Why the Ideal Man is Not Quite So Ideal

17 Mar

Vanessa Di Gregorio

For an intern at a literary agency, there is nothing more annoying than opening up a manuscript, thinking it has potential, and seeing the story veer off into something that doesn’t work – and having this something be the same with almost every other single manuscript. And what is this annoying thing that just doesn’t work? Male characters who are attractive.

What do I have against attractive men, you ask? Well… nothing really, I suppose – except when it comes to writing; then, pretty much EVERYTHING is wrong with attractive guys. You see, the majority of partials that I read are YA. The majority of books I read on my spare time are YA. Savannah has mentioned an epidemic; this one that I’ve come across is frightening (and I’m sure you’ve noticed it, too). I’m talking about the Twilight epidemic that is attractive male figures.

Okay, so I will be the first to admit that I enjoyed reading Twilight (except for the last book; more on that another time). But the aftermath of Twilight has led to a genre of YA that is beginning to all look the same: paranormal romance. Now, I like some paranormal romance every now and then. I’m not trying to bash it. What I am going to bash, however, is the constant stream of weak female and/or plain Jane protagonists who meet sexy yet nice males that make me want to gag. I’m talking about the Ideal Man.

Here is what I think is wrong with this picture.

  1. Everyone is doing this. And I mean EVERYONE. It’s like… Harlequin for teens (not bashing Harlequin either, but I think YA paranormal romance shouldn’t ALL be so harlequin-like). And it’s starting to get a bit old.
  2. Why do these guys need to be drop-dead gorgeous? No, seriously. WHY?! Think about this for a second. Does this make them more likeable? Or more talented? Or a better person? Physically, sure… but that isn’t the only reason a girl should end up with a guy. Looks fade (unless you’re a vampire – and I don’t even want to go into the whole cliché vampire thing now). Is it necessary for them to have this inane ability to make females go weak in the knees, or salivate upon looking into their eyes? No (unless they are evil and attempting to brainwash your protagonist with lust in order to rule the world… or something). It really isn’t necessary to mention their drop-dead good looks if they aren’t causing women to actually drop dead.
  3. Chances are, that uber hot guy with the dreamy green eyes is pretty 2-dimensional as a character. Gorgeous AND sweet? Uh… Idealistic much? Okay, so maybe there are gorgeous guys out there who aren’t pricks. But chances are they aren’t perfect. They aren’t eco-friendly AND smart AND nice AND super sexy AND good cooks AND in love with the average-looking female protagonist. They need to have flaws. Every character needs to have flaws. ESPECIALLY the good-looking ones. It’s the only way to make them complex and INTERESTING.
  4. And if they aren’t nice? Well, why do I need to know that he’s attractive? If you’re writing realistic/urban YA set in high school, then go nuts – that’s what high school is: staring at and comparing hot guys. But if you’re writing sci-fi or fantasy or whatnot, then why do I need to know how super good-looking he is? Answer: I DON’T. Really. I don’t mind physical descriptions (as long as they aren’t mentioning his “muscular arms” as he leans over a counter). If I need to know that he’s muscular (ie. he is a trained fighter, or it makes him intimidating or something), then fine. That makes sense. If you’re writing Harlequin, then fine. But otherwise, let’s calm down with the obvious “sexy” descriptions. It can make your writing a bit tacky.
  5. Did I mention just how boring perfect guys are? YAWN.

I mean, isn’t personality SO much more important anyways? Sure, let us know that he’s blonde with blue eyes and that he has a slight build – fine. But don’t then say that, “she tried not to notice his attractiveness” or, “she was at a loss for words – he was gorgeous”, or something equally as ridiculous. COME ON. Seriously? I DON’T CARE. In fact, 9/10 times I’ve come across a super gorgeous guy who leaves the female protagonist speechless or whatever, I’ve been turned off and end up saying that I think it needs a rewrite before it is resubmitted (the one exception was because there was a good reason for his attractiveness – it added to the plot). The whole “ideal guy” is getting very old, very fast. And is too cliché. If there isn’t a reason plot-wise to mention how attractive he is, then don’t. I’m sure by the end, if he ends up being the romantic love interest, we’ll all think he’s gorgeous. We just don’t need you spelling it out for us. We’re not dumb. We get it.

So the “Ideal Sexy Male” is not always so ideal. It will probably make your story a lot weaker than it is, and will make your characters a lot weaker than they are. And not just your sexy male character; your female protagonist will also be a much weaker character if all she notices the first time she meets said gorgeous boy is his attractiveness. There needs to be SOMETHING other than his abs or his eyes.

