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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.