That’s the question I’ve been pondering for months. Book after book, from best sellers to bottom of the barrel indies (where mine rest) the heroines are notably attractive. The only heroine I can think of who wasn’t was described as attractive Hermione from Harry Potter with her pinched face and riot of frizzy hair. Yet even she was never UN-attractive. Bella from Twilight often thought of herself as plain but the other characters pointed out several times that she was actually quite pretty.
So I can deduce that Bella having low self image is acceptable to readers, it’s normally something the eleven year old readers identify with anyway. And being like Hermione with the potential to be pretty, if only she took the time away from studies, appeals to the nerdiest and geekiest of us. I can certainly understand how the lure of research supersedes inconveniences such as food, sleep and hygiene; well at least the first two, I can’t stand it if I feel grimy.
Yet, these two heroines seem to be the aberration not the norm and neither are truly unattractive; and the reader picks up on that.
And yet… I want my heroine to be unattractive. At least in my yet unnamed Book 3 in the Verian Series. I want her to be unattractive and for people’s reactions to reflect the reality of it. I want people’s eyes to slide over her in discomfort and not really see her. I want her to struggle with the knowledge that she has coup de saber and that it’ll never go away completely. I want her deformed and I want her beautiful.
Children are often told ‘It’s what’s on the inside that counts’ but they learn quickly that this isn’t true. T.V. tells them it’s important to be beautiful. They learn it in schools that it’s the beautiful people who make the friends. And they learn it from you when you bash someone for being too pretty or not pretty enough.
A human’s first visceral response is to judge based on what you see. That’s a normal built in response. An unattractive person could be ill and and an ill person puts the whole tribe at risk. But most of us don’t live in tribes and what should be your close second response is to discard the instinctual response and judge them on behavior.
Could you do that in a book where you are attempting to escape from reality? I enjoy making my characters identifiable with real people. I actually profile them so that I know exactly what response they’ll have in any given situation I toss them into. I love it when someone comes up to me and says, “I totally agreed with Kyla! I would have done the same!”
So how important is it that Vella be attractive? Will reading about people’s honest to God reactions make you uncomfortable? Will it make you angry? Will it make you put the book down?
I certainly hope not. I hope you read it no matter how uncomfortable it makes you; and it might. Because I’m going to keep Vella beautifully deformed and very real.