So I want everyone to do me a huge favor, and just stop with the attractive guys already. I don’t need to know, and your readers don’t need to know. Your work will be so much better without him.


Vanessa is an intern at The Rights Factory, a literary agency located in Toronto. She is also taking courses in a publishing program, and is trying to figure out where in the world of publishing she wants to end up in. Currently, she is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.

46 Responses to “Why the Ideal Man is Not Quite So Ideal”

  1. Jade Winters March 17, 2010 at 1:13 AM #

    I totally agree with this, except for one thing. Personality really does make or break attractiveness. I’ve met many men who I thought were ugly until I got to know them. I’ve also met many men who I thought were gorgeous until they opened their mouths. So if the MC knows the guy and is attracted to his personality, then chances are that she’s going to think he’s drop-dead gorgeous, even if people who don’t know him wouldn’t see him that way.

    As far as physical looks go, we all have different ideas of what is and isn’t attractive. I think, in a book, it’s better to briefly describe their looks, then move on. Especially when writing YA. If the only reason for attraction is physical then it can be a pretty shallow storyline.

    • Vanessa March 17, 2010 at 1:18 AM #

      Totally agree with you Jade!

      I wasn’t clear in my post, but my pet peeve with attractive guys comes from girls seeing these oh-so-gorgeous men the first time and mentioning that they’re super attractive. It is so shallow (and belittling for both characters) to have a female protagonist mention a male character’s attractiveness as the first thing they notice.

      At the middle/ end of the story, if a character starts falling for another character, or they hook up (or are about to), I don’t mind knowing that the main character “never noticed how attractive they were”, or being told that so-and-so is attractive – it may be a bit cliche, but at least that is more realistic than the first time they meet. When it’s the first time they meet, this is not something I need to know (unless there’s a reason for his attractiveness other than eye candy).

  2. Harriet Smart March 17, 2010 at 2:31 AM #

    Sometimes being too specific about a character’s appearance particularly that of the hero, can put readers off as it doesn’t leave them a space to project their own ‘ideal’ onto. There are plenty of occasionsa when I have suddenly gone ‘yuk” when the author has thrown some detail at me (usually a moustache) re the hero that hasn’t at all fitted with the image I’ve formed in my mind. (books written about 1900 always do this to me – facial hair was hot then, obviously) A vivid sense of the personality is what draws readers in (usually conveyed through dialogue) and the rest (the beautiful body, perfect features) can be implied through seeing him action. Having said that, I realise I am guilty in a couple of my novels of pointing out the hero’s lack of conventional good looks (bony, craggy etc) and probably making life hard for my readers by saying too much.
    Interesting piece. Lots to think about – thanks!

    • Vanessa March 18, 2010 at 1:04 PM #

      Well, the amount of descriptions you use in your writing is very subjective, I find. Some people say you need to be able to visualize a person; others say that physical descriptions should be minimal to allow your readers to come up with their own visual.

      I’m not against descriptions – in fact, I’m one of those people who like having descriptions to read. Bony and craggy don’t necessarily translate into “ugly” – they could still be good-looking in a rugged way. But it definitely adds something to your character to describe them like that. Things like that can speak volumes: perhaps your character is poor and struggles to find the money to eat. Saying he is bony would give the reader a visual of his starvation. I’m not saying that if he isn’t starving he shouldn’t be bony, either; but it’s all about finding that happy middle-ground with descriptions.

  3. Rachel Simon March 17, 2010 at 9:34 AM #

    Loved this post, Vanessa! 😀

    I just wanted to say that sometimes I like not hearing about the physical description of either the female lead or the male love interest. It allows me to create what is attractive to me. I think more people should do this (or at least a little bit – leave out description) so that it is up to the reader to decide and imagine.

    • Vanessa March 18, 2010 at 1:06 PM #

      Thanks Rachel!

      I find that description is one of those things that people are either for, or against. Personally, I like descriptions; just not an overabundance of them. It really depends on a writers style, I find; some people write descriptions, and others take the more modern approach and leave them out almost entirely. It’s just a choice you make as a writer, and one you have to defend depending on which route you take (cause you can’t please everyone!)

  4. Savannah J. Foley March 17, 2010 at 9:58 AM #

    AWESOME article, Vanessa! Your tone here is great!

    I do want to comment that I know that my male protaganist is supposedly super attractive, but I have so many reasons to back up why he should be, so it totally doesn’t count 😀

    And you nailed it with this phrase: “she was at a loss for words – he was gorgeous.” That is so similiar to every single story that does this; it was just perfect!

    • Vanessa March 18, 2010 at 1:09 PM #

      Thanks Sav!

