Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Eye of the Beholder

I had this great conversation with a friend the other day. The attractiveness a reader feels for the hero or heroine is often defined by the way in which that character is seen.

For example in Lynsay Sands Tall, Dark and Hungry, Lucern and his fiancĂ© Kate take Lucern’s brother Bastien out to dinner. It’s their intention to ask Bastien to allow Kate’s cousin to stay with him ahead of the wedding. Bastien is amenable. But during the course of the conversation, Kate leaves a photo of Terri so the brothers will know who they are looking for.

As Kate leaves, Lucern stares after her adoringly. Bastien follows the glance and shrugs off Kate’s looks. He’s too enchanted by Terri’s photo. The key here is that Lucern is attracted to his fiancĂ© and while Bastien thinks she’s a good enough looking woman, he doesn’t experience the same allure.

His cousin Vincent is visiting in the book, Terri’s viewpoint on Vincent is he is a decent enough looking guy, but he’s such a kook. As readers, we only seen Cousin “Vinny” through Terri and Bastien’s eyes, he’s not really heroic material, instead, he provides the comedic relief. Flash-forward to A Bite to Remember and Vinny is much more Vincent, an attractive, good looking man who definitely appeals to heroine Jackie.

Perception is Everything

In the realms of romance, perception is everything. Literature relies on painting pictures with words. So how a person behaves, the words they use and how a hero or his heroine see each other tells us whether we should be attracted to him or not. It’s also important to remember, what is beautiful to one person isn’t to another.

So could we have a truly ugly hero?

Maybe.

In Patricia Briggs Mercedes Thompson series, Sam is described as rather ordinary looking, but his eyes and his power are anything but ordinary. What made him so attractive is not only his personal power, but also his nature. Bran, the Marrok, Alpha of the Alphas, is a skinny teenager in appearance, but there is no mistaking the power that rolls off him or the attractiveness of it.

In Kresley Cole’s series of books, descriptions of her heroes and heroines vary. Some are ordinary, some are battle scarred, some are huge, some are small, some are so fragile looking they might shatter and some are so ugly that they just have to say “boo” in a soft voice to scare others. Rydstrom, a demon king, has powerful horns, piercings, tattoos and a big, strapping body. His attractiveness is defined by the way Sabine views him, allowing the reader to fall in love with the character that way.

Casting Calls

Why else would we argue so vehemently for or against the casting of a character from a book? No two readers see the same character the same way, but that visual we have them is so deeply imprinted that we want to see “our” vision on the screen. Recent examples that I can think of?


Each of these characters raised some controversy when they first appeared, in part because not everyone agreed with their casting because they didn’t “look” the part.

Have you ever disagreed with someone on how a character looks?

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