laughing about said person falling in love with the “unattractive” main character.

Unattractiveness might also work in a mystery or spy novel plot as allowing the character to pass without being noticed, or perhaps blamed for a crime of jealousy against someone beautiful, but in those cases, the person can simply be “plain,” not necessarily “unattractive,” which implies whether or not said person is able to *attract* someone romantically. Now, I realize I’m playing with semantics, and Tarot.Writer probably did mean to include plain as belonging to the overall “unattractive” category. In that case, yes, I agree. I think there should be more “plain” female main characters, who may or may not eventually end up attractive to another character later on in the story.

To be honest, what I wish to see more of is male-female friendships. Especially where they ARE both heterosexual or bisexual. There are plenty of heterosexual female/gay male friendships in fiction, but generally speaking, if you have a main female character and at least one main male character, someone is going to hook up romantically, even in non-romance books. I want more friendships.

Readers: What kinds of characters do you wish to see more of in fiction, and why?

Writers: Do you ever intentionally try to include “rare” character types in your fiction? How has that worked out for you?

Last modified on December 28, 2014

Categories: Reflection
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