      I’ll admit, this post started out as a rant. It was just beginning to frustrate me that I kept seeing the same thing over and over and over again.

      I think you have every reason to have a character who is attractive! It’s a part of the plot/character development. If you took it away, I think your story would be different. I think if you can take away someone’s “gorgeous” looks and the story doesn’t change, then it shouldn’t be there in the first place.

      But I feel good now that I got all that out of my system. Phew!

  5. Ella March 17, 2010 at 11:27 AM #

    Thank you. I really, really needed to hear this. As a teen, I fall quite nicely into the intended target audience for the paranormal romance fad; unfortunately, I’m really starting to hate the entire genre due to just the phenomenon you described. Yes, because a relationship between two hormonal angsty teens that’s 95% infatuation -must- be true love, and yes, it’s perfectly sensible to spend all your waking hours with a potentially dangerous werewolf/vampire/demon/generic supernatural creature because TWU LUV CONQUERS ALL. To me, most of these relationships seem nothing worth fighting for, anyway – they’re nothing but hot looks and clever banter and perfect making out. And God forbid that a couple actually support and encourage one another; that might verge on a realistic portrayal.

    I notice this trend on Fictionpress, too – it’s not just in published books. Nearly every Supernatural / Fantasy/ Romance story with over a thousand reviews meets this in one way or the other. I can’t even count the number of stories that can be summed up as “Geeky / Plain Jane heroine meets super attractive boy who’s hiding a dark secret, squee!” What’s more ironic is that these heroines, despite being supposedly plain, are usually still portrayed as special somehow – they’re the only kid in school who’s not a shallow bitch (come again?) or they’re “beautiful inside,” (TM) or they smell fantastic or they’re actually attractive without knowing it. And I care, why?

    I mean, fine, have the hot hero and the speshul Sue heroine, but a personality for the former and a spine for the latter wouldn’t hurt anything except the author’s wish-fulfillment fantasies.

    (Apologies for the abundant venom in this post, by the way – it’s just that this is a major pet peeve of mine and you hit it on the head so perfectly.)

    • Vanessa March 18, 2010 at 3:03 PM #

      Oh, no worries! I wasn’t exactly censoring myself, either.

      The main reason a person will keep reading a story is because of the characters and the plot. But if you hate the characters (or don’t care about them/ start hating them), then chances are you’ll stop reading (even if the plot is good).

      So, we should feel empathy for a character. Doesn’t mean we necessarily have to like them (hey, we could be reading from a bad guy’s P.O.V.), but we need to be able to empathize. And making one of those characters ridiculously attractive not only makes me think, “why do I need to know this?”, but also makes me lose a lot of empathy for the character, especially when the female protagonist just constantly swoons around him.

  6. cgwriter March 17, 2010 at 11:30 AM #

    I love the post, and totally agree with it, except for one thing.

    In your response to the first comment (and I believe somewhere in your post as well), you say that it’s unrealistic and/or unnecessary to mention looks upon two characters’ first meeting. I disagree with this; if you do bump into/meet someone new who happens to be attractive, it’s only human nature to take note of that. You’re going to notice if someone is attractive. Plus, what a character finds attractive (seeing as we all have different taste) can add further depth to that character. That being said, giving the audience no freedom and insisting “he was gorgeous” … or basing an entire relationship on said looks … OR embarking on a two-page long description about the rippling of his biceps as he lifts weights at the gym … is totally unnecessary and cliché.

    I think if your character is attractive (which you don’t necessarily need a plot reason for; there are attractive people in the world as well as unattractive people. As long as every male character of interest isn’t stunning) it’s helpful to mention his looks and describe them briefly. Unattractive guys can be clichés, too (hot guy is an asshole / ugly, unnoticed guy is her true love). What’s important is that there’s a realistic balance of attractive / unattractive / normal characters, and that these looks are merely results of genetics and not reflective of their personalities.

    All in all, I think the most important point you made was that ALL characters — ugly, hot, normal (there IS a gray area, people!) — need to be well-rounded and given enough depth to be believable. Flaws and all.

    And certain characteristics don’t always = good looks. I’ve seen blond haired, blue eyed people who were nowhere near as attractive as some brown haired, brown eyed people. I think that mistake can be on the fault of the reader, as well as the writer, if he or she is automatically translating certain characteristics as such in their readings.

    But, as I said in the beginning, I definitely found the post helpful and interesting. I think it’s especially useful knowing that as a literary agent intern, these sorts of things can turn you off and cause you to pass up a manuscript. It’s a nice wake up call!

    • Vanessa March 18, 2010 at 3:17 PM #

      I think that bluntly saying someone is attractive is a bit of a reading turn-off for me. I also think that a reader doesn’t need to know that a character is attractive if it does nothing for character development/story. Cause then it’s just there.

      However, I agree that if someone is attractive, then another character might notice that. I mean, it’s what we all do. But there are other ways to point out someone’s attractiveness. Maybe he has a great/mischievous/flashing smile (sure, it might be a bit cliche, but it’s better than sounding like Paris Hilton) – the character doesn’t have to necessarily think, “oh, he’s hot”. In certain contexts it works; in sci-fi, it might just be jarring to a reader. It really all depends on the type of story you are writing.

      And yeah, there are some gorgeous brown eyes and brown haired guys; I didn’t mean that the blonde guy has to be hot. But describing what someone looks like isn’t a bad thing. It’s when you describe a male like you would in a Harlequin (in something that ISN’T harlequin) that I get annoyed.

      Don’t know if I made sense there, but just wanted to clear that up a bit. And I’m glad you found it helpful! 😀

  7. Aurora Blackguard March 17, 2010 at 11:38 AM #

    Kudos to you for speaking out about male attractiveness. It seems so…unusually coincidential/idealistic/effervescent to the point of ridiculousness/used up that every male in most stories have ‘dark hair and eyes that made me catch my breath’ or ‘a body that made the saliva pool on my tongue and leak out’. I guess it sort of also degrades the protagonist because they are judging the person PURELY on the physical level. What ever happened to beauty lies in the eye of the beholder?

    In defense of my race, guys do this too. The whole looking at the girls only because they’re pretty thing. It’s just cause more people tend to write about girls these days.

    I don’t know why, but there is something bugging me about this topic (same thing when I watched Savannah’s on the characters). I don’t know if I totally disagree or agree but thanks for this post.

    • Vanessa March 18, 2010 at 3:23 PM #

      Thanks Aurora!

      I think that when a protagonist is male, I don’t see it as often (the perfect/gorgeous girl, I mean). It’s just that lately, the trend really is focused on the female protagonist. I’m sure there are plenty of example of male protagonists meeting the girl of their dreams, but it doesn’t seem to happen AS much in writing. It’s moreso in video games and movies that women are idealized a lot. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen in writing, as I have seen cases of the stereotypical busty asian erotic masseuse; but the trend in YA is definitely leaning towards the whole gorgeous-male thing. It’s just what I’ve noticed while reading manuscripts from the slush pile.

      If you do figure out what it is that’s bothering you about our posts, let us know! We’d be very interested to hear what we’ve missed (or perhaps we’re generalizing too much) – whatever it is, we’d like to know.

    • svonnah March 18, 2010 at 6:24 PM #

      Hi Aurora! I definitely agree with about the ‘coincidence’ of it all; I think I said in an earlier comment how sucky it is that a lot of stories have either ugly guys or drop-dead gorgeous guys, with no in-between (as is reality).

      Perhaps what is bugging you is that it might come across like we’re being anti-unusually attractive characters, and I think what we meant to say (hindsight is 20-20 lol) is that we need to mix it up a little, and mix some real life in with our fiction. The characters I love best are so true to life; they have flaws and they’re not always pretty. I think it’s hard to love someone who is perfect all the time.

      • Aurora Blackguard March 19, 2010 at 2:33 AM #

        I think generally, it’s like… Oh gosh, how do I say this… Okay, yes, there is NO in between. You don’t see guys walking all over the planet with these gorgeous looks and they look at the plain girl and they go.. WHOA, there’s the woman I’m going to fight heaven and hell to marry even if it means that I die.

        [Btw, I HATE self-sacrificing characters. The most selfish I ever met]

        So I guess.. we’re human so we all look/want/need characters who are beautiful. Someone once said she lived vicariously through the characters she created so okay, I get that. Not that I’m blaming them for creating said beautiful characters but they, as you’ve pointed out Vanessa, tend to fall flat on their face and splatter themselves all over the wall in the process. I mean, if you can create a character who is beautiful but broken at the same time [Fire by Kristin Cashore did this beautifully] then okay, go ahead.

        So I guess this all boils down to character content.

        Hmm…. how about some hot dude who’s a druggie or or or or or or or or can’t seem to say anything nice. That’d be nice 🙂

        Conclusion: NO character, even a made up one is/should be perfect

      • Vanessa March 20, 2010 at 12:42 AM #

        I LOVE Fire by Kristin Cashore! And that’s what I mean – THAT’S how beautiful characters should be! It shouldn’t JUST be about their hotness; they need to have something else that makes them not-quite-so-perfect. (I also loved her first novel, Graceling! I just think Kristin Cashore is such a fresh breath of air in YA right now).

        Perfect characters are just so unrealistic and boring. People need to be more fearless and add some zest to them!

  8. Becca March 17, 2010 at 12:08 PM #

    I was about to comment, when I noticed a couple others (like cg) mentioning some of my same thoughts.

    First of all, I agree whole-heartedly with the post, but I have also read many a blog/article bashing the attractive characters. Unfortunately I think some will read this this and think, “Agh! my story is doomed because my leads are good-looking!”

    Let’s face it, attractiveness at first site is a reality, why try to remove it from fiction? Attempts to avoid this are typically going to come out cliche not matter which way you construe it (beauty and the beast, hot guy/plain jane, plain guy/hot girl). And just as in real life, the male and female are going to be attracted to one another and going to find outward appearances endearing (how many of us adore physical features in our significant others?), the art is in not overdoing it. I read someone’s work that described the male lead’s blue eyes in 7 different synonyms (cerulean, aqua, ocean, sky…)within the first page. It was nauseating.

    Someone pointed out to me once that when readers open a romance book, they’re expecting beautiful people, so it’s unnecessary to describe them as attractive unless they are uniquely unattractive, but I personally like reading about beautiful people. 😛

    What you mentioned and others commented as the most important part of the story, is yes, it’s realistic and expected for the leads to be attracted to one another, but the art is in describing what KEEPS them attracted to one another.

    I have to thank you though for a great reminder and has me thinking of going back to my ms to make sure the good-looking factor wasn’t overdone!

    • svonnah March 17, 2010 at 3:59 PM #

      I really like your thoughts on this, and I would like to comment further by saying that while you’re definitely right that a lot of people begin to date each other purely based on physical attractiveness, I guess I objec to /every single person/ being drop-dead gorgeous. Because there’s such a range of attractiveness, and not every guy is either extreme.

      • Becca March 17, 2010 at 8:44 PM #

        Oh, fer sure. I think what’s difficult to get across in writing, is the notion of beauty in the eye of the beholder. I too like the idea of the character’s not being drop-dead gorgeous, but to the main players, in each others eyes, they are drop-dead gorgeous. But in good writing, that would play out by the end of the story without the need to focus on outer beauty.
        It’s not as easy as writing, “…to the average person, he wasn’t your Brad Pitt, but to me he was the most breathtaking man I’d ever laid eyes on…” wait.. actually I think I DID write something like that! augh! No, I’m kidding. sort of.

  9. Corona March 17, 2010 at 12:23 PM #

    I’m not sure if I agree with everything, but you have a point in that it can get repetitive. I think the solution to creating engaging characters is by building them up in all their facets, that includes describing their looks. In the romance genre I prefer a male that is gorgeous, it may be unrealistic. But hey, it is a romance. I like reading about things I can’t have 😉 In (adult) romance, I find that because the characters (or one of the characters) are more in tune with their sexuality describing how incredibly good looking someone is can be quite sexy.

    In YA I have noticed that romance works better when it’s explored differently. The characters are often young(er) and if the characters judge each other solely on looks it can come off as shallow (unless it’s part of the plot). I find that in YA novels, I like it how protagonists can come together because of hardship and/or the experiences that they both share.

    In both instances I prefer a strong female protagonist that can kick some minor arse, is smart and independent. So many times the protagonist is described as being all those things, but in the end she totally conforms herself to the male.

    • Vanessa March 18, 2010 at 3:29 PM #

      I LOVE strong female characters that can kick some ass!

      I think that when you’re writing romance (and its clearly romance), it’s acceptable to have attractive characters – I just hate being pounded over the head with it.

      But when I’m reading a fantasy action/adventure story, I REALLY think it can be a bit unnecessary to have gorgeous males everywhere.

      It’s hard, I suppose, for female writers. On one hand, you want to have strong female characters. But on the other, you also want them to fall in love (sometimes… not all the time :p). I think I strong woman can be so much stronger with someone else: to be willing to open yourself up to another individual takes a lot of guts (in my opinion, anyways!)

  10. cgwriter March 17, 2010 at 1:04 PM #

    Right! And how many times has this happened in real life? I know plenty of smart, independent girls (myself included!) who refuse to be controlled by a man… until that “one” comes along, and she totally conforms to him and becomes a totally different person. I’m not proud of having done that, but I’ve also learned from it and I’m glad I did. (By “one” I don’t mean THE one, as a healthy relationship wouldn’t be like this.)

    So depending on the character, that conforming to the male thing might work, to prove her weakness–she could be claiming to be strong and independent but prove otherwise. But if you, as the author/narrator, are vouching for her strength… that’s not something you want her doing.

    Then again, our characters sometimes take us for a ride, whether we like it or not.

    • Corona March 17, 2010 at 1:40 PM #

      It’s a bit of a pet peeze ever since I read a book about a female protagonist, she was a researcher at a university, had a bright future and she kept telling how she loved her research and that she wanted to learn and study so much more, not just as a passing mention. But the author described her person as being a passionate researcher.

      Then ‘mr right/alpha male’ drops by and she in turn drops everything to pop out some babies be a housewife and never mentions her research again.


      • Angela March 17, 2010 at 7:50 PM #

        D: That’s so depressing! T_T I wanna drag that heroine out of the story and smack her silly.

      • kate March 17, 2010 at 10:37 PM #

        (Directed partially at Angela):

        I have no idea what book you’re talking about, and maybe it was really awful in the context. But, to be entirely fair, the decision to research (at least in biomedical or other science related fields) is a decision that necessarily includes HUGE sacrifice. I’m currently working towards a PhD in a biomed field, and I (and my female classmates) have to have a plan–like, year by year–if we want to research and have a family. And it’s a pretty infeasible plan, at that. So….be wary of judging the researcher (at the very least). Research is a beyond-harsh mistress; and the best (scientific) research is almost necessarily at odds with having a life and family. In this particular case, art may be imitating reality.

      • Angela March 18, 2010 at 5:53 AM #

        I’m not criticizing her for giving up her PHD to start a family and marry. I’m sure there are plenty of people who do that, and I respect them for that.

        What’s sad is that she does it for a hot guy she’s just met. It might just be me, but I’d only give up a PHD for a guy I’ve known for a really long time or if I get pregnant.

      • Corona March 18, 2010 at 3:48 PM #

        I wish I could drag the title out of my brain. But it was more like her personality changed then that she made a conscious choice of choosing the guy over her career.

        A friend of mine is a researcher (bio computer research) at the University and you’re right! Her life is crazy busy, she works a lot of unpaid overtime because she has to be result oriented and researching just takes a lot of time. But she also is happily (I hope 😉 married. But they as a couple know where their passions are and they married each other knowing that she is going to spend the next 4 years in research.

  11. Gaby da Silva March 17, 2010 at 2:24 PM #

    Why not bash harlequinn? As a blue-blood, born-and-bred feminist I do that on a daily basis for the continuous portrayal of females as passive objects of love instead of active participants in their own lives! Oh and Daniele Steel, too.

    Fine, “bashing” is wrong. I’ll change “bashing” to “objectively complaining”.

    Fact: Most people in the industry consider YA as a shallow genre. Nothing but stupid little books for teens who need wish fullfilment (also applies to those scary 40-something that read Twilight). Of course, there are some author who make the genre look better – J.K. Sum’thing (sorry, last name always escapes me), Phillip Pullman, maybe Diane Wyne Jones, and of course I realize they don’t really write YARomance, but they certainly are the ones that get at least more scholarly respect.

    YA will never get much recognition if we aren’t capable of creating complete, round characters, characters with more than stunning looks and violet eyes.
    This is not to say we must simply stop writing about hot guys’n girls. Hell, I like pretty things too, but not only it gets repetitive, as Vanessa already said, it’ll make you look like a highschool girl who hasn’t been able to leave the “OMG he’s SOOO hawt!!!” stage. Also, shallow.

    You want a handsome guy in your romance?
    Go ahead. Make the girl lose her ability to speak because of his über hotness. Then make her feel stupid for that, and when he tries to start clever banter, make her stumble over her words.
    Make him an asshole – so full of himself, so sure of his looks, you can’t really like him.

    Redeem the asshole. Show him in one of his weakest moments – he’s “trailer trash” and so ashamed of his mom, when the girl finds out he suddenly becomes shy. His brother is in jail. He’s not the asshole you thought. And yet he might still be unlikeable.

    And if he insists in being an asshole, write a girl with some guts to realize he’s bad for her and leaves him.
    Make her fall in love with the average looking guy next door. Now you can go ahead and descriibe him as beautifully as you want – “she loved his hair, and his nose, and his fingers and toenails, she loved his eyes that were so warm, she loved him, loved him, and he was beautiful then.”

    • Vanessa March 18, 2010 at 3:35 PM #

      J.K. Rowling? :p

      It is sad that YA doesn’t get as much recognition. I mean, to each their own. We all read for different reasons, and we all have different preferences. I’m just personally getting tired of gorgeous men in EVERY SINGLE GENRE in YA. Romance? Fine, I get it. But Sci-fi? Fantasy?

      And I agree, we can’t always have weak female characters. It might happen in real life, but we have to remember who the primary audience is for YA: Young Adults. 13-18 year olds. A lot of the times, even younger than 13 (because kids like to read up). So you also have to consider the message you might be sending if your female character takes back a guy after he’s cheated on her. Sure, it happens all the time, but it’s something to consider when you write. I’m not saying we should write with morals/lessons, but to remember that these characters can influence young people.

      And can I just say how much I LOVE Phillip Pullman?

  12. Chantal Mason March 17, 2010 at 10:54 PM #

    I agree. I hate having a whole-page paragraph dedicated to how flawlessly beautiful the guy is. I find a good way to get around this is to subtly mention things every now and then, not all at once. I don’t want a picture-perfect image of what the character looks like immediately upon meeting him – that reminds me of fanfiction “brown hair, blue eyes, wearing a green button-up sweater and khakis that emphasized his nice ass”…… please. But if every now and then you throw in an eye colour, hair colour, or just some small description, it makes it a lot easier to swallow!

    • Vanessa March 18, 2010 at 2:55 PM #

      And when you throw in 10 different physical descriptions all at once, chances are we’ll forget most of them as soon as we’re finished reading that paragraph.

  13. Sarah J. Maas March 18, 2010 at 3:20 PM #

    I’m going to play devil’s advocate and say that I actually like reading stories about unnaturally hot guys. I like reading them for the same reason I like watching THE VAMPIRE DIARIES or GREY’S ANATOMY. I like hot guys. It’s totally indulgent, but I’ll definitely stay more interested in a story if it’s some drool-worthy guy (like THE HUNGER GAMES), or even better–a love triangle!

    However, I thought TWILIGHT overdid it. It’s a perfect example of a writer going too far with the “he’s so hot” thing. While Bella’s ten million descriptions of his god-like face and sparkles was meant to show her devotion to him and insecurity, it became a turn-off to me after a while. I don’t mind reading a lengthier initial description about a guy’s hotness, but when that description keeps on reappearing every 10 pages and continues throughout the novel (like, by page 400, I already know he’s hot, damn it!), it gets old reallllly fast.

    That being said, I agree that a hot guy needs to have more than just hotness. And hot guys who are all “You’re my one and only–my life didn’t begin before you came along; i’m nothing without you” are REALLY boring to me. But I love a hot guy that has issues, or a hot guy that doesn’t IMMEDIATELY notice the heroine and how *special* she is. If your guy is hot-as-hell, make sure he’s got a character behind it. And don’t give him that “Oh, my ex-girlfriend or mom died” nonsense complex. While his looks might be outta this world, give him a character grounded in reality.

    But, yes–I love hot guys. There are always hot guys in my books, and always will be. That’s not to say that my heroines will always choose the hot guy (over the slightly-less-hot guy, haha), but I enjoy writing about them as much as I do reading about them. But yeah–they’ve gotta have some personality beneath their really, really, ridiculously good-looking exteriors.

    • kate March 18, 2010 at 3:43 PM #

      (in lab right now, but i totally just laughed aloud…i love zoolander references. but vampire diaries? really?).

      questionable taste in TV aside, i must agree with sarah. i like hot characters. but, i particularly like a cocky as hell good looking guy, because, hey, i’d hate them in real life, but i do like some entertaining self-absorbed-ness. also, i think that a lot of our lives we are very aware of attractive people (some studies show that animals and humans are almost always aware of where the best looking individuals in their environment are…), and probably particularly when we’re younger, we focus both our attention and thoughts on pretty things (or, totally smokin’ people). so having hot guys as characters seems a) nice in an indulgent way and b)not so totally unrealistic. maybe. as long as the hottie isn’t 2-D.

      • Sarah J. Maas March 18, 2010 at 3:47 PM #

        Hahaha, don’t hate on VD! I haven’t read the books, but I really enjoy the TV show for exactly what it is–fluff. But good, smokin’ hot fluff. 😉

        But yes–we definitely need these hot guys to be 3D, because things get a little boring when a dude (or anyone) is totally perfect.

      • kate March 18, 2010 at 4:23 PM #

        ***questionable taste in TV and abbreviations for said TV shows aside 😉

    • Corona March 18, 2010 at 3:55 PM #

      There’s something better than one hot guy, that’s 2 hot guys. In the case of Vampire Diaries… well 😉

      One of the biggest turn-offs in a book (and in real life!) is the hot guy saying: “You remind me of my ex/sister/mom” 😉

      • Biljana March 18, 2010 at 5:43 PM #

        Hahahahahaha well that is just cringe-worthy.

    • Angela March 18, 2010 at 7:10 PM #


      You like the vampire diaries? Me too. That show is so awesome.

      I tried reading the novels, but I couldn’t really get into them. The novel version of Elena is selfish andunlikable. However, Damon is awesome! (Both in the TV and novel versions)

      Plus, the TV version is more action-packed, and well, awesome. I can’t wait till the new episodes come out. 🙂

    • Vanessa March 21, 2010 at 11:20 PM #

      I loved THE HUNGER GAMES! But see, there it wasn’t done in quite such an annoying way. I didn’t feel like I was being pounded over the head with the “he’s hot” mallet.

    • Caitlin March 22, 2010 at 1:52 AM #

      commenting on this because Sarah brought up something I’ve actually been joking about with my brother this weekend: hot guys in TV/Movies.

      I’ve recently started watching BSG and in the opening mini-series there are a copious amount of hot guys, but it kind of works against the element of surprise because A) when they try to do this whole “Oh Noes! Apollo is Dead!” thing I was all “Uh… no that whole ship did not just get destroyed because the new President who is a BIG DEAL tm was on it and because they can’t kill off the main cocky hot guy character.” Guess what, I was right. Also there are these characters known as Cylons that are humanoid stealth robots and although the first one we meet is this female who totally uses her sex appeal against the human guys, the only guy Cylons who’ve been revealed thus far are slightly creepy not so cute guys. I’m going to make a prediction right now that non of the Cylons are hot guys b/c they’d alienate their female viewership.

      Thus the moral being that just like with “special eyes” making a character “Hawt” can tell your reader perhaps more than they’d like to know.

      Also I especially agree with it cheapening girls for them to immediately be like “He’s Hawt” and then never get over it. Do I notice guys are attractive when I meet them? yes, But do I base my entire opinion of them on this, no and it doesn’t even mean that I am necessarily attracted to them. The guys I’ve honestly had crushes on are ones that I’ve gotten to know and found attractive after knowing a whole chunk of their qualities (or after copious flirting, what can I say, I’m a sucker for flattery.)

      Lastly someone commented on the whole “so attractive she’s tongue tied” and then being frustrated about it later thing, I think that The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks did a great job with having attractive characters but the girl being conflicted about how their attractiveness manipulated her. Also I definitely have a guy friend who I was too scared to talk to like the first 6 months or so I knew him b/c I was intimidated by his attractiveness (not my finest hour, I know) but as we got to know each other and became friends (he was my best friends’ roommate) he became less attractive in a “you’re still hot but now we’re friends and I can talk to you as a normal person” way, so you can use that anecdote as you will.

  14. Biljana March 18, 2010 at 5:51 PM #

    Great post!

    I do, however, agree that in real life, attractive people draw hell of a lot of attention. I personally think that looks are the first thing people see; they are what sparks the interest, and then the personality comes after. If you’re good-looking but a jerk, that’ll come out, but not until later, so the girls will still go for you at least for a short time. If you’re homely, you probably have to work harder to have a conversation with the pretty girl two seats over.

    You get a lot of that, actually.

    “Yeah he/she has a great personality, but isn’t much of a looker”

    “Oh, what a shame.”

    I’m willing to forgive that in this post though, as it’s a rant, and I adore rants :D. Especially good ones.

    • Vanessa March 21, 2010 at 11:17 PM #

      I’m going to assume that you thought this was a good rant then! :p hahahaha

  15. Jenn March 19, 2010 at 12:02 AM #

    “make your writing a bit tacky” I started laughing at that! I support the ranting even though I don’t completely agree. I agree with Sarah and Biljana that looks are the first thing people notice. Frankly my friends and I followed attractive guys out of the metro tonight, sadly they didn’t go to a bar where we could hit on them.

    And personality is a huge part of attractiveness. I think it would be interesting to see how descriptions of a male character change as another character gets to know and like him and so find him more attractive. I know that to me funny guys are suddenly bumped up several points in the attractive scale. I like descriptions of characters, just enough to give me an idea, not enough to make me gag.

    In one of my own stories the first time the main character sees her soon to be love interest, she notices how attractive he is and immediately assumes he’s a jerk. Then he has to work to prove that he isn’t totally a jerk. Because pretty people who know they’re pretty tend not to be the nicest and they certainly aren’t perfect.

    Way to get the comments going!

    • Vanessa March 21, 2010 at 11:16 PM #

      Thanks Jenn!

      I totally agree – personality is what can really make a character attractive. Which is why I was hating on looks so much, because I just think that if you write a character who is super funny, I’ll probably picture a Ryan Reynolds type of guy at the end. And yeah, I like descriptions too! Just not Harlequin-type descriptions :p